In 1954, when reflecting on Dante’s Inferno, Dorothy Sayers portrayed a dismal picture of humanity:
“That the Inferno is a picture of human society in a state of sin and corruption, everybody will readily agree.
“And since we are today fairly well convinced that society is in a bad way… we ﬁnd it easy enough to recognise the various stages by which the deep of corruption is reached.
“Futility; lack of a living faith; the drift into loose morality, greedy consumption, ﬁnancial irresponsibility, and uncontrolled bad temper; a self-opinionated and obstinate individualism; violence, sterility, and lack of reverence for life and property, including one’s own; the exploitation of sex… .”
No doubt this commentary resonates with what many of us feel. If anything, over the past 70 years, matters seem to be getting progressively worse. Christians are particularly justified to be disheartened at the tsunami of evil that unfolding locally and abroad.
Nothing is sacred anymore, be it nascent life, marriage vows, environmental awareness, or political and business honesty. The landslide victory legalising abortion in Ireland is an indication of the increasingly entrenched callous attitude to life and family that is poisoning people’s hearts and souls.
Sadly, following the news is a distressing exercise, as greed, prejudice and hatred fuel wars, persecution, genocide and the vilest terrorist acts against communities hit the headlines day after day.
Each one of us is called to take a stand
Yet we must not despair or isolate ourselves in a cocoon of escapism and indifference. Our Christian faith demands that we should not succumb to pessimism and despondency. We are expected to keep seeking and striving to reform ourselves and do our best, to do our bit according to the God-given talents we have been blessed with.
In his commentary of his experiences in Auschwitz, the late Viktor Frankl concludes his book In Search of Meaning by pointing out that even in the most harrowing circumstances, we have a choice. He singles out Fr Maximillian Kolbe, who voluntarily sacrificed his life for another, as the most striking example of what is best in man.
Thankfully, most of us are not in such dire situations. But such shining examples of courage and integrity should inspire us, within our limitations, to be positive and try to shed light where there is darkness.
Other Catholics of outstanding calibre include people such as Pope John Paul II, who despite having witnessed his country being savaged by Nazi Germany and Communist Russia in his youth, did not lose heart. His undying commitment to the intrinsic human dignity of man defined his fearlessness. In seeking the truth, he did not surrender, unlike so many others, to the inevitable acceptance of evil.
Such an attitude is mirrored by others who were energised by the truth, such as the remarkable G. K. Chesterton, whose writings had such an impact on the society of his day and led to so many conversions, even of outstanding intellectuals such as C. S. Lewis.
Despite his charisma, Chesterton was indifferent to worldly success but otherwise very passionate about his beliefs, stating that: “In the end, it will not matter to us whether we wrote well or ill, but it will greatly matter on which side we fought.”
Each one of us is called to take a stand. Even everyday and apparently simple decisions have an impact on the way we are generous, compassionate, fair and positive so as to encourage optimism and hope in a world that too easily yields to being cynical and defeatist.
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