The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Descent

I've been reading some poetry lately, more than usual. It seems to fulfill a need. While there are certainly exceptions, poets seem to be saner than most of us, certainly saner than most modern philosophers, and the best of them have been given a gift of prophecy. Today, given all that's happening in our world, I need a regular dose of sanity, and have therefore turned to a few of my favorite poets.

Poets, of course, are often pessimistic when it comes to the human condition. (This is a gross generality, but it's my blog so I can write such things if I like.) Anyway, two of the poets who have lately grabbed my attention are W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot.

Turning the pages of my copy of The Poems of W. B. Yeats, I'd occasionally stop and read a poem that caught my eye. Among these was The Second Coming. Written in 1920, after the wholesale death and destruction of World War One, it foresaw, with prophetic accuracy, what the world would face in the years that followed. Crushed by four years of nightmarish violence, the enlightened pre-war optimism disappeared along with the promising lives of a continent's youth. Expedience trumped morality as human lives became expendable, the means to political ends. The war promised only a bleak future, one that Yeats described in his poem:

The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
 gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


W. B. Yeats
Writing almost a century ago, Yeats seemed to recognize that the 20th century would be one of chaos and upheaval such as the world had never seen. Rapid and remarkable scientific and technological progress would hide from many the continuing moral decline and the gradual replacement of religion by scientism in the minds of the elites. God is replaced by man, who finds himself caught between a failed rationality of the Enlightenment and the despair of the postmodernists. 

Closing my book of Yeats' collected poems, I turned to Eliot and amazingly opened right to page 96, the beginning of his long poem, Choruses from "The Rock" (See T. S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays), written not long after Yeats' poem. I've included those opening verses below:


Choruses from "The Rock"
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
О perpetual revolution of configured stars,
О perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
О world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.


T. S. Eliot
Eliot, like Yeats and Chesterton and many others, was a modern prophet who saw clearly what would result from the moral distortions of his time. Read his thoughts on Christian society and culture in Christianity and Culture to get a better understanding of what we face today.  

Yes, as the poets remind us, we are surrounded by the signs of decline. Distracted by the wonders of technology that tell us how very smart we are, we forget that wisdom does not emerge from an integrated circuit. No, wisdom is passed down from one generation to the next through the traditions that today are forgotten, ignored, ridiculed, and suppressed.

We develop cures and preventatives, extending lives by years, even decades, but then slaughter the inconvenient infants in the womb by the tens of millions. Not content with denying life's beginnings, with god-like audacity we kill those approaching its end, the sick and the elderly, and label it "compassion."

We praise humanity's "progress" despite the evidence of a century of totalitarian despotism that destroyed more lives than in all previous human history. And yet, driven by extraordinary hubris, politicians scramble to acquire more power, actually believing they can control the uncontrollable and plan the unplannable.

It's all very disconcerting for those who lack faith. Most just move along in life hoping, at least, to find some ephemeral happiness. But some, far too many today, are driven to the brink of despair and self-destruction. Others find meaning in the extremes of human behavior and cling to ideologies that promise a distorted form of salvation. Satan is very busy in our world today.

Pope Benedict XVI
As I pondered the prophetic words of these poets, I couldn't help but think of the tragic events in Las Vegas. So many in the media and politics scream about controlling guns, the tools used by the man responsible for the carnage. But no one says a word about moral culpability because this would lead to an uncomfortable discussion of morality and truth, two words that have been excised from the popular language. As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, today our culture is plagued by "a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

No one dares examine the root cause of the Las Vegas tragedy and others like it: the fact that in our society human life has little value. If an unborn child, a human being with a beating heart who can experience pain, is considered disposable because he or she doesn't suit the parents' lifestyle or plans, then why not use violence to promote one's ideology or to satisfy  personal psychological desires? Without God, His commandments, and His gift of faith, there is no morality, there are no limits.

I thank God for my faith, and I do so every day, many times each day. For we were created by a loving God who has given us the freedom and the grace to accept His revealed Truth. But acceptance or rejection is up to us.

We must remember, too, that our loving God -- Father, Son and Spirit -- is the Lord of History and acts in our world through us or in spite of us. His will be done because His will cannot be denied. I encounter too many Christians who fear the future because of what they see in today's world. Such fears must never enter the Christian's heart, for our loving, merciful God has promised salvation to those who love Him. "Be not afraid" is God's constant command to His People, His reminder that He walks with us always. 

God's peace...

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