By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
JACKSON – The French Revolution hit the western world like a hurricane that overturned and overwhelmed everything in its wake. It followed on the heels of the American Revolution of 1776, a struggle that lasted 10 years following the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The forces that were eventually unleashed had been building for a long time, and the monarchies in England and France could not withstand the press of humanity yearning to breathe free.
Charles Dickens was born into this emerging new world in England in 1812 and would become for much of the 19th century a preeminent social critic. His classic A Tale of Two Cities addressed the widespread social ills that led to revolution and still persisted in his lifetime which he portrayed in the opening lines of his novel. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair … We were all going directly to heaven, or we were all going the other way.”
Ultimately, this classic work challenged the people of his day to go beyond the foolishness, incredulity, darkness and despair and embrace wisdom, belief, light and hope, in other words, redemption and new life on a personal and societal level. Ages earlier, St. Augustine called this the City of God, anchored in the death and resurrection of the Lord and his abiding presence.
How would be describe our nation and world in the 21st century? What direction are we going in? Is the pandemic creating the worst of times? The truth is that Charles Dicken’s words are timeless and can properly be applied to every generation.
Evidence abounds in our society of many people living righteously and compassionately as good citizens, people of diverse religious faith, or no faith. Consider the fire fighters who throw themselves into the path of infernos to save lives and property, the health care workers who daily care for those stricken by the coronavirus, the first responders who are now assisting those in the paths of the hurricanes, Laura and Marco.
Sadly, the reverse is all too true when we consider the culture of death that destroys life in the womb, tramples the poor, and deprives too many of the basics to flourish in this world. Of course, far too many squander the blessings of liberty and personal responsibility and choose a path in life that, in the words of Dickens, “is going the other way.” There is much to ponder and much to do.
Ever since Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to Peter, the Catholic church has proclaimed the Gospel of salvation by immersing herself in the lives of the people and cultures where the Gospel takes root. The ultimate goal is the salvation of souls as St. Paul eloquently wrote, “with eyes fixed on the goal pushing on to secure the prize of God’s heavenward call in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians) But that’s not a directive to wear blinders as we journey through life, because the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
In our Catholic tradition hope for this world and the next is written into our DNA. It’s not an either or. From a historical perspective we know that if injustice is not confronted and overcome, then sooner or later revolutions explode on the scene. The convulsions and outcries that surge through our nation in the present moment must awaken the nation to reconcile and heal the past, and to recommit ourselves to the work of justice and peace in this generation, indisputable signs of the “City of God.”
From the “Constitution on the church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes,” during the Second Vatican Council, we have this inspired vision for our world. “Though earthly progress is to be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s Kingdom, yet in so far as it can help toward the better ordering of human society it is of great importance to the Kingdom of God. The blessings of human dignity, brotherly communion and freedom will be found again in the world to come when Christ hands over to the Father an eternal and everlasting Kingdom, purified of all sin and transformed, a Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice and peace.”
Surely, this will be “the best of times” in the Kingdom of God.