Jn 17:11-19 Divine Progress and Human Regress

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
By Benedict Augustine

“I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the Evil One.”

So much of the drama contained in Jesus and Paul’s prayer over the disciples sounds strange to the modern ear. Back then, they anticipated horrible persecution, alienation, and a near impossible set of tasks to accomplish.  Now, most religious communities seem quite at peace with secular authorities, equipped with a wide array of tools to spread the gospel in peace. Back then, the disciples really had to give up everything to spread the gospel: their livelihood, their homes, their families. Now, most Christians do well to take a little out of their abundance and entrust their money to professionals who do the dirty work in downtrodden areas. Back then, the disciples had no choice to but love one another, for they truly had no one else and would likely be killed if they tried work alone. Now, people can seek others who agree with them and found their own churches, or they may just worship alone without the burden of other people—Sartre’s individualist aphorism, “Hell is other people,” comes to mind.

This drastic change from the Church’s beginning to the Church today prompts an important question: has the world become a nicer place, or have we become more jaded and complacent? As with all big questions, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. In many ways, the world actually has become a nicer place. Modern constitutions that grant us so many freedoms today (freedom of speech, the right to vote, the freedom to possess private property, etc.) did not exist in the past, and these freedoms have enabled our societies to grow and prosper in a multitude of ways. Science and technology have conferred numerous benefits such extending the average human lifespan, curing pestilence, producing fruitful harvests, expanding communication, speeding up transportation, and allowing mass storage of information. The millennia of experience and human wisdom stored in great works of history and literature have often helped us not repeat the mistakes of the past, and to build a culture that nurtures humanity’s potential and discourages militant ideologies from taking hold and breeding destruction.

In light of these developments—which, it must be admitted, exist primarily in certain parts of the world, not all—no one should condemn all modernity as horrible and evil. In fact, much of it can serve the good because much of it springs from the Good, from the Church herself. Although many secularists and atheists would never admit it, Christianity has played a fundamental role in modernizing society in nearly all regards. Modern ideas of morality, politics, literature, art, history, and even science all originate from Christian principles. If anyone doubts this, they can look at the other great civilizations not based on Christian principles, like those in Asia, Africa, or the Americas, and witness how they stagnated and declined while Western civilizations continued to progress into modernity.

However, as the Old Testament—particularly the book of Judges—teaches quite thoroughly with the nation of Israel, good fortune, especially material good fortune, will lead to corruption. Like the suffering of the Jews in the Wilderness, and in the Promised Land, the suffering of earlier Christians, through persecution, plague, or famine, often inspired them to heroic lives of faith. They knew where their salvation lay, and they knew that one could not detach from the Church without suffering at the hands of the “Evil One.” All to often, the comfortable Christians of today make the mistake of trading their God for idols, their cross for the couch, and reality for fantasy. Instead of understanding themselves as inheritors of Truth, they now consider themselves creators of Truth, and thus live a Lie. While this transition into decadence does not immediately result in chaos, it does lead to a steady descent of culture and morality, leading formerly free individuals to an enslaved collective. 

One can make the analogy of taking Christianity out of society to take Christ out of Christmas. The joy, warmth, leisure, and charity that accompanied Jesus’ birth have now degenerated into stress, bitterness, toil, and selfishness of ritualized consumerism. More and more people now celebrate Black Friday much greater fervor than they do for Christmas. On one of the most holy days of the year, many modern Christians have traded away the true God for the false idols of crass commercialism and despair. If a whole society wants to remove the Church completely, they will soon see the whole year similarly engulfed in this lifeless depressing spirit of the world.

Jesus encourages all disciples to resist this tendency in all human societies, which will grow stronger as faith grows weaker. He Himself will guard them, unless they choose to reject his protection. In a similar way, Paul warns of “savage wolves” who will come from outside and within the Church, which should prompt disciples of all ages to cling to the Truth. The world will change for the better if we decide to do this, and in many ways it has changed for the better, but we cannot let the world replace God. We must give thanks for our blessings and give to those who are in need, ever mindful that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” By doing this, as well as seeking Truth through faith, we can become one just as Jesus is one with His Father. 


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Fr. Alfonse (1044 Posts)

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