We all know the phrase, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” If there ever was a desperate time, it is now. So where are the desperate measures?
As Catholic men, we do not need to turn to desperation in the face of cultural decline, but rather we can turn to what is most time tested and sure: our faith. The issue is not coming up with anything new for our time, but figuring out how to live the faith right here and right now.
Christians used to be able to hide within a generally sound culture, drifting along according the general norms, which were always fairly grounded. The problem now is that if you want to live the faith, you will stand out—having to wade against the current. Following Christ completely will always stand out from the culture, but now it will really stand out.
As the culture turns more and more against the faith, we are going to have to decide if we are willing to be a radical. Are we willing to put our faith before everything else and live in conformity to our faith when everything is working against us?
The word radical comes the Latin word meaning root. A radical is someone who follows something purely and faithfully, as it stems from the roots, rather than watered down and transmitted through intermediaries. When it comes to being a Christian, a radical is someone who follows the teaching of the Gospel directly, rather than simply following the conventions and accommodations that always spring up as time goes on and people become lax.
What does it mean to be a Christian radical in our culture? There is no simple or easy answer, but here are some suggestions (which include links to other pieces I’ve written on these topics, which supply more practical details on living them out):
- As our culture becomes more and more sexualized and perverse, a Christian radical insists on purity, modesty, and respect for the difference between the sexes. Christian men in particular are called to a return of chivalrous practices and even reverence for women.
- Technology is reaching into our lives more and more every day. It is easy to focus on how it makes things faster and easier, but we also have to realize how it encroaches on genuine leisure, peace of mind, and even prayer. A Christian radical must limit the influence of technology, using it as a tool when necessary, but not allowing it to dominate life.
- Our culture is also becoming abstract and removed from nature. We should resist becoming too dependent on gigantic systems and being dominated by consumerism. Rather, we should try to become more economically independent, focusing on the small, local, and hand crafted, which is the very foundation of culture. Turning from a consumerist culture should create a counter culture, which is simpler and even embraces an evangelical poverty.
- A radical will also have to resist the depersonalization of our culture, as we allow the elderly and the poor to be cared for by institutions and programs. To counter this trend, we have to focus on charity above all else, sacrificing not only time and resources to serve others, but also giving of our very selves, as Pope Benedict XVI insists on in Deus Caritas Est, where he insists that we must be ready “to offer others not simply material aid but [our] very selves” (§30).
- Many of these points build up to the fact that our culture is making it difficult to engage in contemplation. Pop culture, in particular, trivializes the important things of life, making it difficult to be nourished by a serious encounter with the deeper things of life. A culture which pushes us away from beauty and the other transcendentals makes it difficult to encounter God in everyday life. We need to reverse that trend by taking time to read and study, to be enriched by art,
- None of the above points will mean anything, unless we have the courage to say no to the trends of our culture and to refuse to cooperate with them, no matter the cost. The many challenges of our culture accumulate in encouraging us to “check out,” especially in the legalization of drugs. We have to be ready to fight and even to lay down our lives to stand up for the truth. Rather than checking out, we have to step up and face the challenges of our times.
There are many other points which could be expressed. The key, however, is that we find our own ways of bringing our faith into our particular challenges and opportunities. In this task, the examples of the saints and other holy men and women can provide models of what it means to be a genuine radical.
St. Thomas More, for instance, did not seek death, but refused to cave in when confronted by a political situation which would have made him deny his faith. Bl. John Henry Newman shows us in unparalleled fashion what it means to follow the truth to its logical conclusion, even at the expense of losing one’s career, home, and friends. Like More, another husband and father faced beheading at the hands of a brutal dictatorship: Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to fight for Nazi Germany. He is a great example of how ordinary man may become a radical simply by refusing to go along with evil!
Being a radical does not mean being crazy, unless that means being crazy in the world’s eyes. One must be willing to be a fool for Christ (1 Cor 4:10) to be sane in our world! Being a radical simply means living out what we believe no matter the obstacles and price. We have to be willing to lose our selves and the world to do something great for Christ.