This article was previously published in Sword & Spade Magazine.
Andrew Knepper, farmer and father, proposes C.S. Lewis’s advice from other times of worldwide uncertainty.
In 1948 C.S. Lewis wrote a brief essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age.” This intellectual great sought to answer the question posed by countless people across the world, “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I recently came upon this essay, and I read it with a great deal of anticipation. Lewis’ response to the perils of the atomic bomb striking anyone at any moment, and the fear associated with this specter, is simple: “The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.” As I look around the world today, I offer this suggestion: we need only replace the phrase “atomic bomb” with “COVID-19” to seek guidance for our refuge through the storm.
History teaches us that the human experience is cyclical, or at least that attitudes and angers in different ages rhyme. In 1948, the uncertainty surrounding the atomic bomb was on everyone’s mind. COVID-19 lingers as the plight of today. COVID-19 and certainly the political circumstances surrounding the national and global response to the virus pose risks both spiritually and physically. Many are faced with seemingly insurmountable fear and uncertainty. “Two weeks to flatten the curve” has turned into nearly two years of hitting “pause” on our daily lives. Can we transfer the lessons learned from living in the atomic age and apply them to our situation today?
C.S. Lewis’s essay proposed that instead of inspiring extraordinarily different courses of actions from “normal” ones, perhaps chaos and fear should inspire us back to what matters most. The answer to chaos, then, is much simpler perhaps than some first considerations. Lewis remarked that the atomic bomb (or COVID-19) should…
…find us doing sensible and human things: praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies [a microbe can do that] but they need not dominate our minds.
We need to live the Beatitudes, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and most importantly the Ten Commandments. As Our Lady said to the three shepherd children at Fatima in 1917, “the final battle will be over marriage and the family.” I cannot think of any institution that has fallen farther than this great sacramental institution, and our present uncertainties should compel us back to the most basic of things. As gentlemen, we need to live our vocations well. What is helpful in this truth is that even if we were in a time of relative stability and ease, this would still be our course of action.
I ask you to consider — how can you take steps to build up your families and Catholic communities? In a word, we need to simply fulfill our daily duties. We need to keep our spiritual life on the right track. And offer up the uncertainty, fear, persecution, and if necessary, our lives up to the glory of God. We need to remember that we are but sojourners on foreign soil. While our brief glimpse of life here on Earth is but a single drop in an infinite ocean of time, we must focus on what is most important despite the perils we face. Turning once more to Lewis, he says that we are “free and rational beings…inhabiting an irrational universe.” When our freedom is threatened we need to take a stand on Faith.
As the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote (also in 1948) in Communism and the Conscience of the West,
“Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world; the great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on because they have lost the vision of the heights from which they have fallen.”
Our fellow men are blind to the sickness of society. Faith is that which will sustain us through all adversity. Hope will allow us to see that our future home is waiting for us. Charity gives us the grace to love our neighbors who, in their blindness, fail to see God as their Creator and us as their brothers.
As Catholic men, we know that our society is in dire straits. We know that our Church is going through great pains. But we should also realize that God’s permissive will has allowed this great opportunity for us to courageously live our Way of the Cross — our own passion — today. Our battle plan is simple. We need to love our wives and children, faithfully fulfill our daily duties, and develop competencies that allow us to cultivate and care for our families and communities. The simplicity of it is startling, but may the truth of it inspire us toward fruitful action.