January 2010 - Is Life a Masked Ball?

We wish you a holy and happy new year, in spite of the general worries. Indeed, behind a pretended unconcern, modern man does not manage to hide the anguish that pervades his soul. The Gospel, however, answers this hidden anxiety by relating the words of Our Lord to us: “You will hear about wars and rumors of wars, but it will not be the end (…) Raise your heads, because your deliverance is at hand.”

Dear friends and benefactors,

We wish you a holy and happy new year, in spite of the general worries. Indeed, behind a pretended unconcern, modern man does not manage to hide the anguish that pervades his soul. The Gospel, however, answers this hidden anxiety by relating the words of Our Lord to us: “You will hear about wars and rumors of wars, but it will not be the end (…) Raise your heads, because your deliverance is at hand.”

It is true that Our Lord has also informed us that we will be delivered to those who hate His name and who want to erase any trace of His love. But these times of wars, or of open persecutions, should not frighten us excessively. There is, alas, another reason to fear, far more alarming but usually neglected, which is the source of the damnation of innumerable souls – and perhaps even of ours, if we are not on our guard.

It is time to listen attentively to the serious words of Our Savior: “Do not fear what can kill the body, but cannot touch the soul. Rather, fear he who has the power to destroy your soul.” Man, subjected to the sufferings of war or persecution, reacts and faces them. Forced to choose, willingly or unwillingly, what is essential, he recollects himself and offers his life in sacrifice. In a short instant, he tears himself from his usual mediocrity and rises to the heights of his vocation as man, finally ennobled.

The present state of morals brings man closer to the point of decadence. Muted, pernicious, underhanded, decadence contaminates the air, runs in the streets, enters the homes, thwarts the best defenses, laughs at the best erected barriers. Imperceptibly, it enters our souls and insidiously obliges us to make a deal with it. Nothing seems to be able to stop it – it excites our senses, penetrates our hearts and alters our intelligence. It is a true pandemic.

The unambiguous sign of its indisputable victory is the present condition of our intelligence, reduced to a recordtaking of our vaguest and, often, least noble impulses. We witness a very impressive antiintellectual crisis: only the emotions are recognized as valuable. We assist, not only impotent but too often agreeing, with the triumph of the beast over the man.

We are aware that these are very general remarks. How is this decadence manifested in us? Do we find some signs of this pandemic in ourselves?

It would be useless to cover our faces. It is impossible to be preserved from the present poisons when the hour of darkness has sounded and when darkness does indeed cover the whole world. To claim that we are unaffected by this contamination would be simply ridiculous. Unless this evasion is an implicit acknowledgment of our impotence and, cruelly touched by this terrible disease which pitilessly attacks our intelligence, we have become unable to judge rightly about our own state.

A first observation is essential, and it will confirm our analysis. Let us pray that it lead us to a healthy reaction. We are indeed obliged to question the nature of the bonds which unite us. Do we form a community of faithful worthy of those of the first centuries of the Church, who shone by their great and evident charity? Shouldn’t we say instead that in our parishes it seems that every one analyzes and interprets his neighbor’s words and deeds according to his own moods? It seems, indeed, that we give reason to those who claim, with caustic irony, that Tradition seems more a museum than a path to the future. After all, aren’t museums the places where each exhibit must be “interpreted”?

The reason for such misapprehension and for the sterility of our Christian life – which should be a reflection of divine charity, inclining with kindness towards the misery of our neighbor – is explained by our lack of emotional detachment regarding our neighbor.

Our intelligence has become, in fact, an uncultivated field due to the primacy of our sentiments over any other consideration. This primacy of our emotions establishes in the soul the tyrannical domination of the passions. We do not live any more as men led by their intelligence, but as animals seeking to satisfy their natural appetites. The senses are no more at the service of the intelligence and subject to it, and from now on the faculties of the soul are enslaved by our unrestrained feelings. A door has been opened to all excesses and justifications. The life of man curiously resembles a masked ball in which the overriding pride of every one of us is cunningly disguised under the mask of a transitory emotion. And thus we allow ourselves to criticize others, in all good conscience because our feelings obscure our reason.

This is a cowardly attitude, but it can be explained. We must tear off its mask because it sterilizes the work of our sanctification and spreads a spirit of generalized suspicion where every one can say whatever he wants, following his own resentments and cheerfully destroying the reputations of others.

It is characteristic of these perpetual criticisms to interpret our neighbor’s words or actions according to who he is and to our feelings about him, but also according to our own interests and our own “truth” – and we intentionally put the quotation marks to underline the irony of the term which we so readily employ!

Don’t we disguise our calumnies with high and noble considerations? Who could accuse us of malice when we have carefully assumed the appearances of virtue? Let us be serious! We do not seek the truth and we employ great words, with a tone and an air of pretended compunction, only to hide the inconsistencies of our judgment and our own hostility. Who wouldn’t see, indeed, in this cowardly dissimulation, a clear acknowledgment of our own misery?

The intelligence, enslaved to pride by these ceaseless criticisms, is not indeed any more able to rightly judge our neighbor. Our feelings, ruling our life, dictate now our words. We do not have any more what the philosopher Bergson so fittingly called “the politeness of intelligence”, the faculty of understanding that our neighbor is not a carbon copy of our own self and that his opinions are not identical to ours.

It is also common to surprise one and all by reporting the criticisms made by a third party, endorsing them… or criticizing them in turn – while happily merging our criticisms regarding the members of our own families with those regarding people in authority and consecrated souls, adding to the latter an insidious and demeaning mockery. But who is the one who is really demeaned by this mockery?

It goes without saying that these criticisms are hypocritical and that the greatest pleasure is to wait until our victim has his back turned before pouring forth our venom. Is there an incapacity there to discuss things face to face, calmly? The abandonment of the intelligence lets us suppose it. It is difficult not to see also here an ordinary cowardice. But we should see here especially an implicit acknowledgment of the almost instinctive impulse to seek to be right, rather than to seek the reason of things.

Let us be on our guard: this attitude is extremely dangerous because it creates in us a pernicious deformation which consists in forgiving ourselves some of our attitudes, while loudly condemning the same attitudes when we notice them in our neighbor. It would be good for us to learn from Saint Bonaventure, who echoes Our Lord Himself: “If you see in your brother some reprehensible defect, turn first your glance towards yourself… condemn in yourself what you would have condemned in him.”

“Any kingdom divided against itself runs towards its ruin”. At the beginning of the new year, when we take up the weapons of our new resolutions to enter with generosity into the arena of the spiritual combat, it would be good to reflect on these few considerations, to realize the emotional excuses that disguise our pride and to convert, so that our Christian life does not become a vain name given to external practices.

May the words that each evening we address as a petition to Our Lord come now again to our soul and to our lips, may we repeat them with insistence so that we experience a true conversion: “Converte nos Deus salutaris noster, et averte iram tuam a nobis.”

In Christo Sacerdote et Maria,

Fr. Yves le Roux