This Ad Rem is a brief introductory speech I gave at IHM School’s graduation this past Sunday. Readers should know that our school in rural southern New Hampshire is very small, hence only two graduates.
On Monday of the week just past, Patrick J. Buchanan, the famous conservative author, presidential candidate, and former Nixon speech writer, published a column entitled “Are We Nearing Civil War?” Mr. Buchanan was touching upon one of his most frequent themes of the last several years, that is, the deepening polarization of our American Republic, but this time in terms of the growing threat of an unelected “deep state” carrying out a spy war on our democratically elected president. Common in Buchanan’s articles on this subject are references to the alarming fragmentation of our nation along ethnic, religious, and ideological lines. He frequently refers to this as the “balkanization” of America.
In recent years, and especially in recent months, many other commentators have picked up on this theme for the simple reason that the reality is so undeniable even the mainstream media must report on it.
Only two days after Mr. Buchanan’s column, with its alarming headline, a fanatical leftist named James T. Hodgkinson, armed with an SKS rifle and a 9 mm pistol, opened fire on Republican lawmakers who were, of all things, practicing baseball for the next day’s charity game between Republican and Democratic legislators. Seriously injured in the shooting was the pro-life House Majority Whip from Louisiana, Steve Scalise, a man who went to a “rival” Catholic school to my own in New Orleans, and who graduated from the same State University my brothers and I all attended.
For me, this national news hit strangely close to home.
Listening to the reports of the event were eerie. Eyewitnesses, who were also among the intended victims, related hearing up to fifty shots fired by Hodgkinson and the capital police who returned fire ultimately killing the madman. But as they described the movements of the assailant and his victims, they did it using the lexicon of the sport commonly known as “America’s pastime.” The familiar terms “home plate,” “first base,” “outfield,” and “third-base dugout” were used to describe, not the playing of a baseball game, but the bloodsport of a twisted man attempting to murder a large number of elected officials in cold blood. The All-American symbolism was creepy.
The incident managed to bump from the headlines an ongoing story, only a week or so older, about a prominent and well-financed version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The production is one of those irksome attempts at modernizing the Bard, only this time, the assassinated Julius Caesar was played by a Donald Trump look-alike, complete with signature red tie, and a wife with a curiously Slovenian sounding accent. The assassination scene was particularly violent, and portrayed women and minorities stabbing the tyrannical Trump-Caesar character.
These events — and we could multiply them — sadly represent the “new normal” in our national life.
But why the depressing newsflash to begin my speech on the joyous occasion of Lucia and Luke’s graduation?
My answer is simple. It is to warn them — one last time — that as they leave the true “safe space” they have lived in until now and start their days as IHM School alumni many miles from home, they will encounter people, things, and ideas that are openly hostile to all they hold dear. And we must include in this warning the fact that, in this atmosphere of heightened polarization, the hostility is becoming more than just verbal.
Now, if that sounds a bit too much like gloom and doom, let me give you a piece of advice that ought to encourage you. And the fact that it comes from the patron saint of impossible cases should not make it any less encouraging. I quote verse 21 of Saint Jude’s one-chapter canonical Epistle: “Keep yourselves in the love of God.”
It might strike us that the Love of God is His business, and that we can’t tell Him that He has to keep loving us. After all, our own loved ones sometimes find this difficult, and so, frankly, do we. For even the most conceited among us must acknowledge that we can be quite less than lovable at times.
Why, then, would the Apostle advise us to “keep ourselves” in that love?
God’s love as it emanates from Him is not at issue here. On that front, we can only ask God to continue to give us His love. But God’s love as it has transformed us and abides in us — as it has elevated us into the State of Grace, and infused into us Faith, Hope, and Charity, along with the other virtues and gifts — that we have some control over, believe it or not. That love of God actually makes us lovable, and we have some partial control over it because we can, of our own free will, either increase the life of grace in our souls by good works, or snuff it out by sin. We can say “No” to the gift, and repudiate God’s love by mortal sin. So the Apostle, Saint Jude, is warning us not to do that.
He further advises in that same verse, that if we remain in this Divine Love, we are “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto life everlasting.” Implicit here is a promise, the one that we all know of, that if we persevere in it, the life of grace here in this veil of tears opens up to the life of glory in Heaven — that life that we call “everlasting life.”
If there ever was a time when one could stay in the love of God by a life of mediocrity it is not now. We live in a day when maintaining normalcy demands heroism. And I am not saying that for a laugh, or just to be ironic or clever. We live in a day when it is positively heroic to be normal, normalcy defined as being what you were intended to be by God in the order of nature and in the order of grace — that is, living according to God’s will and not merely your own. This observation comports with what Our Lord Himself told Sister Lucy of the Immaculate Heart, the Fatima visionary: “The sacrifice required of every person is the fulfillment of his duties in life and the observance of My law. This is the penance that I now seek and require.”
Why is that a penance? Because nowadays it takes heroism to follow God’s law and do your duty. Because the “new normal” is so adamantly opposed to these things, genuine normalcy becomes heroic; it becomes penitential.
No, mediocrity will not save you. Being the kind of Catholic who is content with doing the minimum — making one’s Easter duty and staying Catholic by the skin of his teeth — is a recipe for failure today. Such a disposition of soul does not equip you to resist what you will daily encounter: things utterly antithetical to the faith and morals you have been given by God, and the consequent temptation to make a false peace with the enemy.
But be of good cheer!
The fun part is that this Catholic thing is a thrill. It’s an adventure. It’s even a romance and, yes, a comedy if we do it right — a comedy being a story with a happy ending. In cinematographic terms, you might think of modern life as part zombie apocalypse, part Mission Impossible — but with a happy ending that shows the good guys riding off into, not the sunset, but the sunrise, where they enter into the everlasting Sabbath Day of our Orient from on High. In literary terms, modern life is like Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” where you get to beat General Zaroff and inherit his exotic chateau. Or, better yet, it’s Dante’s Divine Comedy — at times hellish, at other times purgatorial — but with God’s help, and the guidance of his chosen ministers, it will all end in Heaven, where we ought to fix our gaze from time to time so as not to lose our way.
And don’t forget to set your gaze on Heaven. And don’t lose your way. If you do, you can always find me via Catholicism.org or Reconquest.net; I’m also on Twitter, @Brother_Andre and I’m easily found on Facebook.
My last word to the graduates is to remind them that we, their teachers, love them very much and will pray for them. (We will even miss them.) But our love can only do so much. So, Luke and Lucia, here, once more, is your “Mission Impossible” in the great zombie apocalypse of life — and, remember, it comes from the patron saint of impossible cases:
“Keep yourselves in the love of God.”
In the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Brother André Marie, M.I.C.M.