To Easter Through the Crucifixion A Method, of Progress the World Misunderstands
0 NE of the symptoms of spiritual decline is the way in which the Faith becomes disintegrated, so that the several parts are considered by themselves and without relation to the rest. I hat is what has happened in the case of Lenten observances. Intense concentration on our Lord's sufferings without reference to the sequel has produced a gloominess which is alien to the Season. Lent is a preparation for Easter. It should he remembered that Catholic devotion to the Crucified reverses the Nstorical method. We to whom the Victory'of Easter-is known cannot share the mood of thosewho, ignorant of the last act in the Drama in which they were participating, followed the via dolorosii which led to Jerusalem and Calvary. If we are rightly instructed, we shall view the Cross in the light of Easter morning. The two things form parts of an integral whole, and if they are separated each loses its significance. The cloud that obscures the sun has a silver lining which proclaims the radiance that awaits us. Viewed from that standpoint, Lent is charecteriseel by the tension of joyful expectancy. The discipline which it imposes on us is calculated to prepare us for the shock of a glorious apocalypse. Actually the time is like the economies and domestic labours which precede a wedding festival. It is. in short, a time of restrained joy.
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?
WE have heard so much about the virtue of giving that the virtue of receiving has been obscured. Yet it is surely obvious that a religion which sums itself up in the term Gospel, or Good Ness's, certainly demands the capacity to welcome gratefully and joyfully the supreme Gift of Eternal Life. A good deal of modern unbelief, however, is merely the effect of a confirmed pessimism. It has succumbed to disillusioning experiences, and its myopic vision of the universe has given rise to the dogma that there is nothing under the sun to be desired. We all know individuals who " enjoy being miserable." The cynical view has its attractions and its mordant humans is,not without its value. It may become, however, a habit which excludes a very possibility of being surprised into thankfulness.
Moreover, much scepticism is due to a certain kind of asceticism. The desire to escape " wishful thinking," the fear Of a religion that is an anodyne to dull the senses against the evils inherent in existence, and a stoic ,pride in being able to " take it" without grumbling overmuch play their part in fostering unbelief. The paganism with which we are most familiar is that which stresses the delights of the present world, but there is a paganism which is in love with suffering. If, on the one hand, we have Dionysian revels, we have also the unsmiling countenances of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus.
The Christian approach to Easter through the Crucifixion and all it implies ensures the elimination of " wishful thinking." No merely temperamental optimism or dislike of unpleasant subjects can survive identification with the Crucified. The joy that emerges from contemplation of the Passion is a pure thing, not self-induced but God-given.
THE GOD-GIVEN AND THE MAN-MADE I live in a man-made civilisation which hides from sight those resources of nature which are the raw material of our wealth The manufacturer and distributor are more important in our eyes than the• Creator, what is given receives less consideration than what we ourselves have made. Religion thrives best among peoples, such as peasants and sailors, who live near nature. " A dangerously erroneous doctrine," wrote Mgr. Ignatz Seipel, at one time Chancellor of Austria, " is based on the modern overvaluation of labour It is not true that labour per se is creating goods and values. What men need for their life was in itself from the very beginning a Divine gift." In primitive communities nature's gifts in their raw, unadorned state suffice, but with the progress of civilisation the work of the husbandman, the craftsman and. finally, the manufacturer assumes increasing importance, till the original, free endowment is forgotten anti human workmanstiip is given credit for the whole of the finished article. That is one of the dangers besetting .an urban society. and it is particularly evident to-day. The quarrel between Capital and Labour is, in comparison with the indifference shown to the fact that originally both are indebted to the Creator, insignificant. Even the admirers of a Christian civilisation and culture may show a similar forgetfulness of the Source from which they arose. It is quite common to find eulogists of medievalism who pay but scant respect to the Church which was the inspiration of the Middle Ages. Men have died for the European tradition who were more European than Christian. These are symptoms of that human pride which dislikes to acknowledge indebtedness even to God. Perhaps it will take the razing to the ground of our Babylons before we rediscover the foundations on which they sere built. It is this preference of the effect, because it seems to flatter our own power and skilleto the Cause which is leading us to a return of the Dark Ages.
This is one of the things of which the preparation
for Easter revelations should cure us. In so far as it serves its true purpose, it reduces life to those fundamental necessaries which owe little to human ingenuity and thus. by lessening the pride which rejects the ,free gifts of God, makes us more receptive of the Supreme Gift in dependence on Whom we live.
THE SENSE OF DIRECTION THERE still remains the difficulty of knowing in I which direction to look for the coming manifestation of the Divine Generosity. Jesus' disciples expected an earthly kingdom. They had their eyes on a Jewish utopia in which they themselves would occupy high positions. Before they could appreciate the significance of the Resurrection, it was necessary to endure the purging experience of their Lord's death. They hoped for wonderful things, but their hopes were based on worldly conceptions of the Kingdom, and before their eyes could be cleansed to perceive the glory of the Risen Christ, they had to die with Him to this world and all its values.
A wrecked world, even at this stage of the conflict, offers little prospect that peace will realise any of those ideals for which we profess to be fighting. Our minds are still commercialised and anticipate that an unlimited expenditure of blood and treasure will purchase the kingdom of our dreams, and such sorry kingdoms, too. Those that are early at the sepulchre, ready to welcome the sun rising, are so few. It would seem that we have lost the sense of direction. Even where we pray for Divine interposition 'We misconceive the manner of that interposition For hundreds of years, the Resurrection made but little difference in the conduct of the great pagan empire wherein it took place. For hundreds of years claimants to the imperial purple fought each other. For hundreds of years, slaves continued to groan beneath the burden of their servile tasks, and, before Christendom was established in all its length and breadth, a flood of barbarism was to deluge the ancient civilisation. It was only when human effort failed and holy men fled to the solitudes. there to await the end of all things, that the Morning Star, of a New Day appeared and Christendom emerged above the ebbing tide of barbarism. If we fail to understand that, perhaps present experiences may teach us.
PREPARATION FOR THE EASTERS OF' HISTORY LENTEN observances have become little more than symbolic, and even from those which remained we /have been largely dispensed. Penance takes the form of accepting cheerfully and offering to God such privations and sufferings as are forced upon us by the war. It will be easier to bear these in the right spirit if we call to mind what has been said: disciplinary periods such as the present are intended to develop our faith in and receptivity of the Risen Christ.
Undoubtedly many will succumb to the disillusionment, confusion and misery which the conflict is calculated to cause. We may look for a time of widespread apathy and despair, the burial of utopian hopes and the final discrediting of the nineteenth century myth concerning the inevitability of human progress Probably the doctrine of Original Sin (but divorced from faith in Redemption) will acquire fresh meaning. A few, recognising in the evil of the times tokens of the curse that lies upon the human race, will bear up against it with stoical pride, but the majority will be content to Jive from day to day in servile acceptance of what they regard as a malign fate.
But there will be others. These, assured of an apocalypse conceived in terms of infinite power and Divine generosity, will find a positive joy in experiences that are deepening their faith and clarifying their vision. Questionieg. yet not wholly unbelieving, like those hermits and monks who, deeming the end of the world at hand, retired to the wilderness, they will cling to One Who, though crucified. is still their God and be the first to herald the break of, morning and to hear the words: " He is not here:. He is risen."