The maxim, “It is always darkest before the dawn,” supposedly dates to the 17th century, but sentiments like it have been around forever.
Holy Mother Church moves it beyond the platitudinous “self help” literature to the realm of fact. Coincident with the darkest days of the year, the birth of the Light of the World, who is Christ, is preceded by warnings of attempts to hide that light. Of the “Four Last Things” preached in Advent, hell is saved for last. Death contrasts with life, judgment refutes meaninglessness, heaven opens the gates to eternity. Then just before the “Dayspring from on High,” the church declares that hell is real.
It is an endless moral darkness in which the most unrelenting suffering perhaps is boredom.
“All the way to heaven is already heaven for those who love the Lord.”
Universally, and not just here in our neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, the contradiction of God’s joy is sensed when ugliness mocks beauty, deceit twists truth, and evil defies goodness. But heaven is intuited through that triad of beauty, truth, and goodness.
As primary colors refract from pure light, so do those three fundamentals emanate from the divine Light of the World, who came into a world darkened by sin and death. Just as Catherine of Siena said that “all the way to heaven is already heaven for those who love the Lord” — so is the path to hell already hell for those who deliberately reject Him.
If boredom is the chief quality of hell, it is significant that when Christ walked through this world, some people loved Him so much that they were willing to die for Him, and others hated Him so much that they killed him — but no one ever found Him boring.
Our nation has gone through a long moral darkness, dimming awareness of human dignity and the sacredness of life. While not putting trust in princes (Psalm 146:3), there is no doubting that if the recent election had gone another way, the downward spiral of our culture would have continued.
There may be some glimmer of dawn in recent executive nominations.
The next secretary for Health and Human Services has a 100 percent approval rating from the National Pro-Life Committee, the new attorney general is a protector of religious liberty, and the future secretary of Defense is a champion of the persecuted Christians in the Middle East. No mention of those suffering Christians was made in the recent presidential proclamation of Human Rights Day — and the hellish massacre of dozens of Coptic Christians in Cairo last week received scant attention, and less outrage.
That will change soon, and there is hope for the Supreme Court.
While we are not naïve about politics, the darkness of our times may be a sign that a dawn awaits. Whatever that means for our culture, the dawn has always shone on the church and “the darkness has never overcome it” (John 1:5).
Fr. George William Rutler is a Catholic priest and the pastor of the Church of St. Michael in Manhattan. This article originally appeared in his parish church bulletin and is used by permission.