The Great Unraveling: A Necessary Look at Reality

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This morning, the New York Times published an exquisitely-written dose of reality via Roger Cohen. If “only Nixon could go to China” then perhaps only a NYT columnist could spell this out and thus permit us to credibly acknowledge that things are as grim as we have all known, in our guts:

It was the time of unraveling. Long afterward, in the ruins, people asked: How could it happen?

It was a time of beheadings. With a left-handed sawing motion, against a desert backdrop, in bright sunlight, a Muslim with a British accent cut off the heads of two American journalists and a British aid worker. The jihadi seemed comfortable in his work, unhurried. His victims were broken. Terror is theater. Burning skyscrapers, severed heads: The terrorist takes movie images of unbearable lightness and gives them weight enough to embed themselves in the psyche.

It was a time of aggression. The leader of the largest nation on earth pronounced his country encircled, even humiliated. He annexed part of a neighboring country, the first such act in Europe since 1945, and stirred up a war on further land he coveted. His surrogates shot down a civilian passenger plane. The victims, many of them Europeans, were left to rot in the sun for days. He denied any part in the violence, like a puppeteer denying that his puppets’ movements have any connection to his. He invoked the law the better to trample on it. He invoked history the better to turn it into farce. He reminded humankind that the idiom fascism knows best is untruth so grotesque it begets unreason.

Read on, because there is more, much more, and it beats at us like a drum.

Or, really, like a gavel, calling us to order:

It was a time of breakup. . .It was a time of weakness. . .It was a time of hatred. . .It was a time of fever…

It is, finally, perhaps a time of dawning realization that the centers are not holding; old orders are in extremis; new orders are in capricious adolescence.

The troubles briefly enumerated in this sobering op-ed are only the most obvious issues. They are the pebble tossed into the pond, rippling outward in ever-widening circles — expanding to include a unique “time” of global crisis: governments failing at every level, everywhere; churches are divided, their freedoms challenged; citizens are distracted, dissatisfied and distrustful, their election mechanisms in doubt; schools are losing sight of the primary mission of education; families are deconstructed and the whole concept ripe for dissolution; respect for human dignity is doled out in qualified measures; there is a lack of privacy; a lack of time to think, to process and to incarnate; a lack of silence.

It sounds terribly, terribly depressing, yes. Who wants to read that? Who wants to think about that?

Sadly, this is essential reading; this is essential thinking. The long sleep induced by prosperity and power must now be broken. The choice to remain unengaged, fully tricked out with technology, is coming to an end, as is the easy habit of playing partisan games at the expense of human lives.

We cannot simply listen to the “strategic class” and trust that they know what they are talking about. If they ever did, those days have passed. Our “meritocracy” and “public service” have proved a recipe to rule for them, and ruin for us. We cannot return to office people who need turning out. We cannot keep operating as obedient automatons who need only the right buttons pressed to do the social and political bidding of living, breathing appetites of ambition.

With this column, Mr. Cohen has done us the remarkable service of showing us the ugly landscape all around us; the one we have wanted to pretend was neither so vast nor so damaged and fragile. Without taking it in, we cannot possibly begin to address the least-precarious bit of it.

But when and if we do, we will have to be very careful; because it is in the face of so much weakness that the most malevolent opportunists, seen and unseen, make their move.

How might we begin? How do we collect all of these loose ends and reattach them? How do we become strong, again? Here is one way, and it is perhaps the most fundamentally necessary thing. It is the beginning of what will become a long process of restoration which, if not rooted in humility, will never succeed.

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val’s great prayer for humility might be the ground zero of our efforts at restructuring. Many people will immediately dismiss the notion, but imagine what the world would be like if people spoke these words, every day:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, O Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, O Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may, increase and I may decrease, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Amen, amen.

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