In a private conversation Elizabeth Scalia posed a question, and I’m going to paraphrase it wildly: If you are the parent of young children, are you afraid for what the future holds for them?
It’s a question people are answering this week whether it’s been asked or not: What does the future hold for faithful Christians in a culture that despises our faith?
My answer is, very bluntly, is that whenever I’ve had my head on straight, I’ve always been terrified and I mean that in a good way.
What’s different for Christian kids between 1985 and 2015? The outlook may be different on the surface, but I’m going to argue that 1985, and all the other decades, were just as dangerous.
The difference between last week and this week is that last week we were comfortably unaware of our peril. We were ready to die the eternal death wallowing in comfort and never the wiser. This week we’re wondering if we have what it takes to do the Catholic thing after all.
With that in mind, here’s ten things I think my kids need to know, really know deep to the core, if they want to make it through uncertain times. And they are all uncertain times.
10. Live modestly. There’s no sense getting used to a life of luxury when you could lose all those perks at any time. When you do indulge (who doesn’t?) recognize that indulgence as today’s little detour, not the foundation on which your life is built.
9. Don’t rack up debt. The last thing you need when you lose your job is a big mortgage and a car loan. Just because you have the income to make the payments now doesn’t mean you’ll have it when you’re scraping for work.
8. Don’t amass excessive wealth. Do you really want all your hard-earned wealth going to some greedy scoundrel, when it could have helped someone in need?
7. Don’t build your identity on the success of the moment. There’s nothing wrong with being pleased at the opportunity to use the gifts God’s given you. But your worth as a person isn’t measured by what you job you have or how well you impress other people.
6. Don’t let your happiness depend on passing pleasures. There’s a sure recipe for misery, and that’s to insist that your joy depends on some set of circumstances: That much money, that nice of a home, that many children, that good health — whatever your “must have” is.
5. Don’t be afraid of suffering. Everybody suffers. Everybody. You don’t have to like it and you don’t have to seek it out, but if you live your life trying to run from it, you’re just going to live your live hunted. And then you’ll lose.
4. Put your faith in God, not men. There are some pretty good people in this world, and thank God for them. But sooner or later the humans are going to let you down, whether in small jabs or desolating atrocities. Rejoice when your friends are good, but don’t worship their goodness because it isn’t God.
3. Make heaven the thing you are living for. So what’s the lasting thing? God. Eternal life. If you want to live an undisappointed life, abandon yourself completely to the love of God.
2. Cultivate a single fear: The fear of offending God. You are going to be pressured to compromise your faith. You’ll be steered by circumstances, pulled by the attraction of kind people who mean well, and stirred from within by your own desires and ambitions. Ignore the fear of loss, of shame, of missing out, and learn to fear just one thing: What if I’m giving up the one best thing that promises me happiness for all eternity?
1. Evangelize. There is one thing you can do in this life that will make the world better now and Heaven better too, and that’s to help the other humans find their way to God. By your prayers, your sacrifices, your work, your kindness, your questions, your conversations . . . you are a person God has chosen to play a part in the very history of the salvation of the human race. You don’t get to choose what part God’s picked for you, but you do get to choose whether you’ll accept the call.
So say yes.
Artwork: Lorenzo Lotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons