These are Troubling Times!

This weekend, while there was much talk of the mainstreaming of pornography with the Valentine’s Day release of Fifty Shades of Grey, and making comparisons to the box office opening of the Passion of the Christ (“Hey, here’s an idea: let’s have some fun with the numbers of crazy Christian evangelicals versus numbers of BDSM wannabes!”), there were also stark, troubling things going on the world.

We are distracted. 50 Shades, the Super Bowl, the Grammys, basically everything found in People Magazine, these are all things devised to divert our attention and blur our focus. While the ‘mainstream’ is enticed by normalizing sexual fetish, while we see another national broadcast with another interchangeable pop star gyrating amidst demon horns and hellfire (just like the year before) — and call it entertainment — we are being desensitized.

This is satanic stratagem. As we lose ourselves to these things, as our awareness of our innate human dignity erodes, we are not terribly surprised by the other horrors taking place elsewhere in the world. But we — through our comforts and fallen pleasures — become more avaricious to the sufferings of the poor and oppressed. It’s part of the Devil’s plan, and it is working masterfully.

In Copenhagen, there were more jihadist shootings. A man was killed at a panel discussion about free speech and Islam. Later, a Jewish man was attacked and killed outside a synagogue. The Prime Minister of Israel is suggesting that Jews who reside in Europe should emigrate to Israel, because anti-semitism is on the rise in the west.

In Libya, a group connected to ISIS beheaded 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt who were previously kidnapped. Libya is geographically close to Europe. This ISIS group announced its action by releasing a 5-minute video showing the brutal killings, which they titled “A Message Signed With Blood To The Nation Of The Cross.”

A jihadist in the video proclaims, “Today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message…..” As the beheadings begin on the video, the narrator continued, “…..we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him…..” Pope Francis said of the Christian martyrs that “Their blood confesses Christ.”

Our President would have us think that these things are comparable to the actions of Christians during the Crusades, or Inquisition.

In the Netherlands, where euthanasia has gained acceptance, as many as 1 in 33 people  have died this way over the past decade, including 650 babies who are being killed each year, “so that their parents don’t have to witness them struggle with disability or disease.”

Belgium is possibly the most secularized of European states. It also has the highest number of Islamic terrorists per capita who have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq. There are also 6 suicides every day there. That’s 20 per 100,000 people, a third higher than the world average, and the leading cause of mortality for persons aged 25-44.

And it’s the end of Catholicism in Belgium, which is just a few steps ahead of the rest of Europe. “In Brussels today only 7.2 percent of marriages are Catholic, only 14.8 percent of children are baptized, and there only 22.6 percent of funerals were Catholic.”

What are the apparent lessons from this? Distraction is not happiness. Pleasure is not joy. Comfort is not salvation. As Catholics, we must consider whether indulging in television, dirty books, pornography, music that glorifies the demonic, gossip about others, and idolizing celebrity and mammon is possible while maintaining our spiritual identity and proximity to the foot of the Lord.

We are being set up. Most of us, even if we are drawn into certain distractions of the world, would prefer to avoid the final destination.

Do we approach worldly things with a spirit of detachment? Are we attached to GMA, Oprah, Katy Perry, Ellen, social media, or whatever? Are we approaching these things with a God-driven purpose, as proclaimers of the good news? “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33). I think that the more we indulge the things of the world, the less possible it is to know and follow Jesus, and the less we even know how to pray the way God wishes.

Lent begins on Wednesday. Let’s begin it the way God wants. Go to Mass. Don’t just drive-by for ashes on your forehead. Be joyfully obedient regarding fasting and abstinence from meat. Incorporate fasting, prayer and almsgiving into your Lenten practice. Try Stations of the Cross. Pray the rosary. Do penance. Offer up your sufferings for the sufferings of those beset with violence. Pray for peace. These things will draw anyone closer to Christ.

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