I look forward each week to Peggy Noonan’s Saturday column in the Wall Street Journal. This week it was titled: “The Dark Night Rises.”
She spoke of the rise in violence in movies, and while admitting that no single movie will trigger a tragedy such the Aurora shootings, she makes the sobering observation that there has been a cumulated effect of increased violence over the last few decades, desensitizing us. We get used to it. Hollywood ups the ante. We get used to it. Hollywood goes a bit further.
I’ve found this in the publishing world as well, that new frontiers must be braved, new ways of kinky, new ways of anguish, new ways of hurt and abuse, often focusing on children. Young teens killing one another in the games of hunger. Vampires sucking blood. Torture, explosions, rape. We become increasingly desensitized to horror, increasingly accepting of it.
It is a frightening assessment of today’s culture. Parents, Ms. Noonan notices, look exhausted from from their constant concern over their children’s exposure to this kind of media. These parents carry a huge burden no longer shared by society. It seems that they alone must shepherd their children. Where the culture helped them do this once, now the culture poisons them.
In the past, what cultural institutions supported the raising of children so that they would become responsible adults, men and women who don’t pick up a gun and shoot into a crowd? Certainly the government, to a certain extent, finds it in their interest to legislate good law and police the populace. But more importantly the institutions of church and family have provided safe havens, which we have often taken for granted. Perhaps because they were taken for granted, we seem to be about to lose them.
Children need safe havens. They need a family with male and female role models. Boys need fathers to emulate; girls need mothers. They need structure, a clear path laid before them. Behavior boundaries provide security. And they provide love. The boundaries say, “I see you and you are important. I care how you behave. I love you.” Children need a home, a loving structured environment. They need security and safety.
While the home protects, it also molds character so that when the child grows into adulthood, he or she doesn’t act out to get attention. For there has been plenty of attention at home and he or she can always go home for more unconditional love.
And where do families meet other families to encourage one another? Where do they go for support in the huge effort of living a good life, raising children as to be good citizens, to be caring and responsible individuals? The Church provides such support through community: We worship together, we share meals together, we work together giving of ourselves to one another and the neighborhood. We learn to give; we are called to sacrifice. We learn to love those outside our family.
After reading Peggy Noonan yesterday, I smiled when I listened to the Epistle and Gospel appointed for today in our local parish. St. Paul writes to the church in Rome that we as Christians are adopted by God. We are God’s children, his heirs. But we must live within God the Father’s boundaries, i.e., the Ten Commandments, knowing that these rules are for our benefit. His boundaries say, “I love you. You are important to me.” And in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Christ speaks of knowing people by their fruits – every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cast into the fire, that only he who does the Father’s will shall enter the kingdom of heaven.
These are hard words! Yet the Church embraces them for they are God’s words, and true ones. The Church equips us to bear good fruit by explaining the boundaries. It says, “You are important to God, listen to him, obey him.”
So on Sunday mornings, families rightly fearing the chaos and violence of our culture have a place where they can go, a shelter from the storms. Within each church God works among its members, teaching them his love, his ways, his rules, rules that say, “I love you.”
If we can encourage these institutions of family and faith, we can keep the dark night from rising. We still have time to wake to the light of day and feel the sunshine pour in, for “Darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day….” (Psalm 139:11)