My computer crashed during the week so I’m climbing the mountain called Steep Learning Curve. I’ve been introduced to Windows 8.1 and need say no more.
It was time for a new laptop anyway I told myself as I listened to the young man explain all the wonderful features on the one he was recommending, features that I would surely need and want. I tried to sort out what was true, exaggerated, and simply unnecessary. I prayed my angels were helping me along and I think they did and I’m so very grateful.
How did the crash happen, some have asked, their eyes wide. (Could it happen to them?) I was foolish, I said. As I was reading an online magazine article (John Yoo, National Review, highly recommended), industriously researching a project for my bishop, I succumbed to a pop-up that insisted, in a seemingly sane manner, that I needed what they were offering in order to view the page I was reading. A few minutes after I downloaded it, I sensed something wasn’t right and exited. It wasn’t until the following morning when I turned on my computer that I realized what had happened. A blank blue Windows screen greeted me.
I’ll find out later if my files are salvageable, and a lovely lady at church this morning who knows something about all these mysteries said they usually are. We’ll see tomorrow. Fortunately, I had saved key files onto discs. But it’s all a distraction and hugely time consuming.
The deception of the hacker and the resulting theft of my time reminded me of the darkness of the human heart. Timely, I considered this Quinquagesima Sunday morning, to be so reminded as we near Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. For Lent is a time when we look into our own hearts and consider our own dark corners, where we have grown inward and not outward, where we have not loved enough, been self-less enough. For self-ishness prevents God entering.
Christianity, and Judaism as well, tell us to be good. They give us ideals and laws, churches and synagogues, to help us and say it is better to fail at trying to be good than not to try, not to have the ideals. But that makes us hypocrites, some say, so let’s not have ideals at all. We’ll be honest and throw them out. There is nothing worse than hypocrisy, they judge. Christians reply that in addition to the ideals, we offer a way forward, an escape from the ashen heap of failure (and hypocrisy charges) and a way toward redemption. Christianity offers confession and repentance, ongoing change, again and again, turning toward the light, banishing the dark.
Sacramental Christianity, liturgical Christianity, offers certain seasons when these cleansings are highlighted in case we forget to confess and repent again and again, in case we think we are just fine as we are and draw into our selves away from love. So as we approach Lent we consider what we should be sorry for, measuring our lives against the Ten Commandments, the Cardinal Sins and Virtues, the many gentle promptings of our consciences.
Christianity, the child of Judaism, is radically different than other religions in this sense. For God is teaching us to love one another by loving us enough to walk among us two thousand years ago. To be sure, there were times when Christians failed to live up to the ideals God revealed in Christ, but there is no comparison between these times (i.e., the Crusades, the Inquisition) and Islamic terrorism, as President Obama stunningly stated at the recent National Prayer Breakfast. There is no comparison either, it should be added, between these dark “hypocritical” times and the secular horrors of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. A secular world without Judaic-Christian foundations, without Western ideals of tolerance and liberty and law, is just as dangerous as a world of terrorism.
Michael J. Ortiz writes recently in the Wall Street Journal:
“While we celebrate our freedoms, such freedoms also give us rampant abortion, commercialized eroticism and laws that make marriage anything one wishes it to mean. If we want the Muslim world to emulate our institutions of democracy, perhaps we should give them reasons for believing that democracy doesn’t automatically have to jettison publicly held moralities that actually ensure those freedoms in the first place.” (emphasis mine)
Indeed. Publicly held moralities. One such ideal we recently celebrated, the romantic love of Saint Valentine’s Day. Amidst the carnage of marriage, deep within, we know we can be better, can love better, that ideals are important even if we can’t attain them. We yearn to truly love and be truly loved so we look to Saint Valentine, a third-century Christian martyr.
Saint Valentine was a bishop. Fifth-century accounts as well as a history compiled by the Diocese of Terni, Italy claim that Bishop Valentine was born in Interamna (today Terni) and imprisoned and tortured in Rome on February 14, 273, beheaded for refusing to deny Christ. He was buried on the Via Flaminia. Over time February 14 became associated with romantic love as well (early spring pairings in nature) and colored the original history.
True love, sacrificial love, is one of the many Christian contributions to the West. Such ideals ensure our freedoms. We must not forget these pillars, and it is good to recall them as a hard-drive becomes corrupted and crashes. I do not want to become corrupted, for I do not want to crash. Just so, I do not want my country to be corrupted, for it will surely crash.
It is good to remember we are creatures of Adam, that we are but dust, and it is good to have an ashen cross drawn upon our foreheads this coming Wednesday. It is good to say, I’m sorry, I repent. I will try and be better. I will repent and be forgiven. For only then will my dust one day rise from the ashes, from death to life eternal.