It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
– Charles Dickens, a Tale of Two Cities
This is written for failed students of history, those who avoided the subject or those who forgot what they once learned cramming for a test.
Of course, in some cases, it is possible our schools never bothered to teach you some important things that happened since the dawn of mankind. In that case, I have some startling news for you.
Despite what you may have read in a politician’s rant, tweet or Facebook post, this is not the worst of times. Despite what you may have heard said by a critic of the Catholic Church, this is not the worst of times.
I’m not saying we’re living in a time of sublime joy. But it really could be worse – and it has been. Let’s consider some negative, definitive statements often heard in the public square.
“Never have politics been so bitter, the rhetoric so vile, the nation so divided.”
Well…things may seem bad, but I suggest other times when the nation was even more divided:
- The Revolutionary War
- The Civil War
- The Great Depression
- The Vietnam War
“With the scandal of clerical child abuse, we face the greatest crisis in the history of the Catholic Church.”
Well…the abuse crisis is awful, but the Church has faced difficulties before:
- The Great Schism of 1054
- The Crusades
- The Protestant Reformation
- The Inquisition
“The world is more violent today than ever before.”
Well…there is much – too much – violence in the world, but not when compared with a few times in the past:
- The Muslim conquests of Persia, Spain, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Egypt, etc.
- World War I
- World War II
- The Rwandan Genocide
In each case, I could cite many more examples. And to a great extent, it is pointless to argue which era of history is most violent, what society has been most divided or which crisis has been worse for the Church. I only argue the foolishness of commentators who claim the current world is worst of all.
Without knowing history, we lack perspective. And without knowing what came before us, history begins at the time in our lives when we start watching television, hear a radio or discover social media.
A young person who sees a violent demonstration on the news may be shocked. Absent a sense of history, it may appear to be the worst, most devastating demonstration ever. But a student of history would recall the race riots of the 1960s, the violent demonstrations at the 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago, the Vietnam War protests, the Haymarket Riot of 1886 or even the Boston Tea Party.
Reading the lists of “awfuls” above, you might get the idea that the world is a terrible place to be. But it is helpful to remember – in the midst of challenging times – that things have been even worse before. We survived and blessed by God’s grace and the strong human spirit He bestowed on us, we moved forward.
We’ve faced tragedy before and we’ll face it again. But we can survive anything with God as our companion.