“Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The world appears to be going dark. A litany of ISIS killings—from Brussels to Dhaka and from Nice to Karradah—stain the globe with innocent blood. Unstable nations attain nuclear power, killers hunt police, racial tensions escalate, and presidential politics foment conflict. Can we make any sense of it? Can we gain any perspective on this seeming darkness by looking back into history?
During World War II, an eminent historian from England also painted a dark picture. Christopher Dawson, (1889-1970) spent four years writing, The Judgment of the Nations (1942). During World War II, He experienced the evil of Fascism on the one hand, and the evil of Communism on the other. Those were dark times.
In his book, Dawson located the source of this evil, not in Hitler and the Nazis, or in atheistic communism. They only manifested the problem. Instead, according to Dawson, the source of this evil is in Western culture’s separation from religion; culture became secular, and totalitarian evil stepped into its spiritual vacuum. “For lack of faith in God, the nations fall asunder and destroy each other. They try to be gods themselves…” (1). Accordingly, we might ask, “Is the world now reiterating the effects of its separation from Christian truth, not only in culture but within the autonomous individual? If so, then how do we find truth in the dark?”
First, truth is found in our hearts. Dawson believed that the truth of natural law “is never entirely extinguished” and “every man, by his reason, has some knowledge of truth…” (2). The Catechism teaches the same thing:
The natural law is immutable and permanent… Even when it is rejected in its very principles, it cannot be destroyed or removed from the heart of man. It always rises again in the life of individuals and societies… (CCC1958)
Discerning between good and evil
Second, truth is found through discernment and listening. Dawson discerned a cultural source of World War II’s evils. But St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) discerned between good and evil itself. In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius developed his Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, a guide for discerning between what comes from God and what comes from the evil one. For example, he contrasts the action of the good angel in our life, to that of the evil spirit through two similes:
In those who are making spiritual progress, the action of the good angel is gentle, light, and sweet, as a drop of water entering a sponge. The action of the evil spirit is sharp, noisy, and disturbing, like a drop of water falling upon a rock. (3)
He describes the enemy’s desolation as “darkness of the soul, turmoil of the mind” and its effect upon the soul as becoming “completely apathetic, tepid, sad, and separated…from its Creator and Lord” (4). In contrast, the consolation of God is an “interior movement…inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord”; the soul enjoys an increase in “faith, hope, and charity and any interior joy that calls and attracts to heavenly things…” (5).
Listen to the voice of God
The desolation Ignatius describes is caused by the Devil’s influence and our own concupiscence. He’s not describing two warring gods or an antagonism between what is material and what is spiritual (Gnosticism). There is one God who created heaven and earth. Moreover, what God created is good: “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good” (Genesis 1:31). Evil does not destroy good, and it has no power over an omnipotent God. So, the problem is not a Gnostic one—two equal powers in conflict—it’s primarily a human one. Man isn’t discerning and listening to the voice of God.
What would happen if the world followed the advice of author, Fr. Brett Brannen? He encourages men who are discerning the priesthood to listen to God’s voice, one of four “voices of discernment: God’s voice, the world’s voice, our own voice, and Satan’s voice” (6). But everyone who seeks God in a confused and seemingly dark world can also benefit from his advice. It starts with silence:
So many people sit before this tabernacle [TV] five to six hours per day listening to the voices of Satan and the world. This can render God’s still, small voice all but inaudible [cf., 1 Kings 19:11-13]. Give God his time in silence and you will hear him speak clearly! (7)
Seeing light in the dark
Finally, when we take time to listen, we will also see light in the dark. Frank Sheed, author of A Map of Life, used the analogy of coming “into a dark room” and seeing almost nothing. Then, we see “certain patches of shadow blacker than the rest; bit by bit, [we] see these as a table and chairs” (8), and so on. In silence, we listen and see; we come to know Christ as “the light of the world”. According to Pope Francis,
Joined to hearing, seeing then becomes a form of following Christ, and faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths. (9)
We’ve got a lot of work to do, both in our own souls and in the world. And it begins by sitting in silence, discerning the voice of God.
How do you listen to the voice of God? What advice can you give to others?
1. The Judgment of the Nations, Dawson, 101
2. Ibid, 93
3. Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola, 134
4. Ibid, 130
5. Ibid, 129-130
6. To Save a Thousand Souls, Fr. Brett Brannen, 137
7. Ibid, 140
8. A Map of Life, Sheed, 73
9. The Light of Faith, Pope Francis, 54