In the crisis of the Great Depression, and in a time of growing global unrest, the February, 1933 Saint Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin announced that Pope Pius XI had proclaimed a Holy Year for 1934. The writing is more formal than modern texts, and with the unconscious gender bias of its age, but the world described is strangely familiar:
“Nineteen centuries after the death of Our Lord, in an age when a world gone awry is tortured by spiritual perplexities, the Sovereign Pontiff calls the world to reconsider its golden Christian heritage. No man denies that the times are out of joint. It is unquestioned that something must be done…
Taught humility by our failures, we can well afford to indulge in a little heart-searching. Men prate about the ‘failure of Christianity.’ Analyze the statement. Where has Christianity ever failed when its commitments were fully accepted and faithfully observed?… The failure of Christianity is the failure of unregenerate human selfishness and wickedness, nothing more. The inability of the Christian Church to reform this world is part with the failure of Christ to convert his own generation. Humanity has failed often; Our Lord, never.
We need a year of extraordinary grace, a year of meditations and prayer. Its spiritual opportunities accepted, it can change the face of the earth.”
Looking back down the tunnel of history, we know that collective thoughts and prayers were tainted by the hypocrisy of individuals whose hearts were secretly self-interested and insincere. We’ve seen how global power struggles of World War I, followed by the 1918 influenza health crisis, inequalities of industrialization, the rise of crime during Prohibition, and poverty in the Great Depression, progressed into the horrors of genocide and World War II – and into the cynical modern age.
Today, as we face extraordinary challenges to our ideas of authority and order in church and government, we need to learn from the past. Jesus, long ago, laid out a single timeless route to follow – based on love of God and caring for those around us. Humans, gifted with free choice, make bad decisions, and may confuse, mislead, or be misled along the way, but the route itself never changes. Each one of us is called to seek out the Star of Bethlehem as our beacon, leading us back to Christ. As our patron Saint Francis de Sales observed:
“We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. If at times we are somewhat stunned by the tempest, never fear; let us take breath, and go on afresh.”