Outrage and Serenity
Serenity is the hard won fruit of trust in God
From time to time, I’ve told people that outrage is the proper response to the outrageous. After all, ignoring the outrageous would be an outrage, wouldn’t? And it’s outrageous that we so often ignore the outrages of the day.
Sounds plausible, or at least it did to me. But I got it wrong. (Family and friends tell me that it’s happened more than once.)
I have a test case to show just how wrong I was. The case is so serious that I need to beg my readers, here and now, to shift gears.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is set to address the theme of “eucharistic coherence.” One aspect of that coherence is how the bishops ought to respond to the reception of the eucharist by Catholic politicians who support and aggressively advance legal abortion.
Such politicians do so despite John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which teaches that “those who are directly involved in lawmaking have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose’ any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”
Nonetheless, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, recently cautioned our bishops lest a national policy “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States.” A national policy, moreover, should come only after “extensive and serene dialogue.” Local bishops, he noted, would do well to “engage in dialogue with Catholic politicians within their jurisdictions” as a “means of understanding the nature of their positions and their comprehension of Catholic teaching.”
With due respect to the Cardinal, three points are painfully clear: (1) the lack of a national policy is already a source of discord, (2) there has already been a surfeit of dialogue, and (3) Catholic politicians already understand Catholic teaching on promoting laws that attack the preborn, but they repeatedly reject it.
Taken together, these three points constitute an outrageous status quo. It is outrageous because it constitutes a gravely disordered response to an extraordinary evil: the legal acceptance of the abortion of over 60 million innocent babies. Yet outrage is the wrong response. Why so? Because outrage is itself a badly disordered response, even to the outrageous. On occasion it makes sense to fight fire with fire. But rage, no matter the provocation, never makes sense.
Well, then, how should we respond to the outrageous? Enter serenity, again. Should we respond to the outrageous in a spirit of serenity? Words mean something, and like ideas, their use has consequences. So what does serenity mean? To what does it refer?
For the Christian, serenity does not refer to a feeling or mood. Serenity is not placidity. Nor is it an eerie stillness. A smiling Buddha, perhaps on the way to the dissolution of self, is not an icon of serenity.
Serenity, rather, is the hard won fruit of trust in God. When, at the Christ’s bidding, we step forth on the water to join him, we do so with serenity. When our faith fails, and we sink into the water, our serenity leaves us.
The saints are serene. Consider the deacon and martyr Stephen. He was serene as he met death, the very death which outrage had led Saul of Tarsus to endorse. We might meditate on this stark contrast between Stephen and Saul as we pray that the bishops may be serene, and we with them. With such serenity, we can set out to rescue the least little ones to whose death the law consents.