The maxim “It is always darkest before the dawn” supposedly dates to the seventeenth century, but sentiments like it have been around forever. Holy Mother Church moves it beyond the platitudinous “self-help” literature to the realm of fact. Coincident with the darkest days of the year, the birth of the Light of the World, who is Christ, is preceded by warnings of attempts to hide that light. Of the “Four Last Things” preached in Advent, Hell is saved for last. Death contrasts with life, Judgment refutes meaninglessness, Heaven opens the gates to eternity. Then just before the “Dayspring from on High,” the Church declares that Hell is real. It is an endless moral darkness in which the most unrelenting suffering perhaps is boredom.
Universally, and not just here in our
neighborhood of “Hell’s Kitchen,” the
contradiction of God’s joy is sensed when ugliness
mocks beauty, deceit twists truth, and evil defies goodness.
But Heaven is intuited through that triad of beauty, truth,
and goodness. As primary colors refract from pure light, so
do those three fundamentals emanate from the divine Light of
the World, who came into a world darkened by sin and death.
Just as Catherine of Siena said that “all the way to
Heaven is already Heaven for those who love the Lord,”
so is the path to Hell already Hell for those who
deliberately reject him. If boredom is the chief quality of
Hell, it is significant that when Christ walked through this
world, some people loved him so much that they were willing
to die for him, and others hated him so much that they
killed him, but no one ever found him boring.
Our nation has gone through a long moral
darkness, dimming awareness of human dignity and the
sacredness of life. While not putting trust in princes
(Psalm 146:3), there is no doubting the fact that if the
recent election had gone another way, the downward spiral of
our culture would have continued. There may be some glimmer
of dawn in recent executive nominations.
The next Secretary for Health and Human
Services has a one-hundred percent approval rating from the
National Pro-Life Committee, the new Attorney General is a
protector of religious liberty, and the future Secretary of
Defense is a champion of the persecuted Christians in the
Middle East. No mention of those suffering Christians was
made in the recent presidential proclamation of Human Rights
Day, and the hellish massacre of dozens of Coptic Christians
in Cairo last week received scant attention, and less
outrage. That will change soon, and there is hope for the
While not naïve about politics, the
darkness of our times may be a sign that a dawn awaits.
Whatever that means for our culture, the dawn has always
shone on the Church and “the darkness has never
overcome it” (John 1:5).