In my homily at last week’s Red Mass, the annual Mass for those in the judiciary and the legal professions, I recalled the old television show, The Twilight Zone. The Twilight Zone was scary but not for the reasons we typically attribute to horror . . . not much by way of monsters, murder or blood. Rather, it was creepy because in most episodes the main character somehow had his reference points removed. So much so, that the character often wondered if he had gone mad or if the world he was in had gone mad.
No one can doubt that we live in a time in which our reference points, those basic truths, what we might call those “first things” are being eliminated, re-defined, or deconstructed. Basic truths such as the inviolable right to life; the dignity of every human person; the essential understanding of what marriage is as a one man-one woman union; even the reality that there is such a thing as an objective moral order that we can all agree on and live by.
Without these “first things”, these reference points, we drift into a Twilight Zone of ambiguity and chaos, which can only lead to a form of tyranny in which those who have power, be they politicians or judges or others, exert their will over others.
Good law and government depend on finding and acknowledging true reference points,what we often refer to as “natural law.” The foundational documents of our nation reflect this as well, as in the Declaration of Independence, which speaks of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
Reference points are not only needed for good government, we need them in our personal lives too. Families and individuals are adrift without a sense that some things are really true (for everyone) and that some actions are good and others are bad. We need reference points for life much as a traveler on a highway relies on lines, signals and signs.
In these days leading up to another election, there is a great deal of anxiety, worry and discouragement. This is not only based on the particular candidates who represent the two major parties, but also the general sense that things are in decline, and that our reference points are up for grabs.
Where do we look for wisdom?
I recently listened to a book on tape about the early bishop and Church Father, Saint Ambrose of Milan. I had forgotten how crazy the circumstances were in which he lived. Ambrose was elected bishop by popular acclamation before he was even baptized. After trying unsuccessfully to get out of it, he consented and was baptized and ordained. Immediately he had to tackle mammoth problems in and outside the Church. With regard to the former, he spent most of his life fighting to eliminate the Arian heresy which had swept through most of the Church; this was the heresy that denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ. With regard to the political and societal challenges, he had to deal with the impending collapse of the Roman Empire and its structures to the various barbarian tribes, along with the other political intrigues of the day. He did all of this and was still present to his large flock as a pastor. He had an open door policy for any and all in the Church.
Throughout all of this St. Ambrose provided steady and consistent teaching and witness. He was a true and steady light during an extraordinarily chaotic time in the Church’s and the world’s history. Such is the example of the saints. Which is the point. The saints are living reference points at every time of history, including our own. When we not only cling to Jesus, but commit ourselves to truly living according to the Gospel and the grace we’ve been given, we bring light and sanity into our world.
This week we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. Let’s look to their example as we look to the future, and bring some more light into the twilight.