The Art of Distraction

Fatima Center Staff Report

September 22, 2017

With his characteristic clarity, G. K. Chesterton once unmasked the face of democracy in his time (and ours). He pointed out that in the presentation of two candidates for election, the party bosses give us a choice between, say, Mr. Green and Mr. Gray. We then proceed to decide which of these two aligns most closely to our own views on those issues that matter to us.

As we go about this process of comparison, however, we unwittingly tend to narrow our range of thought to the perspectives presented by Mr. Green and Mr. Gray. We come to restrict the possible positions on issues to those that fall within the range represented by the party’s candidates. And we even forget about issues that neither candidate discusses.

But Mr. Green and Mr. Gray offer us only two shades among what may be a wide variety of colors. And even the difference between Green and Gray may be somewhat illusory, as both may in truth be closer in actual hue than they disclose to the public. And the issues Green and Gray are willing to discuss may not be the most important ones we face.

This restriction of thought inherent in the democratic process, as managed by the political class, has been exacerbated in our day by the media management of the news that we see and hear. Not only do the apparatchiks of the Republicans and Democrats try to channel our thought, but the news broadcasts blare at us around the clock, showing us only those things they want us to notice and telling us how we should feel about them.

This process of mind control (for this is what it truly is) is not limited to secular affairs but extends to religious ones. Indeed, there is no clear separation between the two, especially with a hyper-political Pope such as Francis now in the spotlight. Most of the commentary on what is happening in the Church is reactive: it responds to what the Pope and his surrogates say is important.

But we may rightly ask, “Is the Pope really addressing those matters that are most crucial to the salvation of souls?” (Let’s remember that salvation is the sole mission of the Church.) Much is written on Catholic blogs and publications about the Pope’s position on trade and economics, on the environment, on borders and immigration policies, on Donald Trump, etc. What Catholics think about and talk about tends to be in response to what the Pope thinks about and talks about.

At this juncture in the Francis papacy, however, it might be wise to ask ourselves: “Are the Pope’s concerns my concerns? Is the salvation of my soul the Pope’s principal aim?” If the answer to these questions is “No” or even, “Perhaps not,” then we should consider carefully where our attention needs to be focused and not allow ourselves to be drawn into preoccupations that distract us from the main business of life: salvation.

You Don’t Need the Weatherman To Know Which Way the Wind Blows

The above lyric by Bob Dylan should be taken to heart when our attention is drawn to any pronouncement by the media, ecclesial and secular, including those which report on what is happening in the Vatican or our local chancery office.  If we want to know what is really going on, all we need do is look around us.

If we want to know whether our priests and religious are teaching what the Church has always taught, we should listen to Sunday sermons; we should observe whether those coming out of Catholic schools are living Catholic lives. Piety has visible effects: it manifests in the way that people live.

If we want to know whether we are living according to the precepts of the Faith, we need only examine our conscience daily. We don’t need to know what Pope Francis said this morning at Casa Santa Marta or how the Wall Street Journal gauges his latest pronouncement on capitalism and investment banking.

The fact is, the Faith is not difficult to understand: its doctrine is accessible to everyone with a modicum of intelligence. The Apostle’s Creed, once learned by heart by every Catholic child, tells us the basics of belief. The Ten Commandments and the Six Precepts of the Church provide a clear guide to good conduct. We know when we have behaved well and when we have not. No great mystery enshrouds good and evil in a great cloud of obscurity and doubt.

Yet, if we turn our attention to what is coming out of the Francis papacy, toward  the media’s concerns, we are likely to forget the simple and necessary things we must do every day to secure the salvation of our souls: pray, avoid temptation, be kind, remember Our Lord and Our Lady, and keep our eyes on Heaven.  

To be too concerned with the results of an election, with the intricacies of economic policies, with whether air-conditioning is used excessively, is to waste our precious mental energy on matters that are peripheral to our salvation. Even if the Pope tries to tell us that his concerns should be our concerns, that his economic views are morally correct and we must adopt them and make them central to our life and thought, we are within our rights to say, “I don’t agree. You are not talking as the head of the Catholic Church about a matter that affects my eternal salvation, but as an individual with a political agenda, with opinions you wish to equate with Catholic doctrine but which are clearly not part of that doctrine.”

In the not too distant future, Pope Francis will no longer be with us. The world turns and the world changes. What the future holds is a matter for speculation and, perhaps, such speculation is of limited worth. We would be wise to stick to the certainties that transcend time: Death and judgment, Heaven and hell.

Our Lady of Fatima showed the children a vision of hell. She asked them to pray and make sacrifices for poor sinners, that they might be saved from eternal suffering. Our Lady asked that Russia be consecrated to Her Immaculate Heart so that it might be converted.  Our Lady of Fatima was concerned with one thing: our salvation. Her Message is about one thing: our salvation. And our life should be about one thing: our salvation. All else, all that distracts us from the central concern of this Message and of our life, should be set aside.

The time is short, as Father Gruner used to say. We must use it to our advantage. That is, we must use our time to gather grace, for ourselves and our suffering world, for grace is the only currency that can purchase salvation.