Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

A World of What-ifs

It has perhaps been overstated, and by all sorts of people, that anxiety is a particularly distressing and universal phenomenon of human existence in our times. We might call it, with Julia Flyte, “something absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly age could produce.”[1]  And yet, even a cursory look around seems to confirm it. In one way or another, malaise and cynicism are all symptoms of a kind.—So many disappointed hopes, so many thwarted hearts, so many good things either wounded or spoilt or lost. We say what if? so very often.

The cruelty is that to say what if in our age is not the exercise of a daydream or fancy; it is spoken often—far too often—with the taste of shame and bitterness. Anxiety and boredom may well be related, but anxiety makes a far greater demand on us than boredom and asserts itself more rudely and painfully; and there is nothing the least bit harmless about it.

But in the face of anxiety, it might well be worth asking another sort of what-if?What if it were all true? We mean, what if the basic Catholic propositions were true—that God himself, who created all things good, became truly man in the womb of the Virgin, made the expiating sacrifice upon the Cross, rose again, and who yet remains truly and unfiguratively present to the faithful in the Sacraments, etc? What if the Saints whose companionship we invoke, the mysteries we preach, and the morality we live were all perfectly real and had nothing of the contrived and fake character that many associate with formality and truth claims? And what if—most controversially—all this could really make the human heart ordered and happy in a way nothing else possible could?

What if we gave all that a fair hearing? Think well on it.—What if it were all true?


[1] Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, bk I, ch 7.

Lightning Meditations