I spent one memorable summer thirty years ago hitchhiking from England to Jerusalem. Having become interested in the Benedictine way of life, I stayed in monasteries all across France and Italy.
In many of the locations the abbeys had been destroyed by revolution or reformation. The monks were persecuted, killed, or driven into exile. Their buildings were demolished and their way of life obliterated.
Yet here they were. The revolutionaries, tyrants, and reformers had themselves been overthrown or their revolutions fizzled out. But the monks returned and started to rebuild.
I spoke with one of the monks about this phenomenon, “You Benedictines. You’ve got real staying power don’t you?”
His eyes twinkled as he said, “We’re like weeds. We come back.”
The perennial renewal of monasticism is just one aspect of what I call the “Easter Principle”. Put simply, “Life comes back. Death decays.” The resurrection had to happen. Jesus Christ couldn’t stay dead. How could we expect to kill the one who was the source of Life itself?
This Easter principle applies not simply to Catholic monasticism, but to every aspect of culture in the world.
In the long run truth will prevail over lies because lies are, by their very nature, insubstantial and unstable. False ideologies cave in on themselves. Whether the ideology is economic, social, religious, psychological, sexual, or philosophical doesn’t matter. If it is a false ideology it will eventually implode, collapse, and fizzle out. A lie has no staying power.
What is beautiful, good, and true returns just as certainly as the world returns to life each Spring. This is why the Catholic Church—for all her human faults—continues to surge down through history and throughout the world. At her heart is the Easter principle: In the long run what is beautiful, good, and true survives and thrives. What is ugly, evil and false withers and dies.
As a parish priest I see signs of this new life all the time. As quietly and surely as Spring I see young couples who are preparing for marriage who are not living together. They come to Mass and are choosing to establish solid marriages and families that are open to life.
I see vocations to the priesthood and religious life gradually increasing as a new generation of young men and women decide that living for God is a more exciting choice than living for money.
I see Catholic schools burgeoning into new life as teachers, parents, and administrators discover the solid foundations of classical education.
I see lapsed Catholics re-discovering their faith, and fellow Christians making their way slowly but surely into full communion with the Catholic Church.
The Easter Principle is also visible in the global church. While doom and gloom merchants predict the death of Christianity in Europe and the United States, I believe the fresh shoots of a Second Spring are already showing themselves in Christianity’s heartland.
While pessimists worry about the threat of Islam, I see the triumph of Christianity not through a crusade or mass deportations of immigrants, but by a renewal and resurgence of radical, clear, compassionate, and committed Christianity.
The monk said, “We’re like weeds. We come back.”
The Easter Principle is there also in the steady, sure and certain growth of Catholicism in the developing world. The faith is young in Asia, Africa and South America. Catholicism stands strong in the face of persecution, financial hardship and false ideologies.
The Catholic Church of Pope Francis is poor, but it is also vital and vibrant. The Catholics in the developing world may be down, but they are not out.
The poverty and persecution of the church is a crucial part of the Easter Principle. As the church suffers she opens the door to Easter.
This is the vital life force of Catholicism—that in every age it lives out the passion of Christ and so also lives out the Easter Principle. As the old Baptist preacher used to say, “No cross? No crown.” In other words, it is Good Friday that produces the life surge of Easter Day.
The English Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins gathered up the truth of the Easter Principle in his poem God’s Grandeur. Noting the degradation of the natural world, the fallenness of humanity. and the ravages of violence, sin, pollution, waste. and shame, he also saw the fresh, green shoots of new life always bursting forth.
Despite the ugliness, lies and evil, the Holy Spirit is not finished with the world, and the Life that burst forth on Easter Day still charges the whole world with life—
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.