The other day, I found myself in a cramped waiting room dominated by a television much too large and loud for the space. After the third or fourth depressing “newsworthy” tidbit in a row, an old man glanced over at me and smiled ruefully.
“Why can’t they have a whole channel that only plays the good news?” he asked. “I’d like to watch that one for a change.”
I returned the man’s smile, and we settled back into a sort of fatigued silence.
Constant bad news, especially in the Church, is emotionally exhausting. And this past year has been particularly depressing, with a steady stream of headlines that have left Catholics hurt, confused, numb, and betrayed. This year’s litany of bad news has further bruised many good Catholics already spiritually anguished by the inroads of modernism and relativism that have plagued our parishes for more than a century.
I have found over the past year that my fellow Catholics often remind each other of all the other times evil has entered the Church. Remembering the pillaging iconoclasts, the Avignon Exile, the excesses of the Borgia popes, has been a healthy reminder that our troubling times are not unique in Church history. The Barque of Peter has weathered many storms in its two thousand years. The gates of Hell shall not prevail… but it sure feels as if they have won more than their fair share of battles lately. Why can’t we watch that good news channel for a bit?
But as Advent is now upon us, and we look forward to the birth of The Good News Himself, I find myself responding in another way. All of this bad news is necessary for us exiles in the vale of tears to truly experience the real joy of good news. As St. Augustine put it, “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.”
Towards the end of his pivotal essay, “On Fairy Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien introduces the concept of “eucatastrophe,” the sudden, unexpected, joyous turn of events. The world may be dark, the news increasingly evil, but the happy endings of fairy stories deny the pessimism of a “universal final defeat.” The eucatastrophic moment gives us “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”
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