‘If we fill our heads with poison and junk, we make ourselves angry and dumb.”
Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said this during a talk at the recent Napa Institute on how to live in and make the world anew. As he was speaking, everyone who watches politics like a seemingly endless televised car crash was following “the Mooch” and his seemingly erratic and certainly foul interview with The New Yorker. While I’m no Pollyanna about the words used in Washington, D.C., this is not healthy for anyone.
But Chaput was not directly addressing the Trump administration or Anthony Scaramucci. It’s the bad air we breathe these days.
“Hell has been described in a lot of ways, from a soulless bureaucracy, to a furnace of fire, to a lake of ice,” Chaput said. “But I think C. S. Lewis put it best in one of his novels when he says that hell is noise. If that’s true, and I think it is, then much of the modern life we share we also make hellish, by filling it with discord, confusion, and noise. Every day, every one of our choices is a brick in the structure of the heaven or hell we’re building for ourselves in the next life. And we’ll never understand that unless we turn off the noise that cocoons us in consumer anxieties and appetites.”
“Silence,” he added, “is water in the desert of modern desire.”
He continued: “We don’t see the full effects of the good we do in this life. So much of what we do seems a tangle of frustrations and failures. We don’t see — on this side of the tapestry — the pattern of meaning that our faith weaves. But one day we’ll stand on the other side. And on that day, we’ll see the beauty that God has allowed us to add to the great story of his creation, the revelation of his love that goes from age to age no matter how good or bad the times. And this is why our lives matter.”
Archbishop Chaput ended: “So have faith. Trust in the Lord. And believe in his love.”
Earlier he had set the stage for this: “Faith is a seed. It doesn’t flower overnight. It takes time and love and effort. Money is important, but it’s never the most important thing. The future belongs to people with children, not with things. Things rust and break. But every child is a universe of possibility that reaches into eternity, connecting our memories and our hopes in a sign of God’s love across the generations. That’s what matters. The soul of a child is forever.”
Not everyone reading this believes in God, but take a look at the beauty that exists even amid the noise. There’s more to the world than what we often focus on, acknowledge, and celebrate. And people are enslaved to things of this world.
We are meant to nurture and be nourished by all the gifts of creation, most especially our lives.
One last thing from what he said: “Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom, not knowledge, is the framework of a fully human life; the architecture of interior peace. Scripture is the Word of God, and Ecclesiastes tells us that ‘the words of the wise in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.’ Wisdom is more powerful than might and better than the weapons of war (Eccles. 9:16–18). Wisdom is more precious than jewels, and once we have it, then knowledge becomes pleasant to the soul (Prov. 8:11; 2:10).”
We strive to accumulate degrees and other credentials of the world, and these can be important. But they do not make us wise. Titles do not make us wise. Elected office does not make us wise. Wealth does not make us wise. Having a public platform does not make us wise. Having all the information in the world on our phones, as if appendages of our very beings, definitely does not make us wise. There’s wisdom, however, in seeing the world beyond the president’s next tweet and knowing that, as Saint Augustine believed, there’s “no use whining about the times, because we are the times.” There’s wisdom in not wasting away time scrolling and hitting refresh and downloading the new app. And in avoiding angry and dumb at all costs.
There’s great love we were made by and for. We are meant to nurture and be nourished by all the gifts of creation, most especially our lives.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.