From St. Augustine’s City of God.
So we must not grumble, my brothers, for as the Apostle says: Some of them murmured and were destroyed by serpents. Is there any affliction now endured by mankind that was not endured by our fathers before us? What sufferings of ours even bear comparison with what we know of their sufferings? And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times. I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors–would we not still hear them complaining? You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them.
It amazes me that you who have now been freed from the curse, who have believed in the son of God, who have been instructed in the holy Scriptures–that you can think the days of Adam were good. And your ancestors bore the curse of Adam, of that Adam to whom the words were addressed: With sweat on your brow you shall eat your bread; you shall till the earth from which you were taken, and it will yield you thorns and thistles. This is what he deserved and what he had to suffer; this is the punishment meted out to him by the just judgment of God. How then can you think that past ages were better than your own? From the time of that first Adam to the time of his descendants today, man’s lot has been labor and sweat, thorns and thistles. Have we forgotten the flood and the calamitous times of famine and war whose history has been recorded precisely in order to keep us from complaining to God on account of our own times? Just think what those past ages were like! Is there one of us who does not shudder to hear or read of them? Far from justifying complaints about our own time, they teach us how much we have to be thankful for.
There is much just critique of the cult of progress where history is seen as a line sloping up. Progress measured by an ever changing metric.
“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.” G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy)
At the same time there is a view taking the opposite direction of regression and decline. A nostalgic take for a world that never existed.
Both view things that we are in a point of history that intersects either a line going upward or downward. As a pessimistic/optimist I am at times drawn to both viewpoints. Still I think Dicken’s famous introduction regarding it being the best of times and the worst of times is the correct view that straddles all points of the timeline. The present is always a mixture of various rise and falls.
“I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains some samples or glimpses of final victory.” J.R.R. Tolkien
With a clear-headedness we can see all that we have to be thankful for even in the most tumultuous of times. There has never been a time when someone could not be a saint. If anything society’s brokenness can shine a light on our own brokenness.
“At times of course it is hard to understand this profound reality, because evil is noisier than goodness; an atrocious murder, widespread violence, grave forms of injustice hit the headlines; whereas acts of love and service, the daily effort sustained with fidelity and patience are often left in the dark, they pass unnoticed” (Te Deum and First Vespers: Homily of Benedict XVI, 31 December 2012)
So easy to put a lot of effort in what’s wrong with the world and others, and little effort with the same in ourselves. I would rather rant than pray. Long for holiness while not wanting to put much effort into that desire. Knowing I suck, while seriously trying to not block the grace to reduce my suckitude.
The saints are oases around which life sprouts up and and something of the lost paradise returns. (Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth P. 248)