Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Spes Nostra Salve
Catolicismo No. 17 - May 1952
Image of Our Lady of Good Counsel venerated in the Chapel of São Luís School in São Paulo, Brazil
Optimism, pessimism, realism: what position should we take in the face of current events? Before answering this question we need to give words their true meaning.
Strictly speaking, a realist is one who sees facts as they are.
Therefore, an optimist would be one who, with a defective vision, imagines events with brighter appearance than they actually display; and a pessimist one who, on account of a symmetrical and opposite defect, were to see them with darker colors than they actually have. Thus, a doctor with an objective and true notion of his patient's condition would be realistic; one who mistakenly diagnosed the illness as less serious than it actually was would be optimistic; and one who figured the illness was worse than it actually was, a pessimist.
However, due to an accommodation in their meaning, in everyday language these words are employed in a slightly different sense. If after examining his patient a doctor came to the conclusion that his condition really was not serious one would say that he is “optimistic” about his patient’s future. In that case, "optimistic" does not mean the doctor was mistaken and sees things better than they are. It means that things are objectively so auspicious that the doctor expects real improvement. Conversely, if the disease is objectively serious one would say that the doctor was “pessimistic” after the consultation. This does not mean that the doctor was mistaken by judging the patient's condition more serious than it is, but rather that his state is very serious and as a result something unpleasant is to be expected.
Once these various meanings are defined it becomes easier and more accurate to say whether one should be optimistic, pessimistic, or realistic. Obviously, in any case one should be realistic. For if realism is the exact vision of things, and on the contrary, optimism and pessimism are errors one should prefer to stick with truth rather than error. So when we hear talk of "healthy optimism" in chronic and necessary opposition to "unhealthy pessimism" we often feel like smiling: If optimism is a bright but distorted vision of the truth, how can it be healthy? How can there be health in distortion?
But, someone could say, sound optimism consists in having a wholesome view of things in light colors when they are actually light. We agree. But in that case one should not always speak of "unhealthy pessimism". There should also be room for a "healthy pessimism" that would consist in seeing things dark when they actually are. Yet, for people who constantly talk about "healthy optimism," pessimism is necessarily "unhealthy." One is "healthy" whenever one is optimistic and "unhealthy" whenever one is pessimistic. The possibility of "healthy pessimism" is precisely what a lot of people want to deny at all cost.
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In short, one must be always and unflinchingly realistic. When reality is good, one must draw from it optimistic omens in the good sense of the word. And-- also in the good sense of the word -- when reality is bad one should draw pessimistic forecasts from it. "Healthy optimism" and "healthy pessimism" are legitimate and reasonable expressions only if they always and inexorably identify with "absolute realism".
That said, the question of whether we should be optimistic or realistic about the present time translates into this: whether our time justifies good prognostics, or bad.
This is, therefore, what we will deal with.
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Something which is in bad shape warrants bad prognoses. And something which is doing well justifies good prognoses. For an effect cannot have qualities that somehow are not contained in its cause. Consequently, we must ask whether things today are going well or badly.
Of course, like all historical eras, even the worst or the best, our time has good aspects and bad aspects. Thus, the situation of the chosen people when they committed the crime of Deicide was not entirely bad. True, the Jews rejected the Messiah and killed Him; and in this they erred. But when Our Lord came into the world they were monotheistic and faithful to the Synagogue, and in that they behaved well. Now, it is good for a man to provide for the goods necessary or appropriate for the sustenance of life. Thus, to the degree that a thief cares about his future and wants to provide for his own subsistence, he is right. His sin begins only the moment he decides to employ illegal means in order to meet that concern, entirely just of itself. Therefore, not everything in a thief's intentions is bad. In this sense, strictly speaking, the very act of Judas, when stealing alms the Apostles had reserved for the poor and when ultimately selling the Man-God, had something legitimate inasmuch as it derived from an appetite for goods necessary to sustain his life. Yet that did not save Judas from the sentence “melius erat illi si natus non fuisset” [it would have been better for him not to have been born], nor did it spare thieves from being punished as criminals everywhere, nor yet the people of Israel from suffering the most resounding punishment in all human history.
Thus we must recognize that someone who judges a man, country or century merely by distinguishing between the good and evil that may exist therein, does not judge them correctly. From that legitimate distinction of aspects one needs to go back to the fundamental unity that exists in men and try to see the related unity of meanings that these aspects convey as a whole, what their predominant note is.
The question therefore comes down to this: what unique overall vision comes off the multiple aspects of our time? What are the prevailing values, principles, factors and leitmotivs?
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This is not the place to take stock of what to us appears to be good or bad and then figure out whether it is good or evil that prevails. That would be a Herculean task which could hardly fit in a book, let alone in a newspaper article.
But that does not mean our question will remain unanswered. If we want to know what prevails today, if it is the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ or the spirit of the world, it suffices to read St. Paul.
According to the Apostle, the works of the flesh are: “fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and such like” (Gal. 5:19-21). On the contrary, the fruit of the Spirit is “charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continence, chastity” (ibid. 22-23). No need to ask if what prevails in our century is the works of the flesh or the fruit of the spirit.
Let us take the same truth from another angle. Would we dare say that today's civilization is still predominantly Christian? In that case we should recognize that the corruption of customs, greed, rivalries, fights, the universal disorder that prevails in it are typical and specific fruits of the Church's influence. Who does not see that we would blaspheme were we to say so? Thus we must recognize the truth: our civilization is not informed by the spirit of Jesus Christ. It produces fruits typical of civilizations dominated by darkness.
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What can we expect from this? Where are we going to end up within a few more decades of wars, strife, struggles between nations and classes? Where will we be fifty years from now if the corruption of morals keeps developing with the increasing speed it has been showing for example, in matters of dance, low-cut necklines and familiarity between the sexes?
If one wants to reason with all honesty, one must acknowledge that very little separates us from total catastrophe, and that if we continue along this line, within not too long we will suffer an eclipse of culture and civilization similar to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
And what will the future of the Church be in that world? Will She be condemned to live a few more centuries in the catacombs? Will the number of faithful be reduced to an insignificant little group?
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God alone knows the future. No one could reasonably be surprised if the whole structure of modern civilization thunderously and tragically crumbled in a great bloodbath. But there is a reason -- and it is not the only one -- to hope that Providence will not allow Holy Church to return to the catacombs for long. It is that an omen of victory that already exists amid the desolation of the present time: the visible action, so to speak, of the Blessed Virgin on earth.
From Lourdes and Fatima to this day, the more the universal crisis grows the more Our Lady’s interventions become numerous and tangible. Devotion to Our Lady is fought – it is horrible to say it -- not only outside the Church but even in supposedly Catholic circles. But to no avail. One can see that here and there the Blessed Mother continues to attract thousands of souls to Her and to develop a regeneration plan that obviously leads to a grand and spectacular outcome.
All circumstances seem appropriate for an immense triumph of the Virgin. The crisis is tragic. It approaches an apex. To tell the truth, human means of salvation are nil. For our sins we deserve no signal grace but only punishment and more punishment. All the characteristics of a humanly lost situation—not only typical but archetypal – seem to build up at present.
Who could save us? Only someone who had for us the boundless complacency of an exceedingly good, generous and compassionate Mother. But at the same time that Mother would have to be more powerful than all the forces of the world, the devil and the flesh. She would have to be omnipotent with God Himself, very rightfully irritated by our sins. Saving us from this situation would be the most brilliant manifestation of that Mother’s power.
Now then, we do have that Mother. She is our Mother and the Mother of God. How could one not realize that so many disasters and countless sins call out as it were, for the intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary? And how not to see that She will heed that cry?
When will that be? During the great drama that draws near? After it? We do not know. But one thing appears absolutely likely: that as the outcome of this crisis, Mary most holy is preparing for Holy Church, not centuries of agony and pain but an era of universal triumph.
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And so, in this month dedicated to Mary, with our eyes fixed on Her and in all serenity we can answer the question of whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic: a healthy pessimism should persuade us that we deserve everything and perhaps will suffer an awful lot; but a healthy and supernatural optimism should persuade us that the triumph of the Church is being prepared in today’s pains through a complete crushing of the mentality of our times. Both that pessimism and optimism are healthy realism because they take into account a great reality without which any vision of human problems is flawed: the Providence of Mary.
Terrible as an Army in Battle Array
St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort
Mary must shine forth more than ever in mercy, in might, and in grace, in these latter times: in mercy, to bring back and lovingly receive the poor strayed sinners who shall be converted and shall return to the Catholic Church; in might, against the enemies of God, idolaters, schismatics, Mahometans, Jews, and souls hardened in impiety, who shall rise in terrible revolt against God to seduce all those who shall be contrary to them, and to make them fall by promises and threats; and, finally, she must shine forth in grace, in order to animate and sustain the valiant soldiers and faithful servants of Jesus Christ, who shall do battle for His interests.
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And, lastly, Mary must be terrible to the devil and his crew, as an army ranged in battle, principally in these latter times, because the devil, knowing that he has but little time, and now less than ever, to destroy souls, will every day redouble his efforts and his combats. He will presently raise up new persecutions, and will put terrible snares before the faithful servants and true children of Mary, whom it gives him more trouble to surmount than it does to conquer others.
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But who shall be those servants, slaves, and children of Mary?
They shall be a burning fire of the ministers of the Lord, who shall kindle the fire of divine love every where.
They will be “sicut sagittae in manu potentis (Sl 126:4) — like sharp arrows in the hand of the powerful Mary to pierce her enemies.
They shall be the sons of Levi, well purified by the fire of great tribulation, and closely adhering to God; who shall carry the gold of love in their heart, the incense of prayer in their spirit, and the myrrh of mortification in their body; and they shall be every where the good odour of Jesus Christ to the poor and to the little, while they shall be an odour of death to the great, to the rich, and to the proud worldlings.
They shall be clouds thundering and flying through the air at the least breath of the Holy Ghost; who, without attaching themselves to any thing, without being astonished at any thing, without putting themselves in pain about any thing, shall shower forth the rain of the Word of God and of life eternal. They shall thunder against sin; they shall storm against the world; they shall strike the devil and his crew; and they shall strike further and further, for life or for death, with their two-edged sword of the Word of God (cf. Eph. 6:17) all those to whom they shall be sent on the part of the Most High.
In a word, we know that they shall be true disciples of Jesus Christ, who, marching in the footsteps of His poverty, humility, contempt of the world, and charity, shall teach the strait way of God in the pure truth, according to the holy Gospel, and not according to the maxims of the world, without putting themselves in pain about things, or accepting persons, without sparing, fearing, or listening to any mortal, however influential he may be. They shall have in their mouths the two-edged sword of the Word of God. They shall carry on their shoulders the bloody standard of the cross, the crucifix in their right hand and the rosary in their left, the sacred names of Jesus and Mary on their hearts, and the modesty and mortification of Jesus Christ in their own behaviour.
These are the great men who shall come, raised by Mary on the orders of the Most High to extend His empire over that of the impious, the idolaters, and the Mahometans. But when and how shall this be? God alone knows. It is for us to hold our tongues, to pray, to sigh, and to wait, — exspectans exspectavi (Ps. 39:2).