Living the Faith in the Nuclear Age

By Chris Sparks

O my Jesus, because of my trust in You,
I weave thousands of garlands, and I know
That they will all blossom.
And I know that they will all blossom
When God’s sun will shine on them.

O great and Divine Sacrament
That veils my God!
Jesus, be with me each moment
And no fear will enter my heart

Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 4.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. It also marks the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world was on the brink of nuclear catastrophe.

Pope Francis drew attention to that fact at a canonization Mass over this past weekend, saying that “we should not forget the danger of nuclear war that menaced the world right at that time.”

“Why don’t we learn from history?” he said. “Even at that moment, there were conflicts and huge tensions, but the way of peace was chosen.”

Cause for prayer, not fear
How strange that the world should be looking at the live possibility of nuclear war 60 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Strange, and sad, and a cause for prayer, especially for the Rosary, asked for by Our Lady as a remedy to war and an instrument of peace at Fatima.

But not a cause for fear.

Now of course we are members of a fallen people, suffering disorder and the inclination to sin. Of course everyone is afraid of different things at times. It’s only natural that your first reaction to a threat such as nuclear war, or illness, or some other danger would be fear. That emotion helps us survive, after all, and meet the fundamental obligation we all have to love ourselves. Some folks even confront medically diagnosed anxiety. I’m not saying that if you’re afraid of anything other than God, you are condemned.

But we aren’t called to merely live “natural” lives as Christians, or remain obedient only to the natural law. We are called to supernatural lives by living in the Holy Spirit, and called to obedience to the law of the Gospel. Remember that the Christian is called to fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, and not called to remain in fear of the world, the flesh, or the devil. Scripture hammers away again and again throughout its pages that fear is owed to the Lord alone, rather like worship, and to accept fear, to remain in fear of anyone or anything else can, in some sense, be an act of idolatry.

So we are called to live in faith so fear never has the last word. We aren’t meant to live our lives dominated by fear of the devil and his works, or afraid of the world and its corruption, or afraid of the flesh and its dangers.

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not fear of the works of His hands.

We are called to live in faith so fear never has the last word. We aren’t meant to live our lives dominated by fear of the devil and his works, or afraid of the world and its corruption, or afraid of the flesh and its dangers. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not fear of the works of His hands.

Beginning of wisdom
Further, the fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom, not the fullness. It gives us a launching pad, a beginning, a conversion. The end of wisdom, the goal, is God who is truth and perfect love. And of course, Scripture says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love” (see Jn 4:18). In the end, fear is to be absorbed by the words, “Jesus, I trust in You!”

And that gives us the key to how to live in the shadow of the nuclear threat. C.S. Lewis put it rather bluntly in an essay called “On Living In An Atomic Age.” He writes:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. …

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. …

It is our business to live by our own law not by fears: to follow, in private or in public life, the law of love and temperance even when they seem to be suicidal, and not the law of competition and grab, even when they seem to be necessary to our own survival. For it is part of our spiritual law never to put survival first: not even the survival of our species. We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture or class, is not worth having unless it can be had by honorable and merciful means. Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs. Those who care for something else more than civilization are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved. Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best. Those who love man less than God do most for man.

In other words, Lewis calls us to live according to Our Lady’s example. She didn’t attack the soldiers arresting her Son, or rally His followers to storm the long walk to Calvary and prevent His death. She didn’t even cry out to Heaven and pray against those who laid hands on Him. Hers is a hard road to follow, but follow it we must, little though I like it.

Mary’s example
Further, she showed us what to do when the doom of death hangs over a household. She had been warned of the sword to pierce her heart, and seen how the world welcomed her Son’s birth — the wise and the poor came to Him to love and honor Him, and the rich and powerful sent armies against the Child. Perhaps she even knew that Jerusalem would be His place of persecution, and that her Son was born for an unhappy death. Perhaps that’s why she reproached Him when she and Joseph found Him in the Temple. Perhaps she had feared that she hadn’t been there when He’d faced His final trial. Her three days search for Him in Jerusalem foreshadowed the three days He spent in the tomb.

Our Lady shows us the path to peace, and to obedience to the will of God. She came to us again in 1917 to remind us of the lessons of the Gospel, and sealed her calls at Fatima with the extraordinary Miracle of the Sun on Oct. 13 to prove that the child visionaries had spoken truly.

“Be not afraid,” as St. John Paul II told us all. Follow Our Lady, she who first followed Jesus, the Divine Mercy Incarnate. Live in this time of the danger of nuclear war in the same way Christians have done in every age of lethal threats: experiencing our natural fear, and then by the grace of God, transcending it; worshipping God with the Sacraments of the Church; praying for our enemies and our friends; fulfilling the duties of our state in life; doing the works of mercy for all in need; studying the Scriptures, the Tradition, and the Magisterium; and keeping on our lips, “Jesus, I trust in You!”

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.
Photo by Joseph D'Mello on Unsplash


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