Twenty-three years ago today, those of us above a certain age watched West Berliners and East Berliners dance atop the Berlin Wall. We saw champagne corks flying, flags waving, and relatives who hadn’t seen each other for years embracing.
On that day, the seemingly impossible became possible. What only a few years before had been unthinkable was now more than thinkable. It was real. The Soviet reign of terror had come to its end, and Eastern Europe was free once more.
That sight is worth remembering today for two reasons.
First, because it gives us perspective. It reminds that no matter how dark certain days may seem, the darkness does end. Or, at least, it abates. Empires rise and fall. Governments come and go. Seasons change. History is long, and battles lost today can lay the groundwork for wars won tomorrow. The choice is ours. We can take the apocalyptic view of Tuesday’s results, or we can breathe deep and take the long view, trusting that God can bring something beautiful even out of days as ugly as these. Personally, I’m choosing what’s behind door number two.
The second reason to remember that day 23 years ago is because of all that followed the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. The political defeat of the communists was a wonderful thing. But it didn’t bring about the flourishing of Catholic culture for which so many hoped. It didn’t stop secularism from barreling into the vacuum left by the Soviets. It didn’t heal the deep wounds left by atheistic communism. And it didn’t chase away the demons of despair, fear, and corruption that took root in much of the East during the Soviets’ long reign.
It didn’t do that because such change was beyond politics’ scope. It was beyond government’s scope. Laws and leaders can only accomplish so much. For real change to occur, for a true civilization of love to flourish, the culture has to be renewed from within. That’s a renewal that starts in hearts and homes and radiates outward, until the whole of society is transformed.
Politics matter. They do. And all the smart people tasked with framing the conservative message, constructing a better electoral ground game, and recruiting good candidates for office have their work cut out for them in the months and years ahead. We need to help them in whatever way we can. But our task as Catholics is much, much more important than theirs.
Our work is cultural renewal. It’s the New Evangelization. It’s presenting Christ to our hurting, lonely, confused world through both our words and deeds, and bringing about the transformation that, for the most part, still hasn’t happened in the former Soviet Bloc.
That would have been our work had Romney won, and it’s still our work in the wake of Romney’s loss. The culture is no more messed up on Friday than it was on Monday. Our task list hasn’t changed.
It’s a big list. Overwhelming really. But we don’t have to take it on all at once. We can start small—reading a book about a saint, smiling at the crabby clerk in the grocery story, not calling someone a Nazi online. Every little bit helps.
As for me, well, I have a book to finish and two talks to give in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, tomorrow, as well as some house guests to host. I’m moving forward with all the work God has placed before me, same as I would have had my guy won on Tuesday. There’s simply no time for weeping and gnashing of teeth in my corner of the world. I can’t imagine it’s any different in yours.
Before you roll up your sleeves and get back to work, however, take a few minutes to garner some wisdom from what our brothers and sisters from the East have learned about rebuilding the faith in a hostile world. Start here, with reflections from those who’ve been doing the work of rebuilding. Then, read about the organization that’s helping them do that rebuilding. Both stories are in this week’s Our Sunday Visitor and were written after my September trip to Eastern Europe.
Oh, and Happy Feast of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. How cool is it that we belong to a faith where even buildings get their own feast days? If I weren’t Catholic already, I’d become Catholic for this feast alone I think.
Emily Stimpson is a Contributing Editor to “Our Sunday Visitor” and the author of “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years,” where she dishes on the Church’s teachings about women, marriage, sex, work, beauty, suffering, and more.