One of the great delights of being Pastor is that I get to go into the school and visit the classrooms, and with the gracious indulgence of the teachers, take time with the students for my endeavors. This week I visited sixth-grade religion, where they were talking about Melchizedek. That was actually a great deal of fun, because it gave me a chance to talk about sacrifices of the sort that have been made irrelevant by the single saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This change has made the priesthood of the new covenant a much less messy, much less smelly affair. They hadn’t thought of that.
I also visited our eighth graders because I wanted to check on their knowledge of history. I have expounded already to you about my fascination with anniversaries, and yes I am still keeping the centenary of World War I, and still trying to learn what that history can reveal about our world and how we got here.
I mentioned other current anniversaries – the bicentennial of the burning of Washington by the British in the War of 1812, and the subsequent Battle of Baltimore. O say can you see? I also pointed out how one hundred and fifty years ago the Civil War was heading into its final stages. I also alluded to more personal landmarks just fifty years ago.
But what was really in my mind was a much more recent event, but seems to be more obscured by the mists of time than any of these others. And the pivotal anniversary for that is this very Sunday, November ninth.
You see, twenty-five years ago the largest threat to the well-being of the world collapsed under the weight of its own implausibility: Soviet communism crumbled in Russia and its European satellites. And twenty-five years ago this Sunday, the Berlin Wall came down.
Talk of the Cold War these days, whatever little there is, tends to dismiss any serious consideration of threat, conflict, or enemy. Couched in the relativism of our current conversations, any mention it receives usually accuses our nation and our allies of using it as an excuse for bad behavior. Completely overlooked are the scope and the seriousness of the evil that we were fighting, and how success against that evil was by no means a foregone conclusion.
Being not quite fourteen years old yet, our kids have no idea that barbed wire, mine fields, guard towers, guns and dogs were used to keep citizens from fleeing their own country. They don’t know that families were ripped apart, not least by using children like them to inform on the prohibited thoughts, words, and actions of their own parents. They have no idea of the material privation that was the result of the comprehensively controlled command economy. They can’t imagine the fear of arrest or loss of privilege that kept people repeating slogans that were obviously false.
One of the great indicators of someone’s true nature is the identity of his enemies. And Communism chose from the beginning to work with every effort to undermine and even destroy the Catholic Church. That is actually quite the endorsement, because there has never been a more effective opponent of tyranny, oppression, and abuse than the Church. And there was no more effective example of this than the favorite son of the suffering church of Poland, Pope Saint John Paul II.
All of this had an enormous effect on the lives of millions of people around the globe, and still does today. But the lesson will be lost on us unless we keep not only the anniversary, but the hard won awareness of the necessity of choosing of good over evil, and truth over lies.