Lent IV Thursday – Small Is Beautiful

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These are the tribes of the sons of Noe, according to their generations, according to their nations: of them were the islands of the Gentiles scattered over the earth after the flood. And all the earth was one lip, and there was one language to all. And it came to pass as they moved from the east, they found a plain in the land of Senaar, and they dwelt there. And a man said to his neighbour, Come, let us make bricks and bake them with fire. And the brick was to them for stone, and their mortar was bitumen. And they said, Come, let us build to ourselves a city and tower, whose top shall be to heaven, and let us make to ourselves a name, before we are scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men built. And the Lord said, Behold, there is one race, and one lip of all, and they have begun to do this, and now nothing shall fail from them of all that they may have undertaken to do. Come, and having gone down let us there confound their tongue, that they may not understand each the voice of his neighbour. And the Lord scattered them thence over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city and the tower. On this account its name was called Confusion, because there the Lord confounded the languages of all the earth, and thence the Lord scattered them upon the face of all the earth. – Genesis 10:32-11:9

Men, delivered from extinction in the Flood by God’s mercy to Noah, did not learn their lesson, and they determined to play God by building a tower to scale the heavens. One would have thought that the not-distant memory of worldwide catastrophe brought on by human pride and corruption would have daunted them, but they demonstrated the endless capacity of men to delude themselves, and they attempted, once again, to make life into a project to thwart God. The surprise was on them: God cannot be thwarted.

God solved the problem by creating many different languages and nations, scattering man across the face of the earth. He knew, in His infinite wisdom, that people do better in small groups, that small is beautiful. Man is by nature social: without family and community, without love, he withers and dies. And precisely because of this, he needs to be in little groups: families, Church parishes, communities. He needs life on a human scale, life with a human face. Being just an atom floating in a vast sea of faceless individuals – which is the plan for humanity of the Babel-Tower-Builders of all ages – has the same effect as having no society at all. It encloses one in his ego, which is hell on earth.

The Church is the ultimate answer to the Tower project. She gathers all the nations under Her care without destroying them. Each nation, and each local community and family, attains its true greatness mothered and instructed by Her. Where the Church is the Mother and Teacher of the nation, family life blossoms, and this becomes the basis of that true national greatness which cannot be measured by GDP or number of dollars spent on social programs or military adventures, but by the piety, learning, and virtue of the nation’s people.

Each of us needs to abjure the mass mentality and mass culture, and rekindle the love of one’s own: One’s own family, ancestry, tongue, culture, and place. Let us make our houses into homes, where family life flourishes in piety, learning, and virtuous labor. Let us love the land beneath our feet and the sky over our heads. It will be a great day when we are more concerned about our children’s Latin lesson or a raccoon getting into the chicken coop than about what some crooks are doing in Washington D.C., New York, or Hollywood.

For this to happen, we have to un-do the illusion that things that happen on video screens are more real and more important than things that happen in front of us in real life. Here is a short list of exercises that may help:

1. Buy stationery and postage stamps, and write someone you know a real letter once a week.

2. Plant a garden and keep after it.

3. Spend at least one evening per week with your family and just talk, or sing, or tell stories, or take a walk. Or simply do nothing – you’ll learn more just looking at each other than at the Internet.

4. Learn the names of the trees and plants where you live, and be able to identify them.

Pick one and try it. You have nothing to lose!

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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