We are well into Lent. Yet there is a house just a few streets away where the lighted tree still winks proudly from the living room window at night, like the leg lamp from Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story.” You got to admire people who won’t give up the ghost.
That said, we are at the point in southwestern Pennsylvania where we have lost all sense of humor about winter even when grateful to have been spared the big New England Blizzard(s). There is no more celebration of the season here, no oohing over pristine snow-whitened fields, no chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Just a string of unending gray days, moist with a sullen snow or sleet-cold drizzle. Frosty is dead and gone.
The last month of winter is suited for Lent, just as early spring belongs to Easter. It reminds us how the liturgical year and the seasons weave together. They are common to each other. It is the miracle of creation, the unity of faith and nature. It is a reminder, too, of how the forced secularism of our time is so jarring to that nature. It is not our world. It is not who we are.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy and the terrorist attacks that left 17 dead, France is duly responding with — what else? — one of its periodic secularization campaigns. According to a New York Times report, the French government is planning to spend the equivalent of $250 million over the next three years on new measures in French schools aimed at reinforcing secularism.
“Teachers are to receive new training” in secularism, the Times cheered, and students would be indoctrinated in civics and moral lessons from a secular perspective. “Classroom activities would include the singing of ‘La Marseillaise,’” the Times reported. All they need is Bogie and Bergman.
The current French socialist government is particularly insistent on the century-old heritage of “laïcité.” Since legislated in 1905 during France’s Third Republic, “laïcité” excludes religion — in spirit, if not always in later law or judicial interpretation — from any active role in French public life.
The purpose of “laïcité” in France when aggressively pursued is to relegate religion to a purely private affair, never mentioned or referred to in the established secular state and culture. Historically centered on the Catholic Church, in recent years this aggressive secularization has been aimed primarily at the Muslim immigrant community that now makes up roughly 10 percent of the French population.
About two-thirds of the French population is identified as Catholic, though it is estimated that fewer than one in 10 practice the Faith outside of baptisms, weddings and funerals. Fully 40 percent of the population claims no faith at all.
So the “laïcité” propaganda campaign has had its successes in France over the years. And there are not a few in the United States that would want to import French “laïcité” to our shores. With a vengeance.
Their faith is in secularism, and they wouldn’t mind imposing their religion on the rest of us — everything from declaring the traditional definition of marriage illegal to banning public religious imagery and excising religious speech from the schoolhouse.
But secularism still has a tough time gaining traction here outside of court mandates. Because it is contrary to what comes naturally to us. All things of nature are sacred and holy in faith.
“Cold and chill, bless the Lord; / praise and exalt him above all forever ... / Frost and chill, bless the Lord; / praise and exalt him above all forever. / Hoarfrost and snow, bless the Lord; / praise and exalt him above all forever” (Dn 3:67, 69-70).
When all is said and done, winter isn’t so bad.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.