I’m rereading St. Augustine’s Confessions. In Book IV, he writes “I loved the peace that accompanied virtue, and hated the discord inseparable from a vicious way of life. I observed that, in the former, unity was to be found, but in the latter, fragmentation. Hence it appeared to me that unity … was the supreme good.” Think of the excitement, almost ecstasy, of students as they discover the unifying laws of physics and biology. Discovering patterns in nature helps to heal our fragmentation and isolation.
Isn't it odd, then, that such a scientifically-advanced culture as ours is so fragmented? One would think that a deeper understanding of the physical order would bring greater order to our relations with each other. But we are at each other’s throats in politics, in economics, in religion, and in the most basic social behaviors. It seems that the more technological we become, the more rage we feel.
Augustine spent 20 years trying to find the “One” on his own: through science, philosophy, rhetoric, sex, and politics. He never found it in those things. In 386 AD, however, at age 32, he had become so emotionally shattered that he threw himself down in a garden. It was then that he heard two children singing a ditty in Latin, tolle, lege (“open, read”). He opened a bible, and the bible opened his mind to the One. He realized that there is a Prime Mover, a Principle above and beyond all other principles. That Absolute Principle is a Person, and that Person loves us. Love is the unifying reality, and that love is personal, intimate, and manifest in a thousand ways by the people and things throughout our lives. Augustine finally discovered the One.
The frenetic search for this "One," the vast sums of time and money spent on seeking love and happiness in our technocratic society, is mostly a chasing after the wind. I flew on an airplane last week that had “One World” painted on its fuselage. And indeed, the entire planet is moving rapidly toward a One World Government. But that government will fail, as did the Nazi government that attempted to unify Europe; as did the Soviet government that attempted to unify half the planet; as did the Roman government that attempted to unify the entire planet. Any attempt to unify that does not submit itself to God will fail, usually after inflicting enormous suffering on massive amounts of people. And yet American cities have long surrendered to One Newspaper. There are a thousand mainstream media channels, but they all speak with One Voice. Voices that differ are increasingly removed from social media. California, the state that I love, is a One Party state. Different opinions on how to manage Covid, how to educate our own children, or how to address racial injustice simply will not be tolerated or even considered.
The poor Vietnamese and Nicaraguan ladies in my parish have actually discovered the One, and they radiate the peace and joy of those who know they are loved. Some eminent thinkers, such as Augustine, and some powerful leaders, such as Louis IX, had also discovered the One, although it is harder for the wealthy and powerful to submit to this One. We should know that any attempt to unify the planet apart from the One who is above the planet will only cause more fragmentation. This is the Good News, and these are the Glad Tidings, that Christmas brings to the world.