We live in a fallen world. Now what?

Jared Staudt

Once, an editor of The Times newspaper asked G.K. Chesterton, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton, the great master of common sense and wit that he was, responded: “Dear Sir: I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

“I am.” There is starting honesty and humility in recognizing that the world’s problems rest in the heart, and not ultimately in any of the great social, political, or economic forces on the outside. It is the problem within the heart that causes those exterior troubles, of course. There are certainly sinful structures in the world, which are structures that arise from and encourage sin, such as Communism, although they only have power because they tap into the darkness within us. The world is broken because we are broken. 

Chesterton, once again, points to the commonsense reality of our brokenness. He rightly recognizes that “certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” We can simply look around to recognize that we live in a fallen world. Due to the Fall, stemming from the sin of Adam and Eve, every human being following them has been born into the world without the gifts that God originally intended for us. He desired us to live without evil and suffering, sheltered within the protection of the Garden, but we had other plans. The Catechism speaks of how original sin impacts us: “It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin  — an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence” (CCC 405). Original sin explains why we all struggle to reach happiness and to be at peace with others. 

“Suffering and brokenness bring us to our own limitation and need for God. There is freedom in accepting this brokenness, so that we can face it and embrace healing in Christ.”

Original sin points to a lack of right relationship with God as the heart of what’s wrong with the world. It is a problem we all face, even as we want to blame others. In fact, owning up to our own brokenness and sin has been a problem from the very beginning. When God asks Adam why he ate the fruit, he blamed Eve, the helpmate that God had given him (implicitly blaming God). When God turned to Eve, she blamed the serpent for tricking her. There is truth to the fact that we do not sin in isolation from others. The trouble comes from wanting to blame the world’s problems on others, while acting like we are simply victims of forces outside of our control. 

Even if we recognize the source of evil as arising within the heart, we still have to face another question of why evil exists in the world. Like Adam, many times we blame God for allowing suffering to happen in our lives. If we are sick, lose work, or a loved one dies, we immediately ask God how he could have allowed it. God, however, did not intend this evil in his original plan, as suffering entered into the world because of sin. Sin is to blame for physical evil and death, not God. As a result of the Fall, God does allow physical evil to occur in the world, even as he uses it to bring about a greater good. Through physical difficulties, God shows us that the world is not our true home (and is not meant to be an earthly paradise any longer) and that we are made for something more. We cannot get too comfortable here on earth. Suffering reminds us of this and our need to trust in God. Even worse than physical evil, however, is moral evil which stems solely from our own free will. When we suffer, it can actually wake us up to the moral evil that lies hidden in our lives, calling us to conversion. 

Suffering and brokenness bring us to our own limitation and need for God. There is freedom in accepting this brokenness, so that we can face it and embrace healing in Christ. Thanks to my teenage son, Louis, I overheard Matthew West’s recent Christian hit, “Truth Be Told,” that points to the typical reaction to our own brokenness, “I’m fine.” With words spoken to God, West’s song accurately captures how we try to ignore what is really going on inside of us:

I say “I’m fine, yeah I’m fine, oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine,” but I’m not. I’m broken. And when it’s out of control I say “it’s under control” but it’s not, and you know it. I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it, when being honest is the only way to fix it. There’s no failure, no fall, there’s no sin you don’t already know. So, let the truth be told.

In our fallen world, the problem begins with us and our frail state of sin and brokenness. During Lent, the Lord calls us to conversion – to turn away from our sin and toward him in a spirit of penance, opening ourselves to receive his grace.

Modern individualism tells us that we are fine simply relying on ourselves — that we can handle it and that we are weak if we turn to others for help. The Christian faith stands firmly against this, because we cannot ignore the brokenness within us, leaving it unaddressed and lurking to come out with a vengeance. We have to be truthful about who we are. We are broken, sinful people, who can experience healing and grace if we face the truth and allow it to be told. 

How do we tell this truth? During Lent, the Church calls us to conversion, through prayer and penance, and asks us to confess our sins. We “let the truth be told” when we come before God, acknowledge our sins, and ask for his forgiveness. Accepting our weakness calls us to turn to God for help, allowing him to remove the darkness within us and fill us with his own life and light. God does not just take away all of the world’s problems. Rather, he enters into them, first by taking them on himself by becoming man in Jesus, and then by entering into the broken center within us. God is not absent from the suffering world, even if he does not show himself visibly for all to see and dramatically solve things in a political way. God fixes the world one heart at a time in a way that is more powerful than the noise that surrounds us, preparing us to face it and do our part within it. 

If what’s wrong with the world is me, then the solution also starts with me. `My inner brokenness can be healed by God (even if never perfectly in this life) so that I can become part of the solution. I can bring others to Christ for healing, inviting them to the Church and specifically to confession. Although people are often scared to confess their sins, it is actually a great relief and source of healing. It is a gift to be able to share this relief and healing with others. And, when enough people receive this gift, it will have an impact on the world more broadly. This Lent, we can embrace God’s solution, the healing that begins at the source of the problem: me. 

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.