The expression “a canary in the coal mine” refers to caged canaries miners would bring with them into mine tunnels. These birds were used in Britain right up until 1999 as a way to warn miners if gases like carbon monoxide collected in the mine. Noxious gas would kill a tiny canary before miners even knew they were in danger. Now the phrase alludes to someone whose sensitivity delivers early warnings to society. Our popes have often perceived subtle shifts away from Gospel values before most of us even notice.
We are Like Frogs Sitting in Hot Water
Most people are too caught up in the details of the daily news cycle to step back and perceive major trends in society. We are inundated with so many facts, we become numb and don’t even notice as our values are slowly undermined. After a journalist watched a young boy play a violent video game for five hours on a plane, she reflected on how numb our society has become to violence:
The issue of violence is already a tough topic for people to listen to or want to talk about. Why? Because we are bombarded with gruesome images day in and day out. From tweens on up, what we see in the media, in movies, on the Internet, on television and the increasing number of so-called “games” is making many numb to it all.
There is a parable which explains this modern malaise: Throw a frog into a pot of boiling water and he will jump right out. Throw a frog into a pot of lukewarm water, then slowly raise the heat, and he will stay in until he literally boils to death.
Throw a Catholic into a pagan environment; he will see the lies and ambiguities clearly. Throw a Catholic into a polite society, slowly change the standards and values, and he will stay silent and slowly die spiritually. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis addresses our apathy:
Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.
Pope Francis on Abortion and the Right to Life
Catholics are called on to base themselves on a rock of justice without diminishing charity as they continue to commit themselves to defend human rights in the face of sin.
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this.
Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question… it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. (Evangelii Gaudium#213-214)
The Canaries in the Coal Mine
Every society needs at least one canary in the coal mine. Each successive pope has been rooted in the Spirit and in Christian culture and so has the freedom to view society through a lens of faith, delivering God’s perspective on current issues. The successors of St. Peter speak for those without power, without a voice like Pope Francis who encourages young people to speak out because they offer a fresh perspective on issues.
Young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?
May we all speak out courageously against injustice and immorality, taking our cue from our shepherd.
Copyright 2019 Melanie Jean Juneau