Fourth Week of Lent
March 18, 2012
Bottom line: As Chesterton says, for people today “everything matters – except everything.” This is fatal because it causes us to forget our true home. Remember me, Lord, that I might remember you.
My homily this Sunday is about our human tendency to forget God. To put this tendency into context, I would like to begin with an observation by G.K. Chesterton. He said that one of the characteristics of the modern world is our willingness to talk about everything – nothing is off the table. He added, though, that there is one thing we are embarrassed to talk about: everthing! As Chesterton says, for us “everything matter – except everything.”
What does Chesterton mean when he says that we talk about “everything except everything”? Well, people have opinions about politics, movie stars, crime, fashions, climate, the causes of illnesses and the latest scandals – you name it and people have their opinion and they express it freely. But we shy away from talking about everything itself: What is this universe, this existence we have been thrown into? And what – or who – is behind it all?
We steer away from those questions. Our reluctance – even our embarrassment – to talk about everything itself has had an effect on us. We are busy about many things. We are concerned about many things – but we have forgotten everything.
The Israelites were in a similar situation during the Babylonian Exile. We heard about it in the first reading. In Babylon the Jewish people encountered new problems – and new opportunities. Many of them prospered in Babylon. Perhaps because of that prosperity, they tended to forget their home – to forget Jerusalem. The Psalm writer gives a warning, “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten.” To forget Jerusalem would be to forget God. That would be fatal.
Now, Babylon on the banks of the Tigres and Euphrates Rivers was attractive, even exciting. The exiles faced a temptation to get comfortable in Babylon. If they did that, however, they risked losing the one thing that really mattered – their home, Jerusalem, God himself. The Psalmist, therefore, speaks out: “May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy.”
You and I can also forget our true home. We can get so busy, so concerned with everything that we forget everything itself. Like the exiles we need a reminder. Let me give you an example (this is a true story):*
Once a middle-age priest had a visit from two young nuns. Since he didn’t have any food in his refrigerator, he invited them to a nearby restaurant. It was a nice a day and they walked. As they were going down the street, the priest noticed heads turning. At first the priest thought they were looking at him, but he quickly realized they were not looking at him, but at the Sisters. It was not that there weren’t other nice looking young ladies or even strangely dressed ones. There was something about the veil those Sisters were wearing. They were calling attention not to themselves, but to the Bridegroom. Some weeks later the priest ran into a lady who said, “I am not a Catholic, but I saw those Sisters the other day with you. I just felt something good inside of me.”
Those young Sisters – simply by the authenticity of their lives – they helped people remember God: To pause from all things worrying them, to forget about everything happening and to think about everything itself. To remember God.
How do we remember God? It’s not like trying to recall where I put the keys. It’s not a question of racking one’s mind. The truth is that none of us can remember God unless he remembers us. God has to take the intiative. And he does. As we heard in the Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
To remember God, the first thing is to recognize that He is other. He is distinct from us and we from him. We are not splinters of God. We did not emanate from him – like rays of the light from the sun. We are, rather, his image – like a reflection in a mirror. When I look in a mirror – after I get over the initial disappointment – I recognize that is me. But of course the image only exists if I continue in front of the mirror. The image is distinct from me, but it does not exist apart from me.
So it is with us and God. Our existence depends on him. But we did not ooze from him. He made us in his image and likeness. And He gave us all, including the great gift of freedom – but we used our freedom to turn our backs on Him. In a word, we sinned.
Because of our sins, we try to hide from our Maker. We want to forget Him, pretend we have some existence apart from Him. That has become our natural tendency. We have spent so much time forgetful of God we cannot now remember Him unless He remembers us. That is why the Bible has so many prayers such as, “Remember your people, O Lord” or more simply, “Remember me.” Those are good prayers, especially these last weeks of Lent. It’s not because God has to be reminded, but we certainly do. Remember me, Lord, that I might remember you.
We need silence to remember God. We need something else – a willingness to let light shine on our lives. That can be a little scary. All of us have things we would rather others did not know about – and maybe we are even afraid for God to know about. For that reason Jesus says, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” God does not want to condemn us. He wants to save us. He has saved us – in his Son Jesus. Remember me, Lord, that I might remember you.
To sum up: We have opinions about everything at all, but we shy from everything itself. As Chesterton says, for us “everything matters – except everything.” This is fatal because it causes us to forget our true home. “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten!” Remember me, Lord, that I might remember you.
*The middle-aged priest was me. I adapted the account so any homilist can use the illustration.
A Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
March 18, 2012
Fourth Sunday of Lent: God Is In Control
The historian who wrote the Second Book of Chronicles, from which our first reading for today comes, looked back at the Babylonian Captivity and saw the hand of God. The Jewish people had practiced infidelity after infidelity, abomination after abomination. The prophets had been persecuted or ignored. Finally, God permitted a foreign people, the Babylonians, to conquer Judah, sack Jerusalem, and destroy the Temple. The vast majority of the people were deported into slavery in Babylon. They were marched across the desert bound together with rings through their noses. A good time was not had by all. This all happened in 588 B.C.
If God so loves the World, How can Hell Exist?
As the camera pans the crowd at a football game, you see a few fans holding up the sign. It simply says “John 3:16.”
For years, evangelical Protestants have extolled this little Bible verse as the heart of the Gospel. In their minds, if you only have a moment to tell people something about the Christian faith, this is Scripture you should quote: “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that whosoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.”
Virtuous Friendships: What They Are, Why They Matter
Last night, I attended a talk put on by Christopolis, an Arlington-area Catholic young adult group affiliated with the Dominicans. The talk was part of their “Growing in the Spiritual Life” series, and was called, “Without Friends, Life Would Hardly be Worth Living: Friendship and Holiness,” and the presenter was Sr. Ann Catherine, O.P.
As the title suggests, this was an examination of friendship from a classical and Catholic perspective. So what is friendship? What does virtuous friendship look like? And what are some of the advantages of virtuous friendship?
A Lenten Meditation On Suffering Rejection
All of us experience rejection, and it can begin quite early in life. We can be terribly cruel to one another, leaving deep wounds with the things we say and do to others. Rejection, real or imagined, can come from any quarter – family, friends, workplace, and perhaps most of all, ourselves.
What Does it Mean to Say Jesus has Fulfilled the Old Covenant?
A reader writes:
I am having difficulties understanding when to apply teachings from the Old Testament and when those laws have been fulfilled completely and can be disregarded. For example, the Church bases her teachings on contraception at least partially on the sin of Onan yet she doesn’t teach the other half of the story that involves sleeping with your brother’s wife shall he die (Thank You).
Naaman the Leper and the Sacrament of Baptism
Yesterday’s First Reading was the cleansing of Naaman the leper, from 2 Kings 5:1-15. It’s a long passage, and chock full of meaning. It should be read as a prefigurement of the New Covenant, and of Baptism in particular. To get an overview, let’s look at each part in order:
Pope says prayer gave Mary her readiness to do God’s will
Profound and constant prayer enabled the Virgin Mary to embrace God’s will in her life, Pope Benedict XVI taught in his March 14 general audience.
Jesus’ mother “was placed by the Lord at the decisive moments of salvation history and has always been able to respond with full availability, the result of a deep relationship with God developed in assiduous and intense prayer,” the Pope told the more than 10,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.
The Easiest Plenary Indulgence Can Be Obtained During Lent
Father Pio Maria Hoffmann, CFR of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal reminds us the Catholic Church offers an easy plenary indulgence (with the usual conditions) to the faithful who recite the following prayer before a crucifix after having received Communion on any Friday in Lent. A plenary indulgence, you’ll remember, remits all the temporal punishment due to personal sins – eternal punishment is remitted in baptism and sacramental confession.
Vatican Says Church Is Growing and Affirms Scripture Is ‘Very Soul of Sacred Theology’
The Catholic Church added 15 million new faithful in 2010, and the number of priests continued to steadily increase for the tenth-straight year, according to the latest edition of the pontifical yearbook.
The Catholic population increased from 1.181 billion in 2009 to 1.196 billion in 2010, a growth of 1.3%. The percentage of baptized Catholics worldwide has remained steady at 17.5%.
You’re Going to Have to Do Better Than That
Nice try, Freedom From Religion folks. Nice try, but no dice. Yesterday, you ran a full-page open letter in the New York Times that was directed at me, a “liberal” Catholic. In this horrible ad, you said it was my “moment of truth”, that it was time I stopped “propping up the pillars of a tyrannical and autocratic, woman-hating, sex-perverting, antediluvian Old Boys Club”. Pretty strong stuff. But, sorry guys, I’m not budging. I’m Catholic, and I intend to stay Catholic until the day I die. Your open letter was a poorly-reasoned screed against the faith I love, and it is clear from the text of that letter that you completely misunderstand the nature and depth of my faith. In response to your letter, there are a few things I want to say. In no particular order:
Communion Services -Their Origin and Future
In response to a question posed in the Zenit Daily Dispatch some time ago, Father Edward McNamara wrote that “a Catholic who has even an inkling of the full meaning of the Mass would never voluntarily settle for a Communion service.” Far too many Catholics have no clear understanding of what is happening and who is present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Until this lack of clarity is resolved, any discussion about Communion services will have very limited value. Out of necessity then we must begin with these questions: What is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? What happens at the Mass? Who is really present there? What benefits do we receive by participating at the Mass?
Bishops say mandate fight is about government defining religion
The U.S. bishops are emphasizing that their opposition to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate is not about birth control or health care, but about the government’s attempt to impose its narrow definition of religion on the country.
“Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything,” said the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a March 14 statement.
Instead, they explained, it is “about the federal government forcing the Church – consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against Church teachings.”
Americans Continue to Oppose HHS Mandate
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition opposing a federal mandate that will require religious institutions to cover contraception and abortion-causing drugs in health-insurance plans.
“The government cannot force individuals or organizations to pay for services that they consider immoral,” said Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Top 10 Examples of the War on Religion
Don’t let the secularists tell you otherwise: There has been a war against religion being waged for decades by activist judges, artists, academia, liberal groups and the mainstream media. Judges have misinterpreted the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and have tried to force religion from the public square, while a culture that is becoming increasingly decadent does all it can to denigrate, mock and sneer at people of faith. Find that hard to believe? Here is the evidence:
8 Tips for Catholics With Doubts
“I feel like I’m losing my faith,” an acquaintance told me the other day. This person explained that she used to have an intimate relationship with God, but now feels empty inside, and has even begun to question whether God exists at all. She wanted to know how I recommend that she proceeds.
Even though I’m neither a saint nor an expert on the spiritual life, I get asked questions like this fairly frequently. Perhaps it’s because I’m an atheist-to-Catholic convert, or because readers of my personal blog know that I’m a spiritual spaz and therefore am likely to have been through a variety of rough patches in my relationship with God. Whatever the reason, over the course of the past six years I’ve had dozens of conversations with people who are struggling with doubts.
Calif. HS student devises possible cancer cure
If you ever worry about the future of America, there is no need: it is in good hands. A high school student named Angela is proof of that. We think you’ll agree she is nothing short of amazing. CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman met her on the road.
Born to Chinese immigrants, 17-year-old Angela Zhang of Cupertino, California is a typical American teenager. She’s really into shoes and is just learning how to drive.
But there is one thing that separates her from every other student at Monta Vista High School, something she first shared with her chemistry teacher, Kavita Gupta.
Maxims Of The Saints
I love the stories of the Saints and the inspiration that I always glean from their zeal for life and their love for God. They are often quoted, little catchy sayings that are so simple and yet so packed with wisdom. Some of my favorite maxims are:
A Lenten Warning from the Saints
In Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis De Sales warns of a kind of false religiosity that can convince both others and ourselves that we’re right with God, when we’re not. Specifically, he warned of our tendency to “colour devotion according to our own likings and disposition”:
What is Saint Torelli Water and How Do You Use It?
When my wife was pregnant with our most recent baby, I mentioned some concerns she was having and he told, “Just have her drink some Saint Torelli water. That’s what it’s there for.” This was my first introduction to Saint Torelli’s Water.
Some Catholic parishes offer Saint Torelli’s Water as a sacramental help for pregnant women and as a remedy against illness.
What’s the Problem with Same-Sex Marriage?
It’s a sure sign of spring, as predictable as the Red Sox at spring training, the swallows returning to Capistrano, and the flowing of green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m referring of course to the public re-appearance of the determined proponents of homosexual marriage.
It seems that each year at this time the left-leaning columnists, the organized advocates, and the lobbyists at the State House awaken from their hibernation to take-up their perennial campaign to redefine marriage in Rhode Island and impose their personal preferences upon the citizenry of our State.
Ways to Walk in the Footsteps of Jesus
Christians visiting Israel now have two ways to physically retrace Jesus’ footsteps as he journeyed through Galilee.
Over the winter, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism opened the Gospel Trail, a 39-mile hiking trail in Galilee that passes through many of the sites where Jesus lived and preached