Saturday, March 10, 2012

First God

A few days ago, my son Stephen and I were stopped behind a car with two bumper stickers, one of them was that tired and disingenuous coexist slogan.  The other one, (which, I believe, bears out my opinion on the disingenuousness of the coexist bumper sticker) was a long sentence that amounted to: "While you are at church, I am out doing good things." Really!?  I question the spirit in which the good works of Coexist are motivated by when they are proclaimed with such adolescent hubris. Such is the blindness of our age.  But the readings for today, the Third Sunday of Lent, I think help instill a little clarity about what comes first, or I should say who comes first and why.

"I, the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  You shall have no other gods besides me.  You shall have no other gods besides me,  You shall not care idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.  For I, the LORD, your God, and a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments."  Exodus 20:2-6

The first commandment delivered with great detail is concerned with worshiping God, who frees us from the slavery of working for our own destruction. We are to know that God is the one who rescues us from this slavery, and he is distinct and different and wholly above contemporary gods, whatever they are. Be it Anubis, or Ra, Baal or Moloch or power or politics or wisdom or charity. No matter what power they seem to exert over your life, or what good they claim they can do, they will not free you; if they are your god's they will only blind you, and enslave you. And if it is your good works that you worship, I believe that even they will become atrocities if they are the end in themselves, because our vision without God's light is so limited.  Our current Holy Father during the January 19th ad limina visit of the bishops of Washington DC and surrounding areas puts it this way:
 "When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery, and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitable becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to a reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society."
For the beginning of wisdom is "fear of the Lord" and, though goodness can be perceived by those who do not know God, it is impoverished and darkened, often reduced to what can be quantified and manipulated, either by spells, enchantments and tallisments of a pagan era, or in our own time to a scientific method, or therapy (which is manifestly worse than our pagan ancestors because at least they understood spiritual powers and principalities. Though good may be sought through manipulations, it is not done out of a love that has a vision of the human person as made in the image and likeness of God and what is considered good, especially in the political realm, is coldly utilitarian.

What is worse, some have fallen under the delusion that we have a more humane approach than our more ancestors to the struggles of this world. Yet, we commit some of the most unthinkable crimes, not just against ourselves, but against the generations to come, (and I am not talking about climate change)!  And we commit them against the most vulnerable and unseen among us.  Yes, I would say that we lack vision, we cannot see the progression of our progressive ideas to their natural end, or we refuse to.

"You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God in vain.  For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain." (7)
To utter the name of the Lord casually, or profanely diminishes our ability to worship the Lord with our whole heart, and it darkens our perception of the mysteries of the world.  This lack of wisdom is the punishment, and its consequences are generational! (check out Wisdom 1:4-6.)

We also need to worship God and keep holy the sabbath day.  Coexist may find this foolishness, and a waste of time.  Time which would be better spent doing good (or sleeping in).  Maybe she feels only weak willed people need to be told by a preacher to go out and do good. But the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.  And prayer and authentic worship calls us to bring everything to the Lord and, if it is becoming an idol, no matter what it is, submit it to Him.

So, for the children of Israel, following the commandments of God, which is the natural law,  is enlightened and empowered by the proper order, which means God first.  No idols, no blasphemy, and every week lay down at the feet of the Lord and let Him give you His heart, His strength and His vision. Again I go to the words of Pope Benedict XVI in the same speech I quoted above:
 "The Church's defense of moral reasoning based on natural law is grounded in her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a "language" that enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world.  She (the Church) thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint, but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future."  
Grounded in the recognition that we first serve God, who gives us the wisdom of the commandments, we are set free to work for humanity with the endurance,love and vision of God, who gives us "the words of everlasting life". (John 6:68)  In this is hope that endures even in the most desperate situations of this world.

Coexsit may be going about doing good works, just as many in my parish also do, but if the works are done out of your own wisdom and charity, they will not do all the good they could because they will be limited, and worst of all they could lead to self-righteousness and pride.  If Coexist truly wanted to coexist with her brothers and sisters, she would put aside the vapid rhetoric, bow down before the God who gave her the heart to serve, and with gratitude and humility, let His supernatural power and wisdom guide her and empower her. For "Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:24

Praise Be to God!

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