Summary: God redeemed the world through suffering, and we can understand, if not fully comprehend, the mystery.
Thursday after Ash Wednesday 2014
On this first day after the solemn beginning of Lent, as we begin our forty-day retreat, the Church gives us some stark words. Deuteronomy tells us that the choice is between life and death, between blessing and curse. Honor and obey God alone, and receive blessings. Honor other gods and disobey the true God, and receive a curse.
But Israel disobeyed God, worshiped idols and demons. They not only did that, sacrificing pigs to one and killing their firstborn for another, but they also heaped up wealth by robbing the poor and the widow and orphan. They practiced usury and made foreign alliances with godless nations. Their kings intermarried with heathens, and, worst of all, instead of attracting all mankind to God’s Temple, to right worship, they did just the opposite. They spat on their rightful inheritance and ran whoring after a lie. What they were doing is perverting the basic unit of society, the family, and anytime you meddle with the family, society loses big. So they lost their land to the Assyrians, to the Babylonians, to the Greeks, to the Romans. Ultimately they were thrown permanently out of the Holy Land after the revolt of Bar Kochba. What many people don’t know is that they tried to come back and rebuild the Temple one more time, during the rule of the Emperor Julian. He even financed the rebuilding of the Temple, to help put down the Christian faith, but a great explosion at the site, and Julian’s death, cut short that plan.
That history should be sobering to anyone half-awake to what is happening in the United States. We are doing exactly the same thing, without bothering with graven idols of Moloch and Baal and Astarte. Instead we idolize musicians who can’t carry a tune, overbuilt athletes who can’t control their passions, and 99% naked women on the cover of Sports Illustrated. All that while permitting the murder of dozens of millions of children before they are born, and standing helplessly by during the legal perversion of marriage. God loves sinners, and gives us a way out of sin. But He most definitely hates sin, because it injures his greatest creation, the human family.
The way out of sin continually amazes me. God fulfilled His promise to Abraham, that if Abraham’s children sinned and brought a curse on themselves, He Himself would pay the penalty through the death of His Son. That’s why Jesus predicted that “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And that is why we, who follow Christ, who are redeemed from our sin, must also suffer. The path to salvation is a path of suffering.
How do we know this? Through the virtue of faith, which seeks understanding by the path of theology–the study of God and His plan for man. The popes tell us: “Since faith is a light, it draws us into itself, inviting us to explore ever more fully the horizon which it illumines, all the better to know the object of our love. Christian theology is born of this desire. Clearly, theology is impossible without faith; it is part of the very process of faith, which seeks an ever deeper understanding of God’s self-disclosure culminating in Christ. It follows that theology is more than simply an effort of human reason to analyze and understand, along the lines of the experimental sciences. God cannot be reduced to an object. He is a subject who makes himself known and perceived in an interpersonal relationship. Right faith orients reason to open itself to the light which comes from God, so that reason, guided by love of the truth, can come to a deeper knowledge of God. The great medieval theologians and teachers rightly held that theology, as a science of faith, is a participation in God’s own knowledge of himself. It is not just our discourse about God, but first and foremost the acceptance and the pursuit of a deeper understanding of the word which God speaks to us, the word which God speaks about himself, for he is an eternal dialogue of communion, and he allows us to enter into this dialogue.33 Theology thus demands the humility to be “touched” by God, admitting its own limitations before the mystery, while striving to investigate, with the discipline proper to reason, the inexhaustible riches of this mystery.”
The great teachers of the faith invited us to study God, to use the virtue of faith to “understand,” to stand under the mysteries of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, of the Redemption, and nourish our faith through reading, dialogue, and contemplation. That would be a really good thing to do during this Lenten season, as we also give alms and mortify our bodies by bringing our passions under control.