Summary: Force, violence and recession are all just external means to get attention, but the way to bring God’s kingdom begins with a conversion of heart.
New Year’s Homily
The words from Isaiah today are the comforting part of a longer passage that I would like to quote in full. Isaiah is speaking for God, and talking about the day of judgement:
Seven women will take hold of one man on that day, saying: “We will eat our own food
and wear our own clothing; Only let your name be given us, put an end to our disgrace!”
2 On that day, The branch of the LORD will be luster and glory, and the fruit of the earth will be honor and splendor for the survivors of Israel.
3 He who remains in Zion and he that is left in Jerusalem Will be called holy: every one marked down for life in Jerusalem. 4 When the Lord washes away the filth of the daughters of Zion,
And purges Jerusalem’s blood from her midst with a blast of searing judgment,
5 Then will the LORD create, over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her place of assembly,
A smoking cloud by day and a light of flaming fire by night.
6 For over all, his glory will be shelter and protection: shade from the parching heat of day, refuge and cover from storm and rain.
This is Exodus language–in the coming out from Egypt, God manifested His presence as a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. It was that pillar of fire and cloud that spooked the Egyptians, so it is not just a comfort, it is also a terror to evildoers.
The problem for Isaiah, however, is that the filth and corruption was not outside Jerusalem, it was in it, in the hearts and on the lips of his people. That was the reason for all the invasions of Assyria and Babylonia. The kings of the north would be a purifying fire that would purge the sin from his people. There would be such a military defeat that only one in seven men would survive, and be fought over by the surviving women. Isaiah believed that the survivors would be so purified that they would make a just society, one that worshiped God alone, and attract the loving protection of their God forever.
We know it didn’t happen then. After the exile, the Jews who returned became not the light to the nations, but an insular, turned-inside people, afraid of the nations. By the time of Jesus, the nation had become stratified again, with the rich oppressing the poor by collecting Roman taxes, and the activists looking for a Messiah that would fill the land with Roman corpses.
Jesus, the Word of God, looked into the words of Isaiah and the other prophets and found their core meaning. To Satan’s temptation to conquer the world for justice by force of arms, Jesus gave a resounding “no.” Force of arms and more laws cannot bring a just and holy society. The only way to create a people of justice, holiness and peace is from the inside. The human heart must change, must be compliant to the Holy Spirit, before any meaningful and lasting change can be made in human society.
There are preachers today who believe that the terror war, the economic recession, and the anti-life, anti-growth policies of our administration will issue in some kind of Apocalypse that will bring about a revival or renewal in the churches. Perhaps there will be some kind of change in the externals, but that is not the way to bring about God’s kingdom.
First of all, prayer must be our resolve for this New Year of grace. God’s will for us is loving and compassionate. He wants to give us the graces we need, as families and as society. But He won’t force them on us. We have to pray, for ourselves and our nation and our world. We must pray for religious and priestly vocations because we need godly leaders from and for the next two generations. We must pray for godly political leaders in all political parties to stand up to the culture of death and encourage true family formation and respect for human life from conception to natural death. We must pray for peace, with justice, especially in the Holy Land and other countries of the Middle East, where all the mischief seems to be coming from.
Second, we must study. I have been preaching now for about thirty weeks on the Pope’s 2009 encyclical, “Charity in Truth.” The study has been revolutionizing my thinking about society, ethics, economics and development. All of us should pick up some papal teaching and do more than scan it. We should prayerfully read it and ask, “what is God asking me to do?”
Third, we must act. By that I mean be aware of our talents and challenges, and the state of the city, state and nation, and do good where we can. That may be writing letters to legislators, serving in a food kitchen, even running for office or just going to council meetings. Someone has to be the conscience of this society; it is the calling of every Catholic to do just that.