Saturday of the Fourth Week in Lent 2020
“No Man Ever Spoke Like This Man”
As I write these lines, our nation and the world is continuing in the grip of a health crisis that is unparalleled since the pandemic of 1918 and the year following, which was a flu that killed 50 million human beings across the world. Here in this country that contagion took over a half-million souls. There are preachers who say that this horrible disease is the working of the wrath of God against a world that has turned away from Him. And they point to Biblical passages, especially from Torah, to justify their prophetic language. Now I’m not going to deny that, by and large, the world has turned away from God and God’s law of love. Only a fool would say such a thing. But I invite you to consider whether God is allowing this great evil to lay low human pride in order to bring about a world-wide revival of faith in the One who loved us so much that He gave us His only-begotten Son. Politicians have said recently that this is a war against disease. Well, I recall that some wise folks over the years have pointed out that there are no atheists in foxholes.
Our Scriptures today, as did yesterday’s reading from the Book of Wisdom, tell us of the antipathy of the political leaders of their day against God-ordained prophets, particularly Our Lord Jesus Christ. Yesterday we heard words reminiscent of what the chief priests, scribes and elders of the Jews yelled at Jesus, dying on the cross: “He trusted in God, let God deliver Him if He wants Him.” Today we hear Jesus, speaking through Isaiah, using the words “you showed me their evil deeds.” And when Jesus testified against the Jewish leaders, they devised plots and led Him to slaughter.”
What were those evil deeds Jesus prophesied against? There were many, of course, but some stand out. The one St. John highlights today is a kind of religious elitism, a misplaced pride that caused the Pharisees to consider Jesus as a rabble-rouser, appealing to the little guy, the uneducated Jew who wouldn’t keep every prescription laid down by the scribes and Pharisees. The little guy hasn’t the time or assets to have two kitchens, one for dairy and the other for meat, or to dress like the Pharisees or spend hours a day in study like the scribes. But the little guy listens to Jesus preaching humility before God, poverty of spirit, forgiveness of enemies, doing good for others and instinctively knows that this is the real meaning of religion. They were energized. Even the soldiers sent to arrest Jesus testified to their excitement: “Nobody every spoke like this man!” That is one of the reasons why the Christian Church spread so rapidly in the days and years after Pentecost. That is one of the reasons why the Holy Spirit, when the Church and culture are in severe decline, raises up men and women like St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Francis, St. Ignatius of Loyola and so many others to lead movements of renewal.
I do believe that there are two major failings of our modern culture that God is demanding be repented of, has been demanding repentance of for decades. The viral pandemic is forcing us back into our homes, our families, so that we can give voice and action to our repentance.
The first one is not immediately apparent, but hit me in the face and soul when I saw long lines queued up at grocery stores over the last weeks. I asked, where do I see such full parking lots in normal times at grocers. The answer, lamentably, is “on Sundays.” Sunday has become the big shopping day of the week for many retailers. Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the successor to the Jewish Sabbath that we hold “holy” because it is the day Our Lord rose from the dead. We have special celebrations of worship on Sundays, and the rest of the day is supposed to be sacred family time. In many states, even when I was growing up, there were “blue laws” that controlled retain business and manufacture, and effectively kept them closed on Sundays. No more. It’s just another day, and that is an offense against God’s dignity and man’s.
An offense against the dignity and value of humans? Yes. Because the little guy, the teenager or person without experience, and the older person with inadequate means, are then forced to work on Sundays. Family businesses are forced into trading on Sundays, instead of having family time. Instead of Sundays bringing us together to worship and to be family, they tear us apart for work or play or homework. So now this epidemic is forcing us to stay home all the time, and in most places, forcibly keeping us away from public worship, from sharing in Eucharist.
The second offence that requires our serious repentance is the insistence of our culture and our laws and our courts that mothers be allowed to hire out the murder of their unborn children. Oh, yes, we use euphemisms like “abortion” or “reproductive rights” or “choice,” but what we are really allowing is murder for hire. It cries out to God for vengeance, and this epidemic has brought into the open the religious devotion of many politicians and organizations to their primal sacrament, abortion. Because when medical professionals are ceasing elective surgery in order to free up resources to treat victims of the virus, the one surgery that is excepted in most places is the murder of the preborn. And when an economic recovery package is proposed, certain political factions demand that paying for murder must be part of it. The Italians have a good word for all this: Infamia.
What are you proposing, Cunningham? A total overturn of the established order, a tradition of a half century of shopping whenever we want, of killing whatever baby we don’t want? No. I’m not proposing it. God is demanding it. Blessed be His Holy Name forever!