Summary: There is cause for hope, even as the culture appears to be winning over the Church: Christ will be victorious though we will suffer for the victory.

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Third Sunday of Lent


Spirit of the Liturgy

The Word of God today sounds a little like a conversation between a father and his child about spring break. Dad lays down the rules for his offspring’s safety: don’t pay homage to things that don’t deserve homage; don’t curse; remember family; no sex outside marriage; no deceit or theft. Son or daughter, after a night in which dad’s good advice goes unheeded, cries “Father, pluck my feet out of the net I have woven for myself; look on me and have mercy for I am desolate and in misery.” That’s the literal text of today’s Introit.

Why does God spend so much of the Bible telling us how to keep the primal rule: do good and avoid evil? The reason is right in the second chapter of John’s Gospel here–Jesus “knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.” This is an allusion to the Father’s judgement early in the book of Genesis: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Ronald Knox had it right: “Original sin is the only key which fits the whole puzzle of existence.” Every human evil has its root in the original rebellion of the devil and his angels, and the first man and woman, acting as his allies.

The effects of sin are manifold, but especially they are family discord, disease of body, mind and spirit, and violence. More recently, these effects have started to tear American society apart. A country that in 1945 celebrated victory over genocide now permits, funds and encourages the murder of millions of innocent children before they are born, and keeps in office arrogant politicians who vote even to allow the extermination of the few aborted babies who manage to survive. We Catholics whose loved ones have fought and died for the freedom of religion and the rights of conscience all over the world now are facing denial of those same rights for ourselves and our offspring. And, state by state, unscrupulous politicians and judges are buying votes and political contributions by declaring that abusive acts that fifty years ago were illegal in every state now have the status of marital union. The late Joe Sobran, over twenty years ago, said prophetically that if a nation with our moral depravity existed at the end of World War II, we would have declared war upon that nation.

Here’s the fundamental problem–one that Jesus saw two millennia ago, and is with us today–there is no middle ground with sin. The human heart is very simple. If we do good, especially good for others like prayer and almsgiving and hammering together Habitat homes, we feel good. We want more of that altruistic experience and we make it a habit. That’s called virtue. In the process, we show our happiness to others and they want a piece of the action. They see that we have what they need–beauty, goodness, truth--and they ask about it. That’s called evangelization–spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, that kind of community can change communities, cities, and nations.

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