(January 1, 2018)
Bottom line: I invite you to begin the New Year by three days of fasting and prayer. We are in a battle - a spiritual battle..
As we begin a new year the readings focus on the task of handing on the faith to a new generation. In the first reading we see the blessing of Aaron to the Israelites. And in the Gospel we hear about Mary keeping "all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." All this sounds nice but in transmitting the faith to our children it sometimes seems we are in a losing battle. A limerick says it humorously:
God's world made a hopeful beginning
But man marred his chances by sinning.
We trust that the story
Will end in God's glory,
But at present the other side's winning.
The other side of course is the world, the flesh and the devil. They always have had great power, but today we find ourselves surrounded by a culture that does little to support faith - and a lot to undermine the faith of our young people. The default position in our media and educational system is that either God does not exist or if he does, he has nothing to do with our world and our lives
The Bible invites young people to a different world view. A biblical scholar named N.T. Wright calls this world view "creational monotheism." It means that God not only exists but he created the world and sustains it every moment. Moreover God enters into a covenant relationship, first to the Jews, then to us all in Jesus.
To many people this worldview - creational monotheism - seems ancient. They contrast it with a "modern" view that leaves God out of the picture. This (quote) "modern" view, however, has been around at least as long as Christianity. There was an ancient school of thought called Epicureanism. The Roman poet Lucretius (who lived about a century before Jesus) proposed that "the world was not created by a god or gods...our world and our own lives are simply part of an ongoing self-developing cosmos."
From the beginning Christians battled Epicureanism. St. Paul sums the philosophy up with these words, "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die." (I Cor 15:32) It's a deadly philosophy, leading to sadness and despair, but it didn't die with the coming of Christianity. A London chronicler around 1200 century wrote, "There are many people who claim that God does not exists. They consider that the universe is ruled by chance rather than Providence...nor do they think the human soul lives on after death."*
So the idea we are simply matter in motion has been around a long time. The difference today is that for the last three centuries Epicureans have been busy taking the mantle of science. They've succeeded in painting Christianity as anti-science even though believing, practicing Christians have been responsible for the greatest scientific achievements. More about that this coming Sunday when we hear about three proto-scientists.
For today we recognize that Epicureanism - the view that everything is accidental and random - is the default philosophy of our culture. It dominates the media, the educational system, even courts of law. But we have powerful weapons, namely prayer and fasting. I invite you to begin the New Year by three days of fasting and prayer for our children. Start today - right after the Bowl games if you prefer - and continue through January 4.
We are in a battle - a spiritual battle. We fight as Aaron did - by blessing others. And we fight as Mary did by constant prayer, focused on Jesus. As we see today she "keeps all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." Amen.