Men Have Forgotten God

(Homily for Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

Bottom line: Forgetting God brings disastrous consequences; Israel and Jesus teach us to remember God.

Last week I mentioned the great Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. As a youth he was a fervent Communist, but his loyal service did not prevent him from becoming one of the many victims of that brutal regime. Solzhenitsyn exposed some of the brutality in his novels: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward. Those novels made Russians and the rest of world aware of the horror of the Soviet system.

Later in his life Solzhenitsyn asked what went wrong. How could a country with such a magnificent cultural heritage fall into such wide-scale barbarity? To find the answer Solzhenitsyn recalled the days when he was a youth. Everything seems so hopeful after the great Revolution. But some of the older people saw that things were not right. "A great disaster," they said, "had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."

Fifty years later Solzhenitsyn reflected on the bitter fruits of that disaster. "If I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century," he said, "I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: 'Men have forgotten God.'"

While every century has known cruelty and oppression, none can match the twentieth century in sheer magnitude. We can think of something as awful as the Inquisition. Modern historians estimate that in a period of over three centuries the Spanish Inquisition claimed three to five thousand lives. In a much shorter time frame and with much greater capriciousness, the atheist regimes of the last century murdered millions. "Men have forgotten God; that is why all this has happened."

When the Soviet government condemned Solzhenitsyn to exile, the Western countries at first received him warmly. That warm reception turned cold, however, when he began pointing out a similar issue in the West. He spoke about how the West was experiencing a "drying up of the religious consciousness." According to Solzhenitsyn this happened because we have been ridiculing the concepts of good and evil for several centuries. We have become embarrassed to appeal to eternal concepts. In the West, he said, people have become "embarrassed to state that evil makes its home in the individual human heart before it enters the political system."*

We have forgotten God. For many people removing God is a vital step to a bright future, especially as we embark on a new revolution based on biological engineering. Others - including Solzhenitsyn - are not convinced the future is so bright. If we forget God, it might become a nightmare from which we never awake. On the other hand, scientists do not live on some world removed from the rest of us. They are, first of all, human beings and citizens. If they allow moral principles to guide them, they can do immense good. Like you and me, scientists are called to remember God.

Many centuries ago God formed a nation with a single purpose: to remember him. He gave them this prayer: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!" They were to say that prayer when they got up in the morning and when they went to bed. They were to say it when they traveled and when they were in their home. Nothing was more important than remembering God. They were to never forget God.

Jesus reaffirms that prayer. It is, he tells us, the key to loving God and our neighbor. No matter how bad things get, may we have the grace to not forget God. Like the Israelites, may we have that prayer on our lips, "The Lord is God, the Lord alone!"


*Quotes are from his 1979 Templeton Address entitled "Godlessness, the First Step to the Gulag."

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for 31st Sunday, Year B):

2012: Moment of Decision
2006: Men Have Forgotten God
2000: God & the Soul: Nothing More?

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Stewardship of Time & Sunday Mass Obligation, Elimination of Missalettes, Voting to Build a Culture of Life)


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