Message: We fight as Mary did by contemplation. And we fight as Aaron did - by blessing others.
You may have heard that Pope Francis gave Vatican officials an examination of conscience on 15 spiritual diseases. He addressed it to members of the Curia - the Church's governing body, but the sicknesses affect us all. I encourage you to read the list. They will help in making New Year's resolutions.
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." In transmitting the faith to our children it sometimes seems we are in a losing battle. A limerick from First Things 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 and our Christian faith invite young people to a different world view. N.T. Wright calls it "creational monotheism." It means that God not only exists but he created the world and sustains it every moment. Moreover he enters into a covenant relationship, first to the Jews, then to us all in Jesus.
When our culture talks about God creating the world and caring for it, they describe this view as "ancient" and contrast it with the "modern" view that leaves God out of the picture. They not only claim the view is modern, but also scientific.
As N.T. Wright shows, this "modern" view 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."
"This philosophy," says Wright, "offered liberation from any fear of gods or what terrors might be in store for people after their deaths...At a popular level, the message was this: shrug your shoulders and enjoy life as best you can."
The early Christians battled Epicurean philosophy and the battle continues. For the last three centuries Epicureans have been busy taking the mantle of "science". They've succeeded in painting us as anti-science even though believing, practicing Christians have been responsible for the greatest scientific achievements. More about that this Sunday.
We are in a battle, but we fight not by attacking today's Epicureans. No, it is a spiritual battle. We fight as Mary did by contemplation, especially before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. And we fight as Aaron did - by blessing others. Ultimately Epicureanism is empty. Our task is to lead young people to what will really fill their souls.
Even though Epicureanism is the default philosophy of our culture, it will never win the hearts of our ordinary people. If we don't offer a vital alternative they will turn to false spiritualities.* Of course, we should not scoff when young people come with their new spiritual discovery. We need to help them connect with the great masters. We heard from three today: Aaron, Paul and Luke who tells about the greatest spiritual witness - the one who "keeps all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." Amen.
*In Bad Religion, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat not only describes these false spiritualities, but presents the orthodox response.
From the archives (New Year's Day Homilies):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru