Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rend Your Hearts and Not Your Garments

My brother died yesterday. No, not my brother by blood or marriage, but my brother in the priesthood. I have never met him, nor do I know anything about him personally, other than the fact that he was a priest in the Catholic Church, and because of that, he is my brother priest. You probably already read about it.

Fr. Jacques Hamel, while saying Mass in his parish in Normandy, France, was murdered by ISIS (Fox News article). There are a number of things that I could say to comment on this. In fact, I had a number of things on my mind yesterday when I first read about this event. I was very emotional at the time, and probably would have been a bit more "fire and brimstone" in my comments than is necessarily proper. "For we know him who said, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.'" I celebrated Mass this morning with the intentions for Fr. Hamel; that is my place in this, not hatred. Hatred is what caused this; hatred will not solve it.

Just under 15 years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the state of things in America. I had the opinion that the events of September 11, 2001 were a "warning sign" encouraging deeper faithfulness in the people of God. Similar types of things happened in past history. God would send a trial on His people and then give them time to get their act together. If they did, then they saw great blessings; if they did not, well those are some of the saddest pages of history. In that conversation, I said, "attacks on this nation, and eventually on the Church will only continue if we do not increase our penitence". My friend took issue and said I was "overreacting".

I certainly cannot predict the future (and I may be wrong in my assessment about what has occurred in the last 15 years as well), but things do not seem to be improving. Church attendance increased in the days after 9/11, and then quickly slipped back to a normal low. Christians (Catholic and Protestant) do not seem to be showing greater devotion to the Lord; rather, devotion seems to be decreasing. We are called to be "salt" and "light" and compromising our faith does not reflect either of those attributes.

The time is now to become passionate about our faith. It is time to pray fervently for the Church throughout the world, as well as for those in ISIS (and all others who are fueled by hatred) to be able to see their acts as God sees them. It is time for us to begin taking responsibility for our sins, and seek a greater love of God an neighbor. Like I said in my last post, let us work toward following the precepts of the Church, and realize that they are a bare minimum, not an "acceptable maximum".

Our devotion to the Lord cannot be a mere outward commitment. We should never obey the Lord merely so that we can look good to others. It should be the genuine passion of our hearts. Outward is important, but not at the cost of the inward life of faithfulness. Let us get our hearts in order. Let us get our families in order. Let us get our Churches in order. Let us make a commitment to do the hard work necessary to obey the Lord, and see what He may do in response. I end with an encouraging (and hopeful) passage from the prophet Joel:
“Yet even now,” says the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare thy people, O LORD, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:12-17).