Lesson 12- Repent, Reform and Exam Our Conscience
I ended my last program by posing three question that were taken from the song, “The World Ain’t Coming To An End, My Friend, The World Is Coming To A Start.” They were:
Is the animal part of the human heart finally gonna win?
Or it just the growing pains of liberty?
Has the rational line of the human really gone beserk?
Or is just the storm before tranquility?
Has the world gone insane?
Or are we seeing the dying throes of apathy?
As I said before, for a Christian, the “end of the world” is a “win/win” situation because either it marks the end of this world and the physical return of Jesus to establish His Kingdom on a new earth or the transformation of this world when we finally begin to live out the Gospel and He returns spiritually as we, like Mary, give birth to Wisdom by allowing ourselves to become impregnated with the Holy Spirit of Truth. It shouldn’t matter to us either way since, in both instances, our marching orders are the same: practice what we preach by living out the two great commandments: We should love God, who is Goodness Itself, with our whole heart, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves. So long as we do this, the rest will take care of itself.
This requires that we have to take an active approach since, as the Body of Christ, he depends upon us to be his active agents in the salvation of Humankind. It is we who have to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, instruct the ignorant etc…, and not some gigantic welfare state with an impersonal bureaucracy that administered entitlement programs. In the end, God will judge our behavior according to how it contributed to the growth of love in ourselves and in others , not according to how well they eliminated a social problem. We must remember that “Man does not live by bread alone, which feeds the physical body that will die and decay, but rather by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. And what is “every Word that comes from the mouth of God”? Whenever God speaks it is Wisdom, who is Jesus, the Bread of Life, that feeds the spiritual body that is destined to live forever.
Thus, there is no system, or program, or government that can save us unless they reflect Jesus, the Wisdom of the Creator. This is the criteria that we, as Christian, must use in evaluating all human efforts. Do they, by following Wisdom promote the growth of love, which is simply the growth and presence of God in our human affairs. In other words, “Seek ye first, the Kingdom of God and all the rest will be added unto you.” Or to put it into practical terms, “Let your motives be loving and you methods be wise.”
And how do we come to this point of incorporating Love and Wisdom into all of our affairs? According to scriptures we must go through a radical transformation that Jesus referred to as being “born again.” And how and when do we experience this act of being “born again”? Jesus, in one of his inscrutable statements, once said, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him but no one can go to the Father except through me.” It almost sounds like the perplexing problem of “which came first, the chicken or the egg” because it seems to be saying in order to get to Jesus, we must first be drawn by the Father but we can’t get to the Father except through Jesus. However, in order to understand it, we must get beyond the names or labels to the reality that they represent. Jesus is Truth and the Father is Goodness Itself. Thus, to restate Jesus’ observation, “No one can come to me, the Truth, unless He is drawn by the Father, who is the Truly Good, but no one can get to the Truly Good, which is the Father, unless he is willing to follow the Truth, which is me.”
This becomes even more obvious when we look at it through the eyes of Catholic philosophers in the Middle Ages who, believing that God made everything with a purpose or objective in mind, held that the human mind consisted of a Will, that was made to seek the Good, or God, and an Intellect, that was made to seek the True. The Will, they said, was like a powerful blind giant, that had power but no sight. The Intellect, on the other hand, was like a cripple, paralyzed man having sight but no power to move, who was sitting on the shoulder of the Blind Will. If the Blind Will went seeking the Good without it partner, the Intellect, it ran the risk of obtaining a false Good, or god. However, when the Will and Intellect cooperated, with the Will providing the power and the Intellect providing the direction, they arrived at the Truly Good, or True God..
We are in our present crisis because we have been following false goods or gods but now it has brought us to the point that we are ripe for conversion because it is only when the false gods have failed that we are ready to consider the True God. In fact, this is probably how all real conversions take place. We reach a point in our lives where we suddenly realize, through the consequences flowing from our behavior, that something is wrong. We don’t always know what it is but we know that something important is missing. Sometimes we delay or even miss the opportunity for conversion by attempting to fill the void by returning to the false gods and repeating the same behavior that brought us to this point. Maybe it’s a new car, or boat, or wife, or guru that will fill the unsatisfied longing within us. However, according to St. Augustine the real problem is that “Our hearts were made for Thee, O God, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.” In short, we are longing for the Truly Good, or True God. We don’t know what or who it is, all we know is that what we have been pursuing so far, is not it. However, the hunger and longing for what is really good sets us on the path of seeking the Truth, and, if we are willing to follow it, it will eventually lead us to the Truly Good, or True God. It’s just as Jesus said, only the Truth can set us free from the Kingdom of Mental Darkness that is ruled by the devil, who is the Father of All Lies. So let us begin now by facing some of the Truths that, because we avoided them in the past, have led us to our present situation. But as someone once said, “The past is history… the future is mystery… today is gift and that is why it is called “the present.” Everyday is a present from God, whose mercy endures forever, to give us an opportunity to turn around by repenting of our past mistakes, and then reforming ourselves and our society so as to correct them. So let us accept it, like any present, with thanks and gratitude and recognize it as a symbol of love from the giver.
Those who think that God is punishing us now for these past sins are mistaken. We are punishing ourselves through the consequences resulting from our blindness and stupidity. Rather, God, like any good parent, is chastising us, which, unlike punishment flowing from the anger of the offended, is a corrective action flowing from the concern for the offender, that is intended to turn us away from the path of greater destruction towards a path of greater fulfillment. We have had previous warnings, such as in the 1970’s when OPEC raised the price of oil and our economy suffered deflation and inflation at the same time. Had we learned our lesson then the consequences and necessary changes would have been less severe. But we chose to ignore them by repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. And now the path back to sanity will be longer and harder.
This is a time for renewal and reform. However, as Jesus once said, you can’t put old wine into new wine skins because the new wine will burst them. Thus, any time of renewal will often be painful, because it will challenge us to change and give up many of our habits and attitudes, which represent the “old wine” from our past, and replace them with new habits and attitudes, which represent the “new wine” of our future. Thus, we must repent of our past sins and reform our behavior so as to avoid them in the future. So let’s begin by entering into an “examination of conscience” that should precede any good confession, by reviewing the many ways in which we have failed to follow Wisdom or Jesus.
In doing this we must remember that the word “sin” comes from a word used by Greek archers and it means to “miss the target” and whenever we violate Wisdom, which is simply God’s Will, we “miss the target”. And the target that God has set for us to hit is “the growth of love” in all that we do. Whenever we fail to hit this target it is because of our lack of Wisdom. So…. let us consider….
Was it wise, after World War II, for the parents of the Baby Boomers to flee the urban neighborhood communities where generations of closely knit families, who shared common values and attitudes, lived, in order to raise their children in an impersonal and socially disconnected suburban environment where one hardly knew anyone on a deep or personal level. The result was a crumbling inner city, abandoned schools and parishes, the paving over of valuable farm lands that might be needed in the future, and the breakdown of communities based on the “common unity” of values and attitudes among the people. If life is integration and death is disintegration, was this a choice that led to life or death? And if love is the energy that causes things to integrate and the absence of it causes things to disintegrate, was this a choice that led to “the growth of love” or its diminishing?
But now that it is done the question remain will we continue to flee our connectiveness with other people like those in the hell described by C.S. Lewis in the “Great Divorce” who valued things and real estate over people and relationships? Are we determined to build an isolated and totally self–sufficient environment for ourselves where no one is connected or needs anyone else because he/she already has it?
I am always impressed when I talk to those in the generation that preceded me with their knowledge of people. I was born in 1934 so I was at the tail-end of this previous world. After marriage, my next door neighbor was a former chief magistrate in Philadelphia and he could talk for hours about the people he knew, who they married, how many children they had, who the children married, where they worked and what happened to them. My 86-year-old aunt and her 87-year-old cousin were the same way. When they were together they talked intimately about the people they knew and their shared experiences. I, on the other hand, could hardly talk about anyone except those in my immediate family and a few friends. I hardly knew anything about the people on my block or the people in my parish. Did we lose something valuable in the name of progress? Is there any way that we can get it back?
Community came naturally to these people because they grew up and experienced it all the time. It was the air they breathed. Church, school, neighborhood outings, block parties, community swimming pools, first communions, weddings, funerals, and a host of other shared experiences bonded them together into a “common unity” or community. Today, we have to work to do what came naturally to them. They did for each other what we have allowed professional to do for us. Parties were frequent and inter-generational where the kids picked us the values and attitudes by osmosis from the older generation rather than the older generation receiving their values and attitudes from the children, which seems to be the practice today. No one hired a caterer for weddings or other events because various people, with various talents, provided the food and other services. If someone was sick and needed to go to the hospital, the neighbors cleaned your house, cooked your food, cared for your family and found time to send a card or visit you in the hospital. They were poorer in money but richer in relationships whereas today we are often richer in money and poorer in relationships. Such was the world that preceded my birth. It wasn’t perfect but it possessed a key ingredient to human happiness: the sense that one belonged to a loving community. There are things, if I were reconstructing it, I would leave out but I would certainly keep this sense of community.
Can we ever recapture it? I don’t know. Probably not in its entirety but we certainly can make the effort to move in that direction. The Catholic parish is a perfect vehicle for this because it, and other churches, possess the essential ingredient for a community’s survival: shared values and attitudes. However, it doesn’t come naturally for us now as it did for them because these older ethnic communities arrived in this country with a common bond. Today, we have to make the effort to get beyond gene and ethnicity and move on to a broader picture by uniting with those of similar heart rather than similar genes and ethnic heritage. In fact, it might have been part of God’s plan from the beginning. In the Battle Hymn of the Republic it says:
He has sounded forth a trumpet that will never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat…
But this requires a conscious commitment and effort to reunite with others by participating in shared activities that break down barriers and involves us in the broader community. People sometimes ask, “Why do I have to go to Mass?” The answer given in the past was “Because it is a mortal sin if you don’t and you will go to hell.” However, since Vatican II the Church has downplayed the obligatory and punitive reasons and has emphasized the voluntary and fulfilling reasons. Is it still a mortal sin? Absolutely, but maybe not in the same way that we used to think. It is a mortal sin and deadly to any person or organization that fails to meet on a regular basis to reinforce their reason for existence. It is the Eucharist or Communion that binds us together as a people and those who refuse to participate in the Mass weaken their own connection to the community and threaten its existence. And if hell, as C.S. Lewis has suggested, is isolation from others, then the ultimate effect on us is to place ourselves in hell.
It has seemed to me to be the height of hypocrisy for so-called Catholics, who don’t attend Mass or participate in the affairs of the Church, to expect the Church to be available for their baptisms, marriages, crises, and funerals. Scriptures say that when we die, we will be where our heart is. What makes them think that they will want to be part of a community in the “here-after” which they didn’t care to belong to in the “here-and-now”?
Also, it is not enough to just attend Mass. One has to make a conscious commitment to participate because people feed off of each other’s energy or lack of it. Sometime I think that people who leave the Church for another denomination are really fleeing the lack of participation and enthusiasm of those around them at Mass. There is a vast difference between attending a Mass with spirit-fill Catholics and the deadly atmosphere of some Catholic churches. Perhaps it’s because we don’t know that the word enthusiasm comes from two Greek words, en theos, and it means “the spirit of God within you.” Thus, to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with enthusiasm. And one of the best ways to demonstrate this is to actively participate in all aspects of the Mass. There was a book written entitled, “Why Catholics Don’t Sing”, and St. Augustine said, “He who sings, prays twice.” I have attended Masses in which some people, who neither sang nor responded, didn’t even pray once.
Next question. Was it wise for us to create a lifestyle that required two incomes resulting in both parents working leaving little time for them to spend with each other or their children. As a result, many of us bought off our children by substituting money for time with them thereby making them prime targets for advertisers who spent tons of money to manipulate their values and desires. The result was the creation of a teenage subculture whose values were shaped more by the advertisers, media, entertainers than by their parents. Also the “extra money” soon became “necessary money” as we fell into the trap of “consumerism” in which buying became a recreational activity and led to bumper stickers declaring, “Whoever dies with the most toys, wins!” I once heard an ex-millionaire who had become a Catholic evangelist, when asked what it was like to be a millionaire, declare that “every man lives at his own level of poverty.” In other words, he was as deeply in debt, and maybe more, as the guy earning the minimum wage. Isn’t it strange that we, as a nation, have a negative rate of savings, even though many families have two incomes? And isn’t it even stranger that many of us have a private debt that is an accurate reflection of our government’s public debt? And while we were forging ahead, families with one income were falling behind as our increased demand for products and housing bid up the cost of living to the point they were in poverty and our own children had to go deeply into debt just to get a foothold in the adult society that we had created.
Next question. Was it wise for us to surrender the control and guidance of our children to a media and entertainment industry that has no concern for their souls but only for their money? In other words, was it wise to let MTV, the movies, television, and rock stars become the major moral influence in our children’s lives? I once heard two teenage girls on television say that their parents didn’t realize that they look to MTV for their values rather than their parents. But none of these influences could have succeeded if we and our children didn’t watch or subscribe to programs designed to undermine our Christian values. They weren’t forced upon us, we welcomed them with open arms.
Next question. Was it wise for parents to lose their own moral compass and backbone so that they, who should have had more experience and wisdom, allowed their children, who had less experience and wisdom, to become the dictator of what they would see, hear, wear, and do? One of the greatest problem in raising children today is that there is a lack of consensus among parents as to what is permissible or not. Because we lack a sense of “common unity” in attitudes and values, everyone has become a “Lone Ranger” with no regard on how there decisions involving their own children will impact on other parents in dealing with their children. Years ago, my oldest daughter, Carolyn, who was sixteen at the time, asked me if she could stay home while the rest of the family visited my mother in New Jersey for the weekend. She explained how boring these visit were. Initially, I was tempted to say “Okay” because Carolyn was often referred to as St. Carolyn because of her sterling qualities. However, I put off my answer until I had time to think about it. Then I told her that the answer was “No!” because my decision didn’t involve only her. By allowing her to stay home, I would be setting a precedence that her younger brother and sister would use when they were her age. And, in addition, every kid in the neighborhood would use it to pressure their parents for the same privilege. In other words, this decision did not involve just her and I had to be aware of its impact on others. As a teacher it has been my experience that children will adjust to any demands so long as they are consistent and universal.
Next question. Was it wise to allow sports stars, wrestlers, rocks stars, and entertainers to become the idols which our children worshiped and copied while the source of all Truth and Goodness was ignored or minimize in their lives. Does anyone really think that the World Wrestling Association, MTV, or rock stars that destroy their instruments on stage, shout and act out vulgarities, live lives of drug and sex, and sing songs with lyrics that undermine the moral values of the society are role models that we want our children to know and admire? Do we pay attention to the symbols that they wear or the music to which they listened. Plato said that music trained the soul and if he is right then we have allowed our children to corrupt their souls. We have bought into the lie that each generation has to have its own music which, if followed to its logical conclusions, means that each generation will have a different soul. Is it acceptable to us as parents to have children who share a soul with these entertainers rather than ourselves. If it is, then we don’t value our own souls very much. As my children were growing up, I constantly exposed them to music which I thought would uplift their spirits and refused to allow any music in the house that didn’t. Because I sincerely believed in Plato’s observation, I paid attention to the spirit of the music that they heard and today, as adults, they continue to gravitate towards the music to which I exposed them. In fact, my grandson is totally out of synch with his own generation because he dislikes “rap”, heavy metal, etc… and prefers music from the 50’s, Josh Grobin, and Celene Dion. In the Bible, Proverbs advises us to bend children in the direction that we want them to go and they will grow in that direction.
Next question. Was it wise to allow our children to become mesmerize by video games that are becoming increasingly more filled with gross violence and sex? If the Bible is correct that we will "reap what we sow", what do we think will grow from these seeds? I am not opposed to video games per se because, if used properly they can be beneficial. However, I am opposed to the content of many of them and the excessive time spent on them by many children. I became even more concerned when I heard that the origin of many of these games was with the Army to solve the problem that many soldiers after basic training had difficulty shooting a living human being. To desensitize them to this, they used video games involving the shooting, killing, and maiming of other human beings who were identified as the enemy. As Christians, do we really want our children to be desensitized in this way?
Next question: Was it wise, in an environment in which non-Christian forces have stated that their aim is to overthrow Christianity and replace it with older pagan forms, such as the Wiccae and Druid religions based on magic and witchcraft, to support and encourage the Harry Potter phenomena even in our Catholic schools so that our children are more knowledgeable and drawn to the pagan catechism than to their own? In my first series of programs, I did three talks on this in which I described that what you and I think of as fairly tales and fantasy is treated as being quite real on many colleges campuses as the Wiccae religion based on witchcraft grows in popularity, especially among the girls who are being told by the women’s movement that Christianity is a male based religion. In one of the high school where I taught part time, I was told by one student that she and her entire family, that used to be Catholics, were now witches and warlocks who belong to the Wiccae religion. Other students in the same high school have told me that she is not the only one and that many others either belong or are joining. Don’t we understand the pull that the mysterious and unusual have on the young?
As their Christian beliefs are destroyed or eroded away, a religious vacuum will result and, as the saying goes “Nature abhors a vacuum”. Then they will seek to find something else to fill the hole. It has already been documented that ex-Catholics constituted the greatest source for people who join cults. In the 80’s, when my children were entering high school, I learned that a child of one of my friend who attended Cardinal Doughty High School was involved, along with other students, in devil worship. I couldn’t believe it but he admitted it when I asked him. “Why” I asked, “would you or anyone else want to worship the devil?” He said, “Because he gives you power.”
And that I believe, is the crux of the problem. From the beginning I felt uneasy about the Harry Potter phenomenon for two reasons. First, England has become the occult capital of the world as Christianity is all but dead there. Second, because the theme of these books is the acquisition of power. Defenders say “Yes, but it is the power to do good.” My answer is that “the power to do good is the greatest temptation” because it quickly erodes into the power to do evil. Human beings are not good at handling power because it has a corrupting influence on them. This was the theme of the Lord of the Rings which involved the struggle to get rid of power. In scene after scene we saw how the demeanor of even good people changed when they were faced with the temptation of the power that the ring offered. That is why the Church support the Principle of Subsidiarity because it is based on the concept that the best way to defuse power is to keep it divided among many people. That also is why our own government was structured on “the division of power” among three branches and “the balance of power” by which each branch was given some control over the other two. It was based on the principle that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Thus, a guiding principle of our Founding Fathers was “The government that governs least, governs best.”
Next question, Was it wise to allow Secular Humanistic thinkers and educators to seize control of our educational institutions and to indoctrinate our children with their vision of the world that include recreational sex and abortion on demand? It amazes me how easily liberal ideal access our public schools while any mention of Christian principles are diligently excluded. A minority has seized control of major public institutions, like the schools, by infiltrating the courts with judges of their own persuasion. These judges, who are not elected and serve for life, have manipulation the law and our Constitution to implement their vision of the world. Thus, one of the major issue in presidential elections has become who will appoint judges to the federal courts because, whoever does, will control the direction of the country for years to come. Yet, it appears, that many Christian are either unaware or don’t care.
I hope that you have noticed that I have tried to use “we” in many of these questions because I don’t totally exclude myself from guilt. We all need to examine our consciences.
Well, I see that my time is up and I will have to continue this in my next program.