11th Sun [A] 2008

Fr. Charles Irvin

Exodus 19:2-6; Romans 5:6-11; Matthew 9:36-10:8

At the sight of the crowds, as we heard moments ago, Jesus was moved with pity; He had compassion for the crowd of humanity in front of Him. They were lying prostrate with exhaustion.

Jesus of course saw that they were not just physically exhausted. More importantly He saw they were spiritually flattened and empty. Lost and leaderless, they were like sheep without a shepherd not knowing where to find what they needed to sustain them in the life of God’s Spirit.

Our spiritual world is much the same as theirs. Even though science and technology along with our transportation and communications industries have moved us much closer together in what we’ve come to call “The Global Village”, we are as divided and fragmented as ever… as lonely and as isolated as generations of humans who have lived before us. Our fragmented and divided world, our violent inhumanity toward or fellow humans, is the constant report of nightly television news broadcasts. No one can realistically deny that we are dislocated and divided as a human community.

The intellectuals tell us that we live in what the philosophers call “The Post-Modern World.” They’ve labeled us as post-modern men and women living in a culture and a society that is beyond what we used to know of as Modernism.

Modernism challenged the wisdom of the classics and replaced it with the scientific method, the ideas generated by Sigmund Freud, and the belief that science and technology were the only routes to true human progress.

Post-Modernism tells us that there are no absolutes, no principles that run through history, no constants. The only reality is found, they say, in episodes. The governing force of the universe, they claim, is chaos. There are no laws of nature; no laws of physics… in fact there are no laws. Everyone decides for themselves what is true, what is right, and what is wrong. Each person is his or her own universe. Only the experiences of each person govern their private and individual lives.

In Post-Modern life, consumerism and pragmatism govern our decisions and direct our energies. The religious quest is one in which we enter a church much like we enter a shopping mall. Our search is for “what works for me” rather than for what the bible tells us is the pearl of great price. Truth? What is truth? It’s the same question Pontius Pilate asked before he had Jesus Christ crucified on the Cross.

What do you and I as Catholics mean by the word “true”? We believe that what is true is true in it’s own right… true in itself, not simply what I declare to be true in my own arrogant self-definitions of reality. The Post-Modernist, however, cares only for what is here and now, and declares all thoughts of eternity, and universals, and life beyond death, are irrelevant.

In the Post-Modernist culture that surrounds us, we are living like sheep without a shepherd, wandering around without direction in an era in which we are all privatizing that which we used to hold in common, particularly morality and religion. We are sewing the seeds of our society’s destruction when we privatize morality and our religious values. We no longer live in a society that has any shared commitment to the common good; we no longer hold to a certain core of moral values. Even the curricula of our nation’s schools, we are told, are supposed to be “value free”.

If what is moral is simply that which individuals privately declare to be moral then there is no morality. Post-Moderns reject any absolute ways of speaking of truth or of moral norms. Everything is relative; there are no universal truths that we as a people hold to be self-evident as we declared in our Declaration of Independence. Everything is subjective; there are no objective, unchanging things that exist in certainty. Jesus, they declare, is simply an idealist, not a realist.

The consequences are apparent — all too painfully so. If there are no points of reference, no objective realities beyond my self, outside of my own tiny little egocentric universe, then reason and law are things that are only to be exploited by the powerful, the elite, and the influential. Legislative majorities have all the power. The weak have nothing left to protect them. That point is dramatically demonstrated when you consider what is happening to human life at its conception and at its ending. How else can one account for the popularity of abortion and euthanasia in the Post-Modern mind?

We, like sheep, have been flattened. We lie prostate in our own exhaustion; rudderless and without direction we run after anything and everything. I believe it was the great Russian novelist, Dostoyevsky, who told us that when human beings no longer believe in God they will believe in anything. And believing in anything and everything is the certain road to exhaustion and emptiness, the road to cynicism and individual arrogance.

The great and defiant battle cry of our time is Freedom of Choice. The crushing answer of the universe in response is the one answer we can’t stand to hear and yet at the same time the answer that confronts us daily, namely that in so very many respects we are not free to choose. In so many areas of life we have no choices; we are powerless. Individual choice, as a matter of shattering fact, is severely circumscribed. Divided as we are by individualism, we are powerless over people and so many of the things that happen to us in life. We once stood united; as privatized individuals we now fall.

A more fundamental awareness is now dawning upon us, the awareness that post-modernism has left us wandering and lost, like sheep. It leads us nowhere and nourishes us with nothing. It, too, among all of the other philosophies of mankind, will seduce us for a while and then ultimately betray us and then abandon us, leaving us ravished and in spiritual death.

At the sight of the crowd, we were told in today’s Gospel, Jesus was moved with compassion. That vast crowd of humanity was lying prostrate with exhaustion, like sheep without a shepherd. Thereupon Jesus called twelve of His disciples and commissioned them to be His Apostles. Go out, He commanded them, into this ravished and famished world and announce to all who will listen that God’s Kingdom is near to them. Point out to them that God Himself is near to them. Give them Living Bread come down from heaven that they may recover their strength. Give them eyes to see and ears to hear that they may encounter God’s living and loving presence within them. Give them the refreshing waters of God’s love and grace. Tell them they need no longer hunger and thirst for that food which will give them happy lives.

And so I repeat to you what we just heard St. Paul write to the Romans in today’s second reading:

Christ, while we were still helpless,
yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person
one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood,
will we be saved through him from the wrath.
Indeed, if, while we were enemies,
we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,
how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

No human philosophy can ever do that! We cannot save ourselves… only God can save us. And we can be certain of that.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”