Fr. Charles Irvin
Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26
On January 6, 2002 the Boston Globe published its first account of Cardinal Bernard Law’s cover-up of the abuse of young boys on at the hands of Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, thus beginning years of similar accounts telling of shattered trust in the Catholic Church and the hopeless state of many victims of pedophiliac priests. It was emblematic of this first decade in the third millennium, “a decade from hell” being the phrase used by a major American magazine.
On September 15, 2009 Lehman Brothers, one of the largest of Wall Street’s financial institutions, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Holding over $600 billion in assets, it was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history and ushered in years of economic depression and business collapse the effects of which we are experiencing even now. Presently we have 9.3 million workers without a job, a staggering number that has not reached such levels since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
In March of 2009, Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to eleven felonies and admitted to turning his wealth management company into massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars. Madoff symbolizes similar high-profile business leaders who defrauded millions of Americans of billions of their hard-earned dollars, wiping out in the process their entire retirement savings and reducing the victims to poverty.
Our political leaders at both the national and state levels are fractured and divided as never before in living memory, perhaps with an intensity not seen since our American Civil War. Some of us wonder if we any longer have a voice that matters, lobbyists and interest groups having as they do such enormous influence on our federal and state legislators.
The cost of sending our children to college has reached staggering levels. The quality of education found in our public school system is, by all measures, dismal. Many of our public schools operate as little more than holding tanks for children who cannot or will not learn.
When we stand back and consider our major institutions, our government, the state of our businesses, and even our churches, our awareness of their condition is nothing less than depressing. Many of us are tempted to despair, having lost trust in others and lost hope for our futures.
How appropriate it is for us to hear at this Mass these words from the prophet Jeremiah, words so apt for the world in which we find ourselves these days:
Thus says the Lord: Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.
Those last words are key words for us, it seems to me. The one who has trust in God fears not the heat when it comes… in the year of drought he or she shows no distress but continues to bear fruit.
The virtues we all need just now are the virtues of hope, hope based on trust and trust based on hope. We need to be realistic, of course, but at the same time we need to realize that realism is not cynicism. Cynicism is deadly; it paralyzes; it immobilizes; it holds us down. Both cynicism and fear have the same toxic effect on us. They can keep us going in the face of the losses we suffer.
In 1933, at the bottom of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke those famous words: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Those were empowering words, words that caused a nation to begin to take risks again. Similarly the ancient Chinese proverb “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” are empowering words.
Jesus Christ came into our humanity in terrible times, times in which the cruelties of Imperial Rome oppressed and degraded men and women, particularly the men and women of Judea. He empowered great numbers of people with inspiring thoughts, thoughts so powerful that the Roman authorities eventually had Him crucified in a horrible death designed to bring terror into the hearts of all who would not be held in the bondage of fear and despair. In that context, listen again to the words of Jesus: Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
Lent approaches, a time of changing not only our behavior but more importantly changing our attitudes and ways of thinking. Lent is a time when we are empowered by trusting in God’s mercy and forgiveness. It’s a time of renewed hope in God’s personal love and care for each one of us. It’s a time when we turn from out own ways and place our selves in God’s ways.
Lent is a time of movement, when we move from our version of life into God’s version of life. That movement is based on the hope that is implied in trust. If we truly trust in God then we have real hope. Trust and hope are twin virtues that are joined together. But to receive their real power we need to place ourselves in the power of God.
Placing ourselves in the power of God means that we believe in Christ’s words when He tells us: “Fear not. Be not afraid. Have courage. I am with you.”
Yes we live in bad times. Yes, some of our leaders and even some of our priests and bishops have betrayed us. Yes, evil abounds in our world. Nevertheless Christ is present in our world. He is even present within us. Isn’t that what Holy Communion is all about?
If all of that is true, and we know that it is, then in spite of our fears, in spite of our diminished hopes and dreams, in spite of our damaged trust in our selves and in others, we cannot be held in the grip of all that would hold us in bondage. Cynicism is not realism; life in Christ is real, the only reality in which we should live our lives. The first of all the Psalms signs to us: “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.”
Christ is here now for us. May we receive Him in faith so that our hearts and souls can be filled with His powerful and saving presence.