The 'anthem' of today, John Lennon's "Imagine." Many see it as a wonderful song of hope and human ideals. I see it as a sad, fatalistic view of life.
Imagine there's no Heaven, no hell. Imagine everyone living just for today. In some ways it can be seen as a beautiful thought. Mankind not working and living together for a reward or to avoid punishment. But what of those who see no reward or punishment? To live for today could mean something entirely different.
Imagine the person who has no basis to live for another, but only for himself. Nothing to restrain him, nothing for him to attain as a goal. It's this life and nothing else. One lives then dies and goes into oblivion.
No country with it's laws to live by, no religion to act as a light, a yeast, to help us to grow. Would this 'utopian' vision bring peace? Or anarchy? And if anarchy, then there would, of course, be no peace. Our homes would cease to be places of warmth and love, but fortresses. Aren't there ideals, beliefs worthy enough to die for? Are we calling the sacrifices of Christ, the martyr's, etc., a waste? Did our fathers die in vain on the beaches of Normandy? Iwo Jima? Was it for a lie?
No nations, no religion, no Heaven no hell. What would John Lennon's "utopia' be based on? Mankind's innate goodness? Where has this innate goodness been displayed?
"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man" (Matthew 15: 18-20).
Left to our own devices, we've all but destroyed the family, the institution of marriage. We've set up a sort of war between the genders. We've given the world Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Saddam Hussien, Napolean Bonaparte. Each of these men, among others, is a poster child for a world without religion, no Heaven, no hell. Just self determination and self will.
With a world without Heaven, without hell, without religion, in short, without God, we get a world where the main focus is on personal desires and wants. The teaching of daily picking up your cross and following Him, the teaching of dying to yourself, dies. It's replaced with the teaching "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Personal happiness replaces the need for the greater good. How many families have been destroyed because one person needed 'personal happiness?' How many of them are truly happy?
How many have killed their unborn children with a distorted notion of personal happiness and self determination? How many have found themselves in a hopeless state by being told they can't change, can't better themselves.
Here, Lennon almost, unknowingly, rebuts himself. Look at history, look at those who have advanced this ideal of a brotherhood of man? They were men and women of faith, with a belief in Heaven and hell. They were men and women guided by their religion, not removed from it.
St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Mother Teresa are only some of those we know of; there are many, many others who we don't know. Here, Lennon, without even realizing it, put's in few lines, all of Christian teaching.
We are called to be poor in spirit. Seeing our possessions, not our own, but given to us by God for His greater glory. To feed the hungry, to care for the poor. A true brotherhood of man. If God is our Father, then we are truly brothers and sisters in Him.
"But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1: 12-13).
"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' (as in Dad) it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him" (Romans 8:14-17, ref Galatians 4: 4-7).
As His sons and daughters, we go into the world as healers, caretakers, etc. Some go purely, wishing only to do God's will, to do what is pleasing to Him as loving sons and daughters. Others go for fear of punishment. But those who don't love or fear the Lord, don't go at all.
"And He said, 'There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 1Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son' " (Luke 15: 11-19).
What would become of the person who felt he had no father to return to? What would keep him from taking what he wanted and felt he needed? And no doubt, felt was owed him?
Many of the ills in our world today, past, present, and no doubt future, are from the notion that there is no hell below us, and above us is only sky. And though the words sound enticing, though they seem idyllic, they are the path to doom and destruction.
"...they cannot see the true light, our Lord Jesus Christ. They indulge their vices and sins and follow their evil longings and desires, without a thought for the promises they made. In body they are slaves of the world and the desires of their lower nature...in spirit they are the slaves of the devil. They have been led astray by him...They lack spiritual insight because the Son of God does not dwell in them..." (Letter to the Faithful, St. Francis of Assisi, Omnibus of Sources, pg. 97).
"These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved. For, uttering loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions of the flesh men who have barely escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first" (2 Peter 2:17-20).
The wheat cannot grow, nor can the fruit tree bear fruit without light. Nor can they feed the hungry without good soil to grow in. Without the light of Christ, without God, without religion, we don't become free, but become salves. We don't grow and flourish, but die and decay.
Imagine a world without heaven, hell, and religion? A world based on the goodwill and 'innate' goodness of mankind? "Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land'" (Jeremiah 17: 5-6).
But a world with a Heaven and hell? A world were God is the Lord and His ways are standard we live by? "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit" (Ibid 7-8).
John Lennon ended his song saying that he might be called a dreamer. If we truly think about it though, his 'vision' would be a nightmare.
Pax Christi, Pat
Over the past year, the last dedicated to the immediate preparation for the Jubilee, we reflected together in greater depth on the mystery of the Father. Today, by way of conclusion of that cycle of reflections and as a special introduction to the Catechesis of the Holy Year, we will take time to lovingly ponder the person of Mary.
In her, the "beloved daughter of the Father" (Lumen Gentium, 53), the divine plan of love for humanity was manifested. Given her destiny to become the mother of his Son, the Father chose her from among all creatures and raised her to the highest dignity and mission in the service of his people.
This plan of the Father began to manifest itself in the "Proto-Gospel" when, following the fall of Adam and Eve, God announced that he would put enmity between the serpent and the woman: it would be the woman's son who would crush the serpent's head (Cf. Gen 3,15).
The promise begins to be fulfilled at the Annunciation, when Mary is given the proposal to become the Mother of the Savior.
2. "Rejoice, full of grace" (Lk 1,28). The first word the Father speaks to Mary through his angel is a formula of greeting that can be understood as an invitation to joy, an invitation re-echoing that directed to the entire people of Israel by the prophet Zachariah: "Greatly exult daughter of Sion! Behold, your King is coming to you" (Zach. 9,9; Cf. also Sof 3, 14-18). With this first word addressed to Mary, the Father reveals his intention to communicate real and lasting joy to humanity. The very joy of the Father, which consists in having the Son near him, is offered to all, but first of all it is entrusted to Mary so that from her it will be shed on the human community.
3. The invitation to joy is linked by Mary to the special gift she received from the Father: "kecharitomene." Not without reason, the Greek expression is often translated as "full of grace": it is, indeed, an abundance that reaches the highest degree. We should note that the expression sounds as though it is Mary's own name, the "name" given to her by the Father from the beginning of her existence. Up to the conception, in fact, her soul was filled with all blessings, enabling her to follow a road of eminent sanctity throughout her earthly existence. In Mary's face we perceive the reflection of the mysterious face of the Father. The infinite tenderness of God, who is Love, is revealed in the maternal features of Jesus' Mother.
4. When speaking of Jesus, Mary is the only mother who can say "my son," as the Father says it: "You are my Son" (Mk 1,11). For his part, Jesus calls the Father "Abba," "Daddy" (Cf. Mk 14,36), while he calls Mary "mommy," placing all his filial affection in this name.
After he leaves his mother in Nazareth, during his public life when he meets her he calls her "woman," to emphasize that henceforth he takes orders only from the Father, but also to declare that she is not simply a biological mother, but, rather, has a mission to fulfill as "Daughter of Sion" and mother of the people of the New Covenant. As such, Mary always remains oriented to full adherence to the will of the Father.
This was not the case with all of Jesus' family. The fourth Gospel reveals that his relatives "did not believe in him" (Jn 7,5) and Mark mentions that "they went out to seize him; for they said, 'He is beside himself.' " (Mk 3,21). One can be sure that Mary's interior dispositions were completely different. This is confirmed in Luke's Gospel, in which Mary presents herself as the humble "handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1,38). In this light we read the response given by Jesus when "he was told: 'Your mother and your brethren are standing outside, desiring to see you.' (Lk 8,20; Cf. Mt 12,46-47; Mk 3, 32); Jesus replied: "My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Lk 8,21). Indeed, Mary is a model of hearing the Word of God (Cf. Lk 2, 19.51) and of docility to it.
5. The Virgin preserved and renewed with perseverance her total disposition expressed at the Annunciation. The immense privilege and lofty mission of being Mother of the Son of God did not change her humble behavior, submissive to the Father's plan. Among the other aspects of this divine plan, she assumed the educational endeavor implied in her maternity. The mother is not simply the one who gives birth but also the one who actively undertakes the formation and development of the son's personality. Mary's behavior undoubtedly had an influence on Jesus' conduct. One can assume, for example, that the act of the washing the feet (Cf. Jn 13, 4-5), which was left to the disciples as a model to imitate (Cf. Jn 13, 14-15), reflects that which Jesus himself had observed in Mary's behavior during his childhood, when, in a spirit of humble service, she washed her guests' feet.
According to Gospel testimony, during the period Jesus spent in Nazareth he was "subject" to Mary and Joseph (Cf. Lk 2,51). He thus received from Mary a real education that marked his humanity. On the other hand, Mary let herself be influenced and formed by her son. In the progressive manifestation of Jesus, she discovered the Father more profoundly and gave him the homage of all the love of her daughterly heart. Now her task is to help the Church to walk as she did in Christ's footsteps.
Beginning with Our Lord's farewell instructions to the Apostles just before His Ascension, it first narrates the chief events in the history of the infant Church up to about the year 42, when Saint Peter definitely departed from Palestine. A feature of the latter part of this period was the new policy of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. From this point the Acts of the Apostles traces the spread of the Church principally through the missionary journeys of St. Paul, and closes with a short account of his labors in Rome.
In this way it covers a period of about thirty-five years from the Ascension to the second year of St. Paul's imprisonment. Keeping to the main course of events as showing the growth of the Church, it is silent about the internal development of the churches after their establishment; many of these internal details are recorded in the Epistles of St. Paul, but without in any way contradicting the general facts given by St. Luke.
The Acts is a necessary and beautiful supplement to the history of the Gospels, describing with great accuracy and literary charm the fulfillment of Our Lord's promise to send the Holy Spirit to sanctify and guide His Church, and so it has aptly been called the "Gospel of the Holy Spirit."
Tomorrow: The Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Romans
Death of Pope Saint Agatho, 79th successor of Peter. During his three year papacy he maintained strong relations with the English Bishops and encouraged Ireland as a center of culture. He called the Sixth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople which condemned Monothelitism and censured Honorius. Agatho received the title of "Healer" because of the many miracles he worked.
Death of Blessed Pope Gregory X, 184th successor of Peter. Born in Piacenza, Italy, he was elected on March 27, 1272. There was almost a three year vacancy because of disagreements at the conclave of Viterbo. The people finally removed the roof of the conclave and put the cardinals on bread and water until they should come to a decision which they did in choosing Gregory. He convened the Fourteenth Ecumenical Council at Lyons, France which is also called Lyons II in which some of the Greek sects were reunited with the Western Church and disciplinary reforms enacted.
Pope Leo XIII publishes his 34th encyclical Sapientiae Christianae on Christians as citizens.