In the lines that follow, I share with whomever would give it a thought some reflections on the realities facing today’s Christian. This is inspired or framed around the liturgical readings of Friday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle I, namely, Baruch 1:15-22 and Luke 10:13-16. These scriptural texts invite us to ponder the truth of how our age has shamelessly rejected God, analogous to the Israelites’ rejection of God.
We today live in a world so marked by the secularizing aftermaths of the Enlightenment movement, the French Revolution, and the Sexual revolution – individualism and liberalism. This trajectory culminates in the kind of dreadful apocalypse declared by Nietzsche, in the words, “God is dead… and we have killed him.” (cf. The Gay Science, Bk 3). Dare to think for yourself! Dare to create your own standards of good and evil! In fact, all is “good.” Nothing is evil, nothing is forbidden. The only true difference between options is not “good vs evil” but simply “better than,” a matter of opinion. These are the sort of ideologies governing our societies today. Of course, this is what we get when we formulate our own moral code and, in fact, our very existence, etsi veluti Deus non daretur (as if God does not exist). We are today realizing more fully the programmatic revolution of Nietzsche’s Übermensch (overman, or superman, or beyond-man). Yes, he is the man who stands “Beyond Good and Evil,” even as goes the title of the latter’s 1886 book.
The book of Baruch is set in the time of the Babylonian exile. The section under consideration (1:15-22) recounts the confession of the children of Israel of how shamelessly they had departed from the Lord their God. They acknowledged that it is on account of their sinfulness and rejection of God that they have suffered greatly in the hands of foreign rulers. This is a recurrent theme in the prophetic books. Coming to their senses, these people make a public confession of their sins, in a bid to seek the mercy of God, saying,
“Integrity belongs to the Lord our God; to us the look of shame we wear today. To us, the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem, to our kings and princes, our priests, our prophets, as to our ancestors, because we have sinned in the sight of the Lord, have disobeyed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God telling us to follow the commandments which the Lord had ordained for us.” (Bar 1:15-18). The confession continues into chapters 1:19-2:10.
Such a confession is a prerequisite for receiving mercy and forgiveness from God. It is a sign of true repentance and a willingness to seek the Lord. It is with this in mind that the prophet Joel admonishes the people to return to the Lord their God, fasting, weeping, and mourning – “Rend your heart… Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate… Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing.” (Joel 2:12-14). Yes! God is merciful and compassionate, yet mercy is not cheap. On our part, it has the price tag of repentance and conversion of heart. It was with these words that Jesus summed up his mission at the very beginning, as we read in Mark’s gospel, “The kingdom of heaven is close at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” (Mk 1:15).
How sad, that today’s world has not only departed from God or rejected him and his commandments, but we have replaced God’s will with our will and whims. It is like St. Paul says, “We have become proud of the things we ought to be ashamed of.” (Phil 3:19). Some of the men and women of our age want God (or something like God) without God’s commandments; others want the peace of heaven (or something like it) without the God of heaven; others still want happiness, joy, and wonderful things, but without the God who guarantees these things; still some want a cross-less life, an unbridled life, a life according to my own desires and will, as though we owed our existence to our very selves. How too different from the Israelites we are. Like them, we too have sinned and abandoned God. But unlike them, whom we see confessing their sins and turning to the Lord for mercy and compassion, we rather are resisting change in obstinacy of heart.
In fact, we have rather changed the standards of good and evil. These categories mean nothing to us, except what we make them out to be: There is no morally correct way to live, there is no such thing as a correct way of viewing marriage, sexuality, procreation, and many similar moral issues. Political correctness is the new orthodoxy, while Christianity must be relegated to the individual’s private life. Yes, at the end, it is like Pope Benedict XVI called it, the dictatorship of relativism, which is in vogue today. How sadder still is the case that even within the Church many have willfully lost their way and are not interested in seeking the truth and the path that leads back to the Way, Jesus himself, who is also the Truth and the Life. No! They have declared that all paths are equally life-giving and true. The faith no longer judges and convicts the world. Rather, the world now interprets the faith according to its changing cultures. We have lost sight of and have become deaf to those words of Christ, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.” (Jn 12:48-49). Many today quote the mercy of Jesus but fail to insist on the need of repentance to which his mercy invites us. It is as though mercy is meant to confirm us in wrongdoing. Not at all!
The gospel verse, Luke 10:13 corroborates the fact that we are called to repentance. Here, we see Jesus chastising the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida for their lack of faith and their obstinacy and refusal to repent. To them he says those frightful words, “Alas for you!” – Alas for you Chorazin and Bethsaida! “For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”
My appeal, today, dear reader, and how fittingly so, in the context of the so much anxiety, confusion, and uncertainty besetting the Church and its faithful, thanks to the so many mixed messages surrounding the on-going Synod on Synodality, is that we should remain confident in the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church, for over 2000 years now. Particularly recall Christ’s words, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Mt 16:18).
What God desires most from us, today, is that we humble ourselves before him and seek his mercy for ourselves, for our Church, and for the world. He never turns away anyone who approaches his throne of mercy. We are all sinners, I certainly the greatest of them all, but may we never be proud of our sin or become too stubborn as to want to make sin into right. Rather, let us seek the face of God’s mercy in humility and repentance. Let us ask him for the graces to make that very difficult but beautiful journey of conversion with an openness to the truth that alone liberates and enlivens. Remember, grace and mercy are not cheap! They cost the blood of Jesus Christ, and they will cost our comfort and make a demand of repentance.
God bless his Church!
– Fr. Tegha A. Nji