Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Lectionary: 241

Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God; 
you have collapsed through your guilt. 
Take with you words, and return to the LORD.



Consider the plight of the Hebrew prophets in ninth century bce Israel. Politics, rather than religion, had separated the region from David's capital, the "holy city" of Jerusalem, and its glorious temple. Israel and Judah were ethnically and religiously the same people, but separated by politics and tribe. 
Amos and Hosea lived in Israel but their hearts remained in the southern capital, Jerusalem. They could not accept the new shrines with their golden calves that represented the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt. They beheld nothing but "false gods" in these faux shrines; and yet their families and kinsmen were adapting to the political, economic realities. 
They saw no conflict with worshipping God closer to home. Israel had its own Levite priests who used the same prayers and rituals; they sacrificed sheep and goats just as their contemporaries in Jerusalem. "There's only one God." they might have said, "Why shouldn't he accept our worship here as he does in Jerusalem? What difference does it make?" 
A thousand years later a Samaritan woman would challenge Jesus with the same question. 
Amos and Hosea knew the difference. The Spirit was not in Israel, the Lord abided in Jerusalem. Accretions would pollute the old religion. They would appeal to Assyria for protection. False values and foreign influences would seep into the prayers and customs. They would not cling to the Jealous God of their ancestors. Eventually, the nation would disappear under an Assyrian invasion; the people would be deported and their religion would vanish.  
Recently I was shaken by a group of Catholic gentlemen who insisted we should put armed guards in American schools. The schools should be as prepared as a police station to return fire at an intruder. These "conservative values" were never imagined fifty years ago, when I was in grade school. Their conservative future bears little resemblance to the past. 
These gentlemen do not recognize how the culture of guns has crept into their religious faith. Immersed in an entertainment culture of cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, storm troopers and rogue fighters, they cannot imagine a society without guns. They solemnly declare their readiness to defend the cross with guns and not their lives.
I realized -- not for the first time -- I am a stranger in my own country. Like Amos and Hosea in ancient Israel, I see a steady, irreversible erosion of faith around me and I can only protest.
Catholics once believed we had a singular mission to the United States; our presence was sacred; our worship of the Crucified Prince of Peace would sanctify our civilization. Americans once believed we could show the world that democracy is better than tyranny; that ballots are better than bullets in a civilized society. 
We no longer believe that, The nations will have to look elsewhere. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.