2020 Lent III – The Rules Once Given

Seminarian and Postulant Ken Kubo
15 March 2020

“But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” – St. Luke 14:28

Welcome all of you who dared to step outside your doors into the world of chaos and fear of plague that we currently inhabit. It is a measure of your priorities that you joined us here to celebrate the Lord’s Day. And make no mistake – it’s always about priorities. During a recent SigAlert, the traffic report highlighted a number of drivers who were heading the wrong way down an onramp in order to get off the freeway. Their priority to get where they needed to go clearly outweighed following the rules of the road. I’m sure that these were good citizens who would normally be law-abiding drivers; their priorities just made the laws less important in a time of trouble. Of course, there’s always the danger that this becomes a more permanent mindset – can you imagine our freeways if everyone stopped following the laws, rules, and conventions that drive how we interact on the freeway? That would truly be a carmeggedon! Societies collapse when the rules by which the society is defined are abandoned. It is our mutual commitment to shared goals and rules that enable a team, a society, a civilization to exist at all. (per Vince Lombardi) Those persistent shared goals and rules determine how we operate together.

Consider some of the brand new, never heard before rules being heralded in these times: cover your mouth when you cough, stay home when you’re sick, hot water/soap/20 seconds. I hope we all agree that these are all good ones. One teacher reported that it was so great that the kids were now maintaining such a nice environment by following those rules. This means, of course, that these are new behaviors for the kids that they hadn’t been previously practicing. And what’s the problem with that? Well, these are not brand new rules – they are, by the standards of our society at least, fairly ancient. They have become newly followed because the times make them more relevant and, frankly, urgent; this isn’t a bad thing, but wouldn’t it be better if they were just part of how we lived even when there wasn’t a crisis?

Crises bring out the best (and, it’s true, the worst) in people. For us as Christians, it’s even more important for us to follow the rules, to hear the Word of God and keep it. Our Lord summarized these rules simply – to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To love God means on one hand to live in a manner that demonstrates our respect for God and ensures that God will not be disrespected by what we do – in short, to avoid disgracing the uniform. On the other hand, it means trusting God to the point of surrendering our human will, as Our Lord himself said, “Yet not my will but Thine be done!” (St. Luke 22:42) We live in a time of unknowns and, yes, fear. Remember that today is the Ides of March. Julius Caesar might have a thing or two to say about the risks and dangers of just going to work today! Remembering to keep God first and trust in him not only helps us cope but demonstrates to others why our God is worthy of love – and maybe that will help them cope as well. And that brings us to the second commandment – love thy neighbor as thyself. Treat others as you would want to be treated – not how you deserve to be treated, what your status or rank or membership entitles you to, or what you’ve earned, but how you – how we all – should be treated, how you would prefer to be treated. Regardless of economic status, race, or even creed, we owe all our neighbors caritas or agape – noble, charitable, and (as much as possible) no strings attached love. This is especially difficult in these times when people are getting into fights in stores over the last pack of toilet paper, but all the more needed. As someone who was recently bounced down the aisle of a grocery store by people running shopping carts three abreast down an aisle meant for one, I can tell you that common civility is becoming a lot rarer. Let us remember to be better. By this all shall know you are followers of Christ – if you have love for each other (St John 13:35). When Our Lord pronounced this summary of the law that we hear as part of the Mass, what He said was already ancient at the time. The First and Great Commandment – to love God – drew upon the words of the Shema Yisrael and its succeeding verses from the Book of Deuteronomy which is a core part of Jewish worship to this day: “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) And the second is like unto it, similarly ancient, from the Book of Leviticus: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18) These are truly ancient rules, tested and found valid over generations. And, as with the modern rules of social hygiene, long times of relative safety bred a complacency that weakened the adherence of the children of Israel to these rules. Periodic wakeup calls – some of which were downright disasters – were needed to dust off the rules and recall why they were important. Perhaps the times in which we now live will also assist us with our priorities? As our stores empty of toilet paper and canned vegetables and pasta, shouldn’t we also be ensuring that our spiritual supplies are in good order?

“Let the fierce fires which burn and try, our inmost spirits purify; consume the ill; purge out the shame; O God, be with us in the flame; A newborn people may we rise, more pure, more true, more nobly wise.” – William Boyd Carpenter

The Lord never promised that our Way would be simple or easy or safe. In fact, we’re told to expect trouble – the world and its Prince are always working to chip away at the fortress of God’s Kingdom. We are promised that we will not walk through dangerous times alone, that we can place on the Lord’s shoulders all those burdens which we are unable to carry and His strength will carry us through. Not one of us knows the warp and weft of the future – obviously, it’d be a lot easier to have retirement money in the stock market if we did – but God sees the whole pattern and is ready to comfort us or celebrate with us as needed. It is all in how we – and our Maker – can use uncertainty and travail to build our spiritual resilience. Our Lord came not to bring peace, but a sword (St. Matthew 10:34). And in a sense each of us are part of the armory of God’s Kingdom, the defense on the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem. Remember that the best tempered blades have to get dirtied in ashes and soot and finished by multiple passes through the fire. The best nature of the steel is brought out through the forge, not sitting as a pretty, polished bar on a shelf. Our current times and our current challenges are just another part of that forge for us, and if we hold to God and His Commandments, we will find that He is with us not just in the flame but in all times of our prosperity as well as our testing. We will become wiser, truer, and purer, forged to be our best selves, but it is up to us to remember that our calling and the Commandments we keep are part and parcel of walking in His holy ways every day of our lives whether easy or hard, joyful or sorrowful. We need to not just hear the word but heed it – actually listen and follow and put it into practice. We will avoid the illegal u-turns in life no matter how convenient if we remember that the Way and its “rules of the road” were given to us anciently for all times.

Especially as we continue through this pilgrim time of Lent, may we use the time wisely to prepare ourselves for the eternal Easter of our Redemption. May we consider our way within the world, accepting its dangers – with all due caution! – and take similar ownership of our spiritual lives that we may incorporate consistent practices for our spiritual health. It is not given to us to know every twist in the journey between us and our promised Eternal reward, but Our Lord has promised to be a good traveling companion every step of the Way.

O most mighty God and merciful Father, help us humbly to accept your workings in our lives; bring us through the doubts and uncertainties forced on us by the world, strengthen us to your holy purpose, and guide our footsteps in your ways, that all that we do and all that we are may prosper and find favor in your sight, during this Lenten journey and all our days.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.