The title of this Post is the refrain of the responsorial Psalm of Mass for Monday of this week. It is a provocative antiphon to say the least.
Given the difficulties that continue on the East Coast and the Midwest in the aftermath of Friday night’s remarkable storm (a mini hurricane, really), the readings of Monday’s Mass really spoke to how forgetful we can be regarding our fragility. Millions remain “powerless” in the midst of sweltering heat and electric companies say it may be the end of the week before power is restored. Yes, human “power” (aka electricity) is sorely lacking and all the kings horses and all the kings men are currently unable to deliver help.
Disclaimer – I write this as one unaffected by the power outages and I “coolly” reflect on these matters in air conditioned comfort. But fully half my parishioners are not so lucky and cannot even run a fan to get relief. It is they who must experience our frailty while I merely comment on it. I tip my hat to those who show patience in this current unpleasantness.
The readings today however give us an important teaching that is worth pondering.
The first reading today from Amos, while largely a warning from God that he will punish his unrepentant people, also speaks eloquently to the fact that even what we usually consider “mighty” cannot stand before the far mightier powers we call nature and, and neither can they stand before the Lord God:
Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong man shall not retain his strength; The warrior shall not save his life, nor the bowman stand his ground; The swift of foot shall not escape, nor the horseman save his life. And the most stouthearted of warriors shall flee naked on that day, says the LORD (Amos 2:14-16)
I quoting this, I do not suggest personal sin is the cause of Friday’s storm or of the current suffering in its aftermath by some. It is true, collectively, we ALL have enough pride to fuel a worldwide storm. But here I quote the passage simply as a reminder of how even what we call great and powerful (our technology and military might) is actually very fragile.
Fragile! Almost every process, function and comfort, in our homes depends on a thin little wire bringing electricity into our homes, and another thin little wire bringing and sending information. Cut these little cords and modern life as we know it goes back to the stone age. And, unlike our even recent ancestors who knew how to make a go of it without these umbilical cords, we are quite helpless. Most of us don’t even know how to cook over an open fire, let alone build one. Two thin and fragile wires, it all rests on that. Cut that cord and the mighty and modern word “flees naked on that day.”
And, not only are our individual lives fragile, but so is what we call civilization. When power outages are widespread (this one is spotty) there is often social unrest to include looting and riots. Social order breaks down very quickly in such circumstances, and we discover that civilization is a thinner veneer than we imagined.
The responsorial psalm says, Remember this you who never think of God, and, I would add: Remember this you who think that, in your own power, your strength lies. And these two lines are also good and powerful reminders also for us who do think of God, but do not often remember that this seemingly powerful world with all its glories is fragile: For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Cor 7:29-30)
Yes, in an instant, in the rush of a wind, it’s promises and power all collapse.
An old song says, “In times like these you need a savior…” Only the Lord can help us set our heart and our hopes in that place where true and lasting joys are. Reminders like this storm can help, but only Jesus can truly convert our hearts and focus us on the lasting things of God and heaven.
An old hymn says: On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, And the verses go on to add:
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
And perhaps a final admonition from Scripture:
But as for man, his days are like the grass or as of the flower of the field. The wind blows and he is gone, and his place never sees him again. But from everlasting to everlasting is the Lord’s love for those that fear him. (Psalm 103:15-17)