Late Advent Messages from God to His People

The Prophet Isaiah, by Lorenzo Monaco (1405-10)

As the end of Advent approaches, the Office of Readings features some final admonitions from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. On the one hand they console; on the other, they challenge us to remain firm.

Isaiah addressed a people in exile who still awaited the first coming of the Lord. Today, these texts speak to us in difficult times when, exiled from Heaven, we await His magnificent Second Coming.

Let’s look at these admonitions from the Lord (Isaiah 46:3-13), which were addressed to three different groups in ancient Israel. However, let’s apply them to three groups in our own times: the faithful remnant, the foolish rebels, and the fainthearted at risk.

To the Faithful RemnantHear me, O house of Jacob, all who remain of the house of Israel, my burden since your birth, whom I have carried from your infancy. Even to your old age I am the same, even when your hair is gray I will bear you; It is I who have done this, I who will continue, and I who will carry you to safety.

This is directed to the devoted, to the remnant, to those who remain after the cultural revolution in our times, to those sometimes discouraged and sorrowful over the infidelity of loved ones and of the world around them. To these (often the elderly among us who remember a more faithful even if imperfect time) the Lord first speaks.

In effect, He says, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Who are the mournful? They are those who see the awful state of God’s people: not glorifying the Lord in their lives, not knowing why they were made, spending themselves on what neither matters nor satisfies. Yes, those who mourn shall be strengthened, and, as their sorrow has motivated them to pray and work for the kingdom, they shall be borne to safety.

Such as these, the faithful remnant, should never forget that God has carried them from the beginning, even in the strength of their prime. Now, reduced by age, they are still carried by the Lord. He has never forgotten them and will carry them to safety; their faith in difficult times will be rewarded.

To The Foolish Rebels Remember this and bear it well in mind, you rebels; remember the former things, those long ago: I am God, there is no other; I am God, there is none like me. Whom would you compare me with, as an equal, or match me against, as though we were alike? There are those who pour out gold from a purse and weigh out silver on the scales; Then they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god before which they fall down in worship. They lift it to their shoulders to carry; when they set it in place again, it stays, and does not move from the spot. Although they cry out to it, it cannot answer; it delivers no one from distress.

The word “rebel” is from the Latin re (again) + bellum (war). In this context it refers to those who are forever at war with God and His plan for their lives. They foolishly forget His saving deeds. They imagine vain things: that there are other gods or entities that could save them. Even more foolishly, they craft other “gods” that they have to lift upon their shoulders to carry.

Many in our day act in the same way: always at war with God, His Church, and His plan. As G.K. Chesterton once noted, when people stop believing in God, it is not that they will believe in nothing but that they will believe in anything. Chesterton also wrote that when we break God’s big laws, we don’t get liberty; we get small laws. We transfer our trust away from God to false, crafted gods like government, or science, or the market. We hope that they will carry us, but we end up carrying the weight of these gods on our own shoulders. We carry this weight in the form of taxes, debt, and anxiety about everything in our health or environment (demanded by the increasingly politicized scientific and medical communities).

Science, the market, and government are not intrinsically evil, but they are not gods, either. They cannot deliver us from ourselves; only God can do that. To the many who rebelliously and foolishly persist with their “non-gods,” He says, “I am God; there is no other.”

To the Fainthearted at Risk Listen to me, you fainthearted, you who seem far from the victory of justice: I am bringing on my justice, it is not far off, my salvation shall not tarry; I will put salvation within Zion, and give to Israel my glory. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand, I accomplish my every purpose. I call from the east a bird of prey, from a distant land, one to carry out my plan. Yes, I have spoken, I will accomplish it; I have planned it, and I will do it.

Among the faithful there are some who are at risk, who are nearly ready to give up. God encourages them, but also warns that His plan will stand whether or not they endure. Thus there is an implicit warning from Jesus here (and an explicit warning elsewhere) that we must persevere. Jesus says that because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved (Matt 24:12-13).

St. Augustine wrote, [God has] devised a plan, a great and wonderful plan … All this had therefore to be prophesied, foretold, and impressed on us as an event in the future, in order that we might wait for it in faith, and not find it as a sudden and dreadful reality (From a discourse on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop (In ps. 109, 1-3: CCL 40, 1601-1603)).

God’s plan will stand whether or not we do. We must stand as well, even when we want to faint or fall back. Our love must not grow cold nor our strength fail. God has triumphed and Satan has lost. We must choose with whom we will stand.

The evidence of the present age does not seem to show this, but as Scripture reminds us,

Therefore, we do not lose heart … So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:16-17).

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 Jn 2:16-17).

Here, then, are some final instructions from the Lord this Advent, instructions for us who wait for Him: be faithful; the plan will come to pass. Do not be a foolish rebel, nor one of the at-risk fainthearted. Rather, be part of the faithful remnant. St. Paul says, Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved” (Romans 9:27).

The song performed in the clip below is entitled “Lord Help Me to Hold Out.”

Watch! A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

The Sunday Gospel announces a critical Advent theme: While I want to comment primarily on the Reading from Isaiah, the Gospel admonition surely deserves some attention as well.

Too many today hold the unbiblical idea that most if not all people are going to Heaven. For weeks now we have been reading parables in the Gospels in which the Lord Jesus warns that many (possibly even most) are not headed for Heaven. There are the wise and the foolish virgins, the industrious and the lazy servants, and the sheep and the goats. Today’s Gospel features those who keep watch and those who do not.

Although many prefer to brush aside the teachings on judgment or the teaching that many will be lost, Jesus says, “Watch!” to all of us. In other words, we should watch out; we should be serious, sober, and prepared for death and judgment. We must realize that our choices in this life are leading somewhere.

Some try to tame, domesticate, and reinvent Jesus, but it is not this fake Jesus whom they will meet. They will meet the real Jesus, the Jesus who warns repeatedly of the reality of judgment and the strong possibility of Hell. The beginning of Advent is an especially important time to heed Jesus’ admonition and realize our need to be saved.

This leads us to the today’s first reading, from Isaiah, which rather thoroughly sets forth our need for a savior. Isaiah distinguishes five ailments which beset us and from which we need rescue. We are: drifting, demanding, depraved, disaffected, and depressed. In the end, Isaiah reminds us of our dignity. Let’s look at each of these ailments in turn and then ponder our dignity.

1.  Drifting – The text says, Why [O Lord] do you let us wander from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.

It is a common human tendency to wander or drift gradually. It is relatively rare for someone to suddenly decide to reject God, especially if he was raised with some faith. Rather, what usually happens is that we just drift away, wander off course. It is like the captain of a ship who stops paying close attention. The boat drifts farther and farther off course. At first, no one notices, but the cumulative effect is that the boat is now headed in the wrong direction. The captain did not suddenly turn the wheel and shift 180 degrees; he just stopped paying attention and began to drift bit by bit.

So it is with some of us, who may wonder how we got so far off course. I talk with many people who have left the Church; many of them cannot point to a single incident or moment when they walked out of Church and said, “I’m never coming back.” More common is that they just gradually fell away from the practice of the faith. They missed Mass on Sunday here and there, and little by little, missing Mass became the norm. Maybe they moved to a new city and never got around to finding a parish. They just got disconnected and drifted away.

The thing about drifting is that the further off course you get, the harder it is to get back on course. It seems like an increasingly monumental task to make the changes necessary to get back on track. Thus Isaiah speaks of the heart of a drifter becoming hardened. Our bad habits become “hard” to break. As God seems more and more distant to us, we lose our holy fear and reverence for Him.

It is interesting how, in taking up our voice, Isaiah, “blames” God. Somehow it is “His fault” for letting us wander because He allows us to do it. It is true that God made us free and that is very serious about respecting our freedom. How else could we love God, if we were not free? Compelled love is not love at all.

What Isaiah is really getting at is that some of us are so far afield, so lost, that only God can find us and save us. And so we must depend on God being like a shepherd who seeks his lost sheep.

Thus, here is the first way that Isaiah sets forth our need for a Savior.

2.  Demanding The text says, Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.

There is a human tendency to demand signs and wonders. Our flesh demands to see, and when we do not, we are dismissive, even scoffing.

This tendency has reached a peak in our modern times when so many reject faith because it does not meet the demands of empirical science and a materialistic age. If something is not physical, not measurable by some human instrument, many reject its very existence. Never mind that many things that are very real (e.g., justice, fear) cannot be weighed on a scale. What most moderns are really doing is more specific: rejecting God and the demands of faith. “Because we cannot see Him with our eyes, He is not there. Therefore, we may do as we please.”

Isaiah gives voice to the human demand to see on our own terms. We demand signs and wonders before we will believe. It is almost as though we are saying to God, “Force me to believe in you” or “Make everything so certain that I don’t really have to walk by faith.”

Many of us look back to the miracles of the Scriptures and think, “If I saw that, I would believe.” But faith is not so simple. Many who did see miracles (e.g., the Hebrew people in the desert), saw but still gave way to doubt. Many who saw Jesus work miracles fled at the first sign of trouble or as soon as He said something that displeased them. Our flesh demands to see, but in the end, even after seeing we often refuse to believe.

Further, God does not usually do the “biggie-wow” things to impress us. Satan does overwhelm us in this way. God, however, is a quiet and persistent lover who respectfully and delicately works in us—if we let Him. It is Satan who roars at us with temptation, fear, and sheer volume, so that we are distracted and confused. More often, God is that still, small voice speaking in the depth of our heart.

Thus the Lord, speaking through Isaiah, warns us of this second ailment, the demand for signs and wonders. Our rebellious flesh pouts and draws back in resentful rebellion. We need a Savior, to give us a new heart and mind, attuned to the small still voice of God in a strident world.

3.  Depraved – The text says, Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people.

The word depraved comes from the Latin pravitas, meaning crooked or deformed. It means to be lacking what we ought to have. Hence, the Lord (through Isaiah) here describes our deformed state in the following ways.

Unthinking – the text says that we are “unmindful” of God. Indeed, our minds are very weak. We can go for long periods so turned in on ourselves that we barely if ever think of God. Our thoughts are focused on things that are passing, while almost wholly forgetful of God and Heaven, which remain forever. It is so easy for our senseless minds to be darkened. Our culture has “kicked God to the curb.” There are even fewer reminders of Him today than there were in previous generations. We desperately need God to save us and to give us new minds. Come, Lord Jesus!

Unhappy – the text says of God “You are angry.” But we need to remember that the “wrath of God” is more in us than it is in God. God’s anger is His passion to set things right. God is not moody or prone to egotistical rage. More often than not, it is we who project our own unhappiness and anger upon God. The “wrath of God” is our experience of the total incompatibility of our sinful state with the holiness of God. God does not lose His temper or fly into a rage; He does not lose His serenity. It is we who are unhappy, angry, egotistical, and scornful. We need God to give us a new heart. Come, Lord Jesus!

Undistinguished – the text says, we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people. We are called to be holy. That is, we are called to be “set apart,” distinguished from the sinful world around us. Too often, though, we are indistinguishable. We do not shine forth like a light in the darkness. We seem little different than the pagan world around us. We divorce, fornicate, fail to forgive, support abortion, contracept, and fail the poor in numbers indistinguishable from those who do not know God. We do not seem joyful, serene, or alive. We look like just like everyone else. Our main goal seems to be to fit in. Save us, O Lord, from our mediocrity and fear. Come, Lord Jesus!

4.  Disaffected The text says, There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.

In other words, collectively speaking we have no passion for God. We get all worked up about politics, sports, the lottery, and television shows; but when it comes to God, many can barely rouse themselves to go to Mass, pray, or read Scripture. We seem to find time for everything but God.

Here, too, Isaiah gives voice to the human tendency to blame God. He says, God has hidden his face. But God has not moved. If you can’t see God, guess who turned away? If you’re not as close to God as you used to be, guess who moved?

Our heart and our priorities are out of whack. We need a savior to give us a new heart, a greater love, and better priorities and desires. Come, Lord Jesus!

5.  Depressed The text says, All our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.

One of the definitions of depression is anger turned inward. While Isaiah has given voice to our tendency to direct anger at and blame God, here he gives voice to another tendency of ours: turning in on ourselves.

Our good deeds are described as polluted rags. While they may be less than they could be, calling them polluted rags gives voice to our own frustration with our seemingly hopeless situation and our addiction to sin and injustice.

Ultimately, the devil wants us to diminish what little good we can find in ourselves. He wants us to be locked into a depressed and angry state. If we think there is no good in us at all, then we think “Why even bother?”

There is such a thing as unhealthy guilt (cf 2 Cor 7:10-11) and self-loathing that is not of God, but from the devil, our accuser. It may well be this that Isaiah articulates here. From such depressed self-loathing (masquerading as piety) we need a savior. Come, Lord Jesus!

So the cry has gone up: Come, Lord Jesus; save us, Savior of the world! We need a savior and Advent is a time to mediate on that need.

Isaiah ends on a final note that takes the song from the key of D minor to the key of D major.

Dignity the text says, Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.

Yes, we are a mess, but a loveable one. God has so loved us that He sent His Son, who is not ashamed to call us brethren.

We are not forsaken. In Advent we call upon a Father who loves us. Our cry, Come, Lord Jesus, is heard and heeded by the Father, who loves us and is fashioning us into His very image. God is able and will fix and fashion us well. Help is on the way!

The Oppressiveness of Our Times

credit: VargaA, Wikimedia Commons

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah was featured this week in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours. I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that the ancient diagnosis of Israel applies to our times as well.

And the people shall oppress one another, yes, every man his neighbor. The child shall be bold toward the elder, and the base toward the honorable. … Their very look bears witness against them; their sin like Sodom they vaunt, they hide it not. Woe to them! they deal out evil to themselves (Isaiah 3:5-9).

When a man seizes his brother in his father’s house, saying, “You have clothes! Be our ruler, and take in hand this ruin!” … But he will say: … “You shall not make me leader of the people.” … because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord … My people—a babe in arms will be their tyrant, and women will rule them! O my people, your leaders mislead, they destroy the paths you should follow (Isaiah 3:6-12).

Let’s note four fundamental issues that God assigns to that age (and, I would argue, ours as well). Our culture and nation have become:

Dominating and Loud And the people shall oppress one another, yes, every man his neighbor.

These are indeed contentious times—so contentious that we cannot seem to have honest debates or disagreements; we just yell at one another. On college campuses, students shout down speakers with differing views and accuse them of hate. Demonstrations both on campuses and elsewhere often devolve into a kind of mob violence, which has included vandalism, setting cars afire, breaking windows, looting, and even murder.

Pope Benedict XVI warned of the tyranny of relativism. By this he meant that as relativism and subjectivism have shifted the source of truth from the object to the subject, from reality to opinion, there is no longer any basis for reasonable discussion.

In such a climate, whose views win the day: Those with the most money, power, and political clout or those who shout the loudest or are best able to intimidate others?

Dishonoring and Low-brow The child shall be bold toward the elder, and the base toward the honorable.

What is described in this verse has been going on for a considerable time. Those of us who are older remember a time when disrespect for elders was not tolerated. Beginning in the 1950s and picking up speed through the 1960s, our culture devolved into one centered on youth. Youthful vigor and youth itself were esteemed over maturity. Young people were “hip” and relevant; “old people” were out of touch and had nothing to offer. If something was old, it was bad; if something was new it was good. Rock music emphasized rebellion and the rejection of tradition. Television sitcoms featured children who were all-wise and parents (especially fathers) who were stupid and buffoonish.

All of this has led to a breakdown of respect for elders and those in authority. And, frankly, elders and authority figures have not helped matters, as many of them have fearfully declined to insist upon proper respect.

When there is no respect, there can be no teaching. When there is no teaching or handing down of what has proven best and most worthwhile, what is base and low-brow too easily appeals to those who are schooled only in their lower passions.

Rap stars, Hollywood actors, and other pop-culture figures have more influence than Scripture, faith, literature, and tradition. Much of popular culture presents that which is base and most of those who represent it reject the honorable and time-tested traditions that have built our culture. Cultural iconoclasts dominate; those who build on what is honorable are fewer, both in number and influence.

Destructive through Lust Their very look bears witness against them; their sin like Sodom they vaunt, they hide it not. Woe to them! they deal out evil to themselves.

Today, promiscuity of every sort is celebrated. Again, those of us who are older can remember a time when living together outside of marriage was scorned; it was referred to as “living in sin” or “shacking up.” Now, not only is it widely tolerated; it is even encouraged.

Movies and popular songs since the 1960s have depicted and spoken of illicit sexual unions of every kind as normal, acceptable, routine, and even beautiful. Homosexual acts are now celebrated, made the matter of pride. Contraception, widely rejected by every Christian denomination prior to 1930, is now called virtuous or responsible by most. Divorce, once considered shocking and discouraged by our very laws, is now common; it is often encouraged as a way to happiness.

God warns through Isaiah in this text: Woe to them! they deal out evil to themselves. In other words, if we don’t get marriage and sexuality right as a culture, it will kill our civilization. Sexual distortion leads to distortions about marriage. Distortions about marriage lead to broken families. Broken families lead to broken children. Broken children become broken adults. Broken adults have a hard time leading or making good decisions.

The breakdown of culture and civilization continues. In our sins we deal out evil to ourselves. We sow the wind and we reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). We sow in the field of the flesh and we reap a harvest of corruption (Gal 6:8).

Declining in Leadership When a man seizes his brother in his father’s house, saying, “You have clothes! Be our ruler, and take in hand this ruin!” … But he will say: … “You shall not make me leader of the people.” … because their speech and their deeds are against the LordMy people—a babe in arms will be their tyrant, and women will rule them! O my people, your leaders mislead, they destroy the paths you should follow.

This is an especially controversial part of the text. Yet, honestly, there is a crisis of leadership in our culture at nearly every level. In families, many parents do not lead their children, choosing instead to try to be their friends. Many priests and bishops timorously hide, speaking in abstractions and generalities rather than teaching clearly. Too many do not vigorously summon the faithful to a proper moral vision.

In terms of social and political leadership, many of the best in our country do not want to assume leadership of a people who are increasingly surly and incorrigible, who demand everything but are not willing to sacrifice even smallest of benefits.

When qualified and capable leaders do not step forward, people will latch onto any leader at all, no matter how corrupt, morally questionable, or inexperienced. This decline has been going on for a long time in our country at every level.

Isaiah’s “politically unapproved” lament about having women rulers requires of us a deeper understanding of the meaning of the text. Today, we accept and have women who are capable leaders; no one would compare a female leader to a “babe in arms.”

Today, the problem lies more in the lack of traditionally described “masculine” virtues such as engaging the battle, fighting for what is right, competition, and necessary contention. Our age is more steeped in traditionally described “feminine” virtues such as tolerance, acceptance, getting along, understanding, respecting feelings, and “emotional intelligence.” These traits are not bad in themselves, but today they are not properly balanced; in our culture, the feminine predominates. This imbalance is not healthy. A culture in which femininity predominates is no healthier than one with too much masculinity.

I would argue that this text from Isaiah need not be understood as excoriating any or all feminine leadership. Rather, I see it as reminding us that in leadership, masculine virtues are needed to balance feminine virtues and instincts.

The current imbalance, in which the feminine dominates, affects leadership in families and parishes. Parents and clergy are often hesitant to make challenging demands or to insist on what is true because feelings might be hurt or offense taken.

In the political arena, the current imbalance results in a kind of hypersensitivity to the feelings of aggrieved individuals or groups of self-described victims. Many leaders are more preoccupied with not giving offense to certain popular groups than with making difficult decisions that may demand sacrifice and that will not please all, but are still the best answer. What is best can sometimes be hard; the truth is not always pleasing to everyone.

Disclaimer: Without a doubt, some of what Isaiah said was controversial in his day. And without a doubt my application of the text to this day and age will likewise be controversial. But what if ensuing conversations and debates are the result? What if you get a chance to register your comments and complaints in the comment box here and other people get to respond to you? What if my imperfect post is meant to encourage conversation in a culture that increasingly wants to shut down conversation and forbid “politically unapproved” speech?

Finally, remember that biblical passages have a way of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. We’re all a little of both and we need both.

This song, recorded in my parish church, was performed by the St. Luke Ordinariate Choir:

Four Reasons We Need a Savior – An Advent Meditation on a Text from Isaiah

Blog12-1The very first reading for Advent in the Office of Readings of the Breviary is a text from Isaiah Chapter 1. As such, it sounds a kind of keynote for the season, which is penitential in tone. In effect, the reading sets forth the need for a savior, as it vividly describes our sinful condition. We’ve got it bad and that ain’t good. But praise the Lord, there is a doctor on the way. His name is Emmanuel; His name is Jesus, which means “God saves.”

Let’s look at this keynote reading of Advent in five stages.

I. Distant Sons Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth, for the Lord speaks: Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me! An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger; But Israel does not know, my people has not understood. Ah! sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children! They have forsaken the Lord, spurned the Holy One of Israel, apostatized (Is 1:2-4).

At the heart of most of our troubles is that we have distanced ourselves from God. Sometimes this is through forgetfulness rooted in a dullness of mind. Culturally in the West we have moved God to the periphery by an increasingly strident secularism. We are distant children. Collectively speaking, we have disowned our Father: the God who made us and who enables us to do everything we have done.

In so doing, we are cutting ourselves off from the very source of our power and achievement. This, of course, is the height of foolishness. Consider a fan that has just been unplugged. At first the blades continue to spin and the fan may “think” that all is well. But gradually the blades move more and more slowly. Eventually, they stop completely. It is this way with us as well.

Most of us believers are rightly concerned that our culture, having been unmoored, is becoming just as God described faithless ancient Israel: a sinful nation laden with wickedness, evil, and corruption. No age of this “paradise lost” has ever been sinless, but increasingly we cannot even get consensus on the most basic moral issues: that killing infants in the womb is wrong, that homosexual acts are disordered, and that promiscuity is unhealthy for the body and the culture. Even the most rudimentary understanding of biology shows that a life in the womb is a human baby and that homosexual acts are not meant to be (the parts don’t fit and the full purpose of sex is impossible). And clearly promiscuity brings disease. And this is just the biological evidence. Even a high school biology student can figure out that these practices are misguided.

But so deep is our confusion, that even the most obvious aspects of things evade us as we get lost in our rationalizations and foolish attempts to justify what we know, deep down, is wrong. Yes, unplugged from God, we get a little slow in our thinking.

The Lord goes on to compare His distant children to oxen and donkeys. Yes, even they are smarter than some of us, for they know their owner and who feeds them. Are you and I smarter than a donkey or an ox? There is a reason our nativity sets usually feature a donkey and a cow. They were there for the birth of Christ, but we had no room for him in the inn.

So the first reason we need a savior is that we tend to stray from God. And having strayed, we get lost in more ways than one. God has to come find us, just as in the garden when the first couple sinned He went through the Garden calling, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:9) So now He seeks us, His distant children.

II. Disease-StruckWhy will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot to the head there is no sound spot: Wound and welt and gaping gash, not drained, or bandaged, or eased with salve (Isaiah 1:5-6).

This is a bad situation. The Lord says simply, “There is no sound spot.” The damage caused by sin is enormous and the Lord describes it sickening terms: wounds; welts; and horrifying, pus-filled, gaping gashes.

We tend to make light of sin, but God does not. St. Paul put things more bluntly and tersely: “You were dead in your sins” (Eph 2:1).

But making light of our sins we stand there and continue to get struck; we continue to rebel. We ignore the body count of abortion, the toll that divorce and promiscuity take on children, the high price of greed, and the foolishness of casting aside God and His wisdom.

As God describes it, our stance is unreasonable and just plain stupid. We rebel, glory in evil things, and assert a false notion of freedom. But God says to us that if we could only see ourselves as He does, we would be sickened: gaping wounds and foul discharge.

Jesus said to Sister Faustina, You see what you are of yourself, but do not be frightened at this. If I were to reveal to you the whole misery that you are, you would die of terror. … But because you are such great misery I have revealed to you the whole ocean of my mercy (Diary II. 718).

Here, then, is the second reason we need a savior: Our sins and stubbornness have made us wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17). We cannot save ourselves. Only with grace and mercy do we stand a chance. We need more than an angel; we need a savior.

III. Desolate Scene Your country is waste, your cities burnt with fire. Your land before your eyes strangers devour, [a waste, like Sodom overthrown]—And daughter Zion is left like a hut in a vineyard, Like a shed in a melon patch, like a city blockaded. Unless the Lord of hosts had left us a scanty remnant, We had become as Sodom, we should be like Gomorrah (Is 1:7-9).

Ruined cultures eventually produced ruined cities and plundered landscapes. You don’t think it can happen today? Throughout the age of the Church, empires have risen and fallen, countries have come and gone, and powerful coalitions have gathered and fallen apart. None of them thought that they would collapse either. But they are all gone. Where is Rome? Where is the Napoleonic Empire? Where is the USSR? It was once said, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” Now it does. The Church alone, by Christ’s promise, is indefectible. And she, too, needs often-severe purifications.

In the Bible the usual focus was on land, crops, and buildings. In our age, we speak of “economies.” But no matter what we call it, we cannot have strong economies or unless we are strong, true, consistent and disciplined. Our moral decline produces a decadence (from the Latin for “to be fallen down”) and a laziness.

We are even too lazy to have children. And thus the text above speaks of “strangers devouring your land.” Once-Christian Europe is soon to become a Muslim caliphate. Hagia Sophia became a mosque; will the great cathedrals of Europe go the same way?

In America the situation is more complex. Thankfully, most of our immigrants are Catholic Christians. But it does seem clear that our years of being an economic and political leader among the nations is fading; the thinning soil of our culture can little longer sustain the taller growths. Our economy has been stagnant for at least a decade now, and unemployment is shockingly high. There’s no telling where it will end up, but things don’t look very vigorous right now.

And here is the third reason we need a savior: to save us from the mess we’ve made and reinvigorate us with the things that make for healthy families, healthy communities, a healthy culture, and a healthy Church. We need rebuilding, reinvigoration, restoration, refocusing, and reformation.

IV. Disconnected Sacrifices Hear the word of the Lord, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the Lord. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure. When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow (Is 1:10-19).

Even our worship lacks integrity. That which is supposed to glorify God and bring forth in us a holy obedience has become lip service. God seeks hearts that are humble, docile, loving, and repentant. We cannot buy Him off by just singing hymns, saying a few prayers, or attending Mass. These things, good though they are, are meant to effect a conversion in us that makes us more loving of both God and neighbor, less violent, more just, more merciful, more generous to the poor, and more holy. Our worship should effect change in us such that we cease doing evil and learn to do good, we strive for justice, we address injustice, and we defend and help the poor.

An additional problem with our worship today is that God has become almost an afterthought. Much of our liturgy is self-centered, self-congratulatory, and anthropocentric (rather than theocentric). We are “the aware, gathered community celebrating itself.” While the Mass should focus on God and summon us to humility and joy before Him, too often it seems more an exercise in pride and self-congratulation. We are very narcissistic, even in a communal setting.

God cannot be pleased with all of this. Even if our worship is rightly ordered, we are not going to buy God off. God wants an obedient heart more than sacrifice. Sacrifice without obedience is a sham.

This is the fourth reason we need a savior: We need God to restore our integrity and give us a new heart. We are “dis-integrated,” in the sense that pieces of our life that should be together (e.g., worship and obedience, liturgy and healing) are not. Too often our worship does just the opposite of what it should. Instead of drawing us more deeply into the love and obedience of God it becomes the very occasion of keeping God at a distance and seeking to placate him with superficial gestures. This makes our worship an insult and a lie. God doesn’t mince words in the passage above when He says how displeased He is with this.

We need God to give us a new heart, one that loves Him as well as the people and things that He loves. Only then will our worship will truly reflect the heart that God seeks: a loving, humble, and generous heart.

V. Desire to Save Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Is 1:18-20).

God says that we should get started. Let the healing begin! And all the people must say,

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until you, O Lord, the Son of God appear.”