Many of us have rightly, lamented the steady erosion of the Thanksgiving holiday. Over the past decade or so that hideousness of people camped out, sometimes for days, in front of stores to take advantage of “Black Friday” sales grew more widespread. This next intensified to stores opening at midnight, then at 8 PM on Thanksgiving evening. And now many are just plain open all day on Thanksgiving.
Sad if you ask me, (and even if you don’t ask me) the loss of Thanksgiving is very sad. And those of us or left holding the candle, of the “old days,” ask somewhat mournfully, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” And the sober non-exaggerated answer is “No, very little, if anything, is sacred anymore.
Those of us who are a little older, remember when most Sundays were quiet days, most stores and businesses were closed, and only essential emergency personnel were expected to work. That went away in most places by the mid-70s. And Thanksgiving, Christmas Day were some of the last holdouts.
When I tell most younger people about the way Sundays used to be, many of them, even churchgoing Catholics, look somewhat puzzled even mystified: Why would things be closed? “I don’t know,” I answer, “But it was just that some of us thought some things were sacred, some days and times were just off limits for doing lesser things like buying and selling and other non-essential things.
Sundays and holidays were “set apart,” the true meaning of the word “sacred.” They were for family, for God, you just didn’t interfere with that.
Now, with the steady rise of secularism, the notion that anything is sacred, seems strange, antiquated, restrictive, even “hateful” since certain “religious” people are trying to “impose their values” on others. The libertarian leanings within me are sympathetic to those who raise concerns that laws could be passed forbidding businesses to open certain days etc.
But even if we could do that, (which we certainly can’t at this point), the concern that we might try to pass laws really misses the point. The point is, that we used to agree that certain days and times, certain things, were sacred and we carved out room, and gave reverence to them. Now we don’t.
Again to the question, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” The sad answer comes back, “No
What then to do about the current state of affairs? Is there any way for us to reacquaint others with the sacred in an increasingly secular culture?
Something occurs in terms of a solution in what Jesus said to a young man from whom he cast out many demons. You are likely aware of the details of the story, but if you wish to review the whole store you can read it in Mark 5:1ff. The young man had many demons, “Legion,” for there were very many of them. Jesus drove them out, into a local herd of swine, some 2000 and number, which ran off the bluff and drowned in the lake.
What is odd, and also speaks also to the cultural conditions of our time, is that the townspeople are not grateful to Jesus. Rather they are fearful and averse to him, and ask him to leave their town immediately. Now just consider, a young man was so fiercely possessed, that even when his hands and feet were chained, he broke the chains could not be repressed in anyway. One would think that gratitude joy, and a desire for Jesus to stay would be the natural and normal response to this.
But having experienced significant financial loss, and possibly fearing that Jesus could control too much, the people are angry, and fearful, and insist that Jesus leave their town.
Now here is a paradigm for our modern culture. Increasingly, we are seeing more than a mere indifference to God or religion, but and outright aversion, even overt hostility toward faith and the teachings of Jesus. The faith established by Jesus Christ is increasingly seen as an obstacle, both to happiness and progress. Perhaps too, there is some fear that if Christianity were to be more widely embraced, many changes would be necessary; many sins would need to be faced, and repented of; and many virtues such as generosity to the poor would be more strictly required.
Now at some level, these assumptions are true. Christianity, fully embraced, with more than lip service, does lead to significant change in one’s life! But of course the mechanism of this change is not simply the dreadful, fearful following the rules, per se, but rather a transformative power wherein one sees sins put to death, and many virtues come alive.
Yet many, not appreciating this or understanding it, fear Christian influence which shines a light of truth of their sins and/or neglects.
And thus, many in our culture are insisting that Jesus and us leave town on the very next train. So, what happened at the lake side, in the land of the Gerasenes, is very much alive in our time as well.
Given the similarities, what did Jesus advise then, and what does it mean now? The young man, having been healed, begs to follow Jesus, Jesus says “No” and advises the following, which the man does:
Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.(Mark 5:19-20)
So, the solution for the hostility in this land of the Gerasenes, is to leave behind a witness to the goodness and mercy of God, who by his witness and testimony, will help bring people to their senses.
The Man becomes quite a witness, it would seem, for he went through the cities of the Decapolis, (which means the region of the ten cities), and thus he covers a good bit of territory.
And the text states the results that all who heard him were amazed. Actually, the Greek verb is a little more specific than that. ἐθαύμαζον (ethaumazon) is an imperfect, indicative, active verb.
That a verb is in the “imperfect” tense implies that it is not yet fully completed at the time it is reported to us. Thus perhaps a better translation of this verb would say that those who heard him were “becoming amazed.” In other words, witness, and evangelization, is generally not a “one and you’re done,” scenario. More is needed than one barn-burner sermon where everyone gets converted instantly. But rather, it involves staying in a conversation with people over some period of time and leading them back.
And this then is our lot, and also our solution in a culture that has lost almost any sense of the sacred, and is becoming increasingly irreligious and even hostile to the faith.
So, what are we to do? The Lord’s advice seems clear enough: Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you. In other words, tell them how he healed you; tell them what he’s done for you; show them how you have been healed; and manifest a joy to them. And while this may take time, many will begin to be amazed.
It seems clear today, we cannot simply reduce evangelization to an intellectual appeal. Doctrines and dogmas are ultimately very essential, lest we go off and invent our own new religion, a very bad and idolatrous thing to do!
But it would seem, that our first appeal is to be living witness of the transformative power of Jesus Christ in our lives. We need to be able to tell others, to manifest to them the power and the glorious majesty of Jesus Christ and the power of his cross to put sin to death and bring joy and many graces alive.
Of course, this will take time, and we will take back territory from the devil one soul at a time. But at a certain point things reach critical mass, and faith goes from small little communities to a more cultural influence. It may take a long time, and that is not without his frustrations. At times, it seems that it takes centuries to build something up, and only twenty minutes to tear it down.
But all we can do is rebuild. One day, we may rediscover the sacred, Sundays and holy days may return his days of special observance. For now, all we can do is get to work it is the Lord will bring the harvest.
This song’s text is “Gratias Agimus Tibi” (We give you thanks) from the Bach B Minor Mass.