In today’s Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours (Monday of 7th Week of Easter) we read the following exhortation from St John:
Beloved, do not trust every spirit, but put the spirits to a test to see if they belong to God, because many false prophets have appeared in the world….You are of God, you little ones, and thus you have conquered the false prophets …..[They] belong to the world; that is why theirs is the language of the world and why the world listens to them. We belong to God and anyone who has knowledge of God gives us a hearing, while anyone who is not of God refuses to hear us. Thus do we distinguish the spirit of truth from the spirit of deception. (1 John 4:1-10)
And thus we are warned that we must discern every thought, every idea, trend, philosophy, and fad to see if it is of God or not. We are also warned that there are many pseudo-prophets who, enamored of the world, use its language and views, distort the word of God and seek to mislead us. Yes, tragically, not a few Catholic priests and bishops seek to accommodate the Gospel to the thinking of the world. They have not tested everything to see if it is of God but publicly and often seek to bless and call good what God calls sin. St. John adds, theirs is the language of the world and the world listens to them. But sadly, they mislead the listening world and confirm it in its errors! They have everything backward. It is the world and its views that must be on trial and judged according to the Gospel. But many put the Scriptures and Doctrinal teachings of the Church on trial and judge them lacking because they do not conform to modern thinking.
How do you and I regard this world? How do we perceive its offerings, philosophies, and standards? I pray that we soberly assess the things of this world. Sadly, many Christians pass through their days in this world in a very unreflective manner, accepting, without critique, many ungodly and harmful notions. Almost anything can be spewed forth from the television, the radio, or some celebrity’s mouth and many people will accept it uncritically, even with applause. Many will look at, read, and purchase material that is not only contrary to what our faith teaches, but even ridicules it or presents it in an unfair, unbalanced, or distorted way. Many parents pay far too little attention to what their children are being taught in school, what they are viewing, and to what they are listening. The homebound days of COVID changed some of that, but scrutiny must continue.
Like St. John, St. Paul exhorted, Test everything; hold fast what is good (1 Thess 5:21). Do we?
Note that St. Paul does not say that everything is bad. Rather, he says that we should test everything. And how should that be done? For us who believe, everything should be tested by the revealed Word of God in Sacred Scripture and the Doctrine of the Church.
And yet, just like the false prophets above, not only do many Catholics fail to do this, they have things precisely backward. Many put the Word of God on trial, judging it by the world and its standards. Many will accept uncritically almost anything that is “popular,” but quickly cop an attitude when the priest in Church says something that does not conform to commonly prevailing opinion.
And it is not just in matters of sexuality, life, and marriage that this happens. Other biblical concepts such as forgiveness, love of one’s enemies, generosity, submission to authority, reverence for elders, tradition, and obedience are too often dismissed as naïve and even foolish. And though we live in a world deeply wounded by greed, violence, the lack of forgiveness, promiscuity, rebellion, and hatred; though we are Christians and should know better; still many of us scoff at God’s wisdom and prefer the world’s folly.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, we also read recently an excerpt from The Imitation of Christ addressing this unfortunate tendency among believers. In the following passage, the author takes up the voice of Jesus:
The Lord says, I have instructed my prophets from the beginning and even to the present time I have not stopped speaking to all men, but many are deaf and obstinate in response. Many hear the world more easily than they hear God; they follow the desires of the flesh more readily than the pleasure of God…. [Yet] who serves and obeys me in all matters with as much care as the world and its princes are served? Blush, then, you lazy, complaining servant, for men are better prepared for the works of death than you are for the works of life. They take more joy in vanity than you in truth ….Write my words in your heart and study them diligently, for they will be absolutely necessary in the time of temptation. Whatever you fail to understand in reading my words will become clear to you on the day of your visitation.
He who possesses my words yet spurns them earns his own judgment on the last day (The Imitation of Christ, 3.3).
This is a pretty tough assessment to be sure. But, sadly, it is a common problem among believers living in a world that mesmerizes and can offer only fleeting pleasures.
The Lord Jesus once lamented, The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light (Lk 16:8).
The Greek word translated here as “shrewd” is phrónimos, an adjective referring to how we “size things up.” It is related to the word for wisdom, but refers here not to godly wisdom but rather to worldly thinking. Hence modern translators rightly translate it as “shrewd” or “cunning.” And indeed so many, even among believers, are far more savvy in dealing with the world than with the faith. They can tell you all about the stock market, the local sports team, the current political situation, or the latest movie, but can’t say much about Scripture or the central truths of our faith. Many have PhDs in worldly matters, but barely a 3rd grade knowledge of the faith.
But, thanks be to God, many Catholics today, like a faithful remnant, are waking up and realizing that they cannot go on living with an undiscerning mind. Some fervent groups of Catholics are studying the faith in depth, attending Bible studies and lectures.
More and more, I meet large groups of people who are hungry for the faith and are willing to test everything by it. Catholic television, Catholic radio, and Catholic presence on the Internet are all growing. It is my privilege to encounter many of you through this blog and my columns at Our Sunday Visitor and The National Catholic Register. I have been honored to be able to do a lot of work with Catholic Radio and with the Institute of Catholic Culture. I have also been privileged to travel around the country from time to time giving retreats for priests and leading parish missions. Yes, I can testify that many Catholics have become more earnest in knowing their faith and testing everything by it. And many of these are young adults.
So please help us, Lord! For too long, many of us (your flock) have been compromised by this world; we have become enamored of it even to the point of scorning your beautiful teachings. But many of us are finally waking up. Keep us sober and alert. Help us to test everything by your glorious truth. Increase the number of strong and dedicated believers. Equip us not only to test this world, but to transform others by touching them and drawing them more deeply to your truth. Help us. Save us. Have mercy on us and keep us by your grace!