5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; February 7, 2021
Readings: Job 7:1-4,6-7; Ps 147:1-6; 1 Cor 9:6-19,22-23; Mk 1:29-39
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 Jn 3:8)
Last Sunday the Gospel recounted Jesus casting out a demon. This Sunday we have heard a summary of Jesus’ ministry: he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons.
The word that Jesus preaches, the Gospel, the word of Truth, the highest truth, is of the utmost importance for the destruction of the works of the devil, the father of lies. (cf. Jn 8:44)
Last Sunday I spoke about a misguided decision, at the highest levels of the Church, to promote truth without condemning error. In one respect it might seem like a good idea: shouldn’t the light of the Gospel be enough by itself to dispel error?
That would be so if men were good at adding 2+2 in order to get 4. Obviously, everyone knows that 2+2=4, but the amazing thing is that so many people can have 2 on their right hand (so to speak) and 2 more on their left hand, and simply never think to add them together to get 4.
During the course of the years I have become amazed at the human ability to hold contradictory ideas in the mind, without ever perceiving the contradiction. I will hear someone praise one speaker and then go on to praise another speaker, apparently unaware that the two speakers were giving forth contradictory messages.
Perhaps that saves the faith of some people, because being unaware that they hold ideas contradictory to the faith they are able still to believe. If they actually discovered the contradiction, it could be at the cost of the faith.
Further, it is not just that people hold contradictory ideas, they also live without an awareness of the contradiction between what they think and how they act, between their faith and their life.
This is why the simple proclamation of the truth is insufficient; it is necessary also to condemn the error in the light of the truth. It is necessary to spell things out.
Jesus did not just teach, love one another, (cf. Jn 13:34) and leave it at that, he also condemned the disorders of anger, lust, falsehood, and revenge. (cf. Mt 5:21-30,33-42) He commanded forgiveness and prohibited divorce. (cf. Mt 5:31-32; 6 14; 18:21-34; 19:1-9) He taught that exterior actions, by themselves are not enough, unless they express a right intention of the heart. He teaches us to examine our motives and live in the presence of the Father, who sees in secret. (cf. Mt 6:1-24) He wants to turn us away from the desire for the things of earth, so that we might fix our hearts on the joys of heaven. (cf. Mt 6:19-21; Jn 4:6-26; 6:22-59) He teaches that it is not enough just to seek after the good, but that we must also practice self-denial (cf. Mt 16:24-26) He warns us to be on guard against false prophets and false Christs. (Mk 13:21-23) He teaches that it is not enough to believe in God, but we must also believe in him, the Son of God, the way, the truth, and the life, who feeds us with his own Body and Blood. (cf. Mt 11:25-27; Jn 5:23; 6:29,51-58; 14:1,6-7; 15:24) He also teaches us about the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son and who leads us to all truth, reminding us of all that Jesus did and taught. (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15)
The remainder of the New Testament and the unfolding of the Church’s Tradition, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have expanded on Christ’s teaching, spelling out in detail the doctrine of faith and of right living, while rejecting and condemning contrary errors.
It will be worthwhile to spell out some of the common errors of our own time, errors that first of all undermine the faith. For unless a person truly believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man and born of the Virgin Mary, he will have little motive he put his teaching into practice and follow his way of life. Unless a person longs for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of eternal life in the vision of the Holy Trinity, he will inevitably distort Jesus’ teaching, trying to place it at the service of worldly goals.
Indeed, loss of faith in the reality of eternal life and the corresponding reality of eternal damnation, underlies many of the other errors of our times.
In general, people either seem to think that death is the end of it all or they think that after death everyone enters into a vague sort of spiritual happiness that brings to fulfillment our desires for worldly pleasures and companionship. God doesn’t really have anything to do with it. This hope has little impact on the present life (except perhaps to offer a bit of consolation in sorrow) because we don’t have to do anything; we will get there regardless. With this weak view of eternal life, the sense of the gravity of sin also disappears.
This is a far cry from Jesus’ promise of the vision of God’s face and the resurrection of the body, gifts that far exceed anything we have a right to expect or hope, except that God revealed it to us and promised it to those who believe in Jesus Christ and follow his way of life. Jesus promise also comes with the warning that those who reject the invitation to the divine wedding feast or those who come unprepared will suffer eternal damnation. (cf. Mt 22:1-14; 25:1-46)
Once the reality of heaven and eternal life disappears from the horizon of human life and desire, everything becomes focused on this present life and and the drudgery of this world. But how do people, then, judge of the things in this world?
There are two common principles of judgment, one public and one private, “science” and “personal experience”. In practice, both of these end up being closed off to the light that comes from the word of God.
Science, in the contemporary sense of the word, is a method for the investigation of reality insofar as it can be perceived by the senses, measured, and manipulated. It has nothing to say about good and evil. Even the human sciences (like economics, psychology, and sociology) can only speak of human life, society, and relationships, in the degree that these are subject to some sort of quantification and measurement, as takes place through things like polls and surveys. So it is that we can end of with something like a ‘happiness quotient’, once promoted by a Governor of the State of Oregon.
Well, science is fine, so far as it goes, but while in truth it is very limited, it has become identified as the supreme authority in the realm of reason, truth, and objective reality. Worse, scientific truth becomes identified with the mysterious ‘consensus of scientists’, which means the publicly approved ‘scientists’. Science, however, as a method of investigation does not depend on consensus or public approval. The majority is not always right. Indeed, scientific history shows that often the dissenting scientist has been correct. Further, science, is not even stable. Yesterday’s acclaimed theory is tomorrows trash. Yet, how often do we hear, as though putting an end to argument, “Follow the science” or “believe in science”?
These two phrases are indeed revealing: instead of “believe in Christ” and “follow Christ” we are now to believe in and follow science.
Yet, because it is restricted to the material world, science has nothing to say either about good and evil or about God. Consequently, when it is elevated as the supreme standard of truth, God is by definition excluded, so is any objective right and wrong.
That leaves us with the realm of ‘personal experience’, which boils down to “that is what I feel”. People still believe in God, but that must now just be a matter of their ‘personal experience’, their ‘feeling’. People still think there is a right and wrong, but that must just be a matter of their ‘personal experience’, their ‘feeling’. But everyone’s experience and feeling is different and limited to the singular life in the place and time in which they live. This is not the same for everyone. Some people might feel a commonality of experience and feeling with others, but when people do not feel that commonality, then they have nothing to say to each other. Their views of God and right and wrong are quite irrelevant to someone who feels different.
I have spoken about the heresy of modernism: for modernism the two authorities are the public authority of science and the private authority of my feeling and experience. That is why modernist declares that the Church must change: the Church must bow to the authority of science and adapt to the authority of each individual’s experience.
All this, however, presupposes that science provides the only sure knowledge of reality, accessible to all.
The mind is our ability to grasp reality and that ability to grasp reality is presupposed to faith. While science can be helpful for focusing in on certain aspects of reality, the mind is not dependent on science in order to grasp reality. So also faith is not dependent upon science and does not need the approval of science.
Everyone here knows quite well that something cannot both be and not be in the same time and in the same way. That is our most fundamental grasp of reality. That is not known by way of science. That is not just a matter of feeling. Without that basic truth, nothing would make sense, meaningful conversation would be impossible, and indeed, science itself would be impossible. Because we can indeed know things, independently of ‘science’, not just feel or experience them, we can learn from the knowledge and experience of others, even people who have lived in different times and places.
So also, we are capable of listening to and understanding the teaching of Jesus Christ. We are capable of believing in Jesus Christ not just on the basis of our personal experience, our private feeling, but because we recognize it to be trustworthy and true, even though it exceeds the capacity of our mind the way the sun exceeds the capacity of our eyes.
So long as we live in a world of error and illusion, dominated by the criteria of science and feeling, we will readily fall prey to the deceit of the devil. Only when we believe in Jesus Christ because he is truly the Son of God who teaches us the truth, will he be able to destroy the works of the devil in our life.