Easter Season Exegesis, Part I

fourthhorsemanWhen he broke open the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature cry out, “Come forward.” I looked, and there was a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades accompanied him. –Revelation 6:7-8

If you have not given a listen to this Johnny Cash song, I heartily recommend it. (Click the link and the audio play button. The video is a Johnny Cash look-alike, who does not do the song as much justice as this guy.)

…All kinds of strange things in the water bottles these days. Sometimes it is hard to keep your cool.

Here is the first in a four-part series of homilies on Pope Benedict’s message to the United States when he visited a year ago…

torahscrollHe opened their minds to understand the scriptures. –Luke 24:45

After the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, He remained on earth for forty days. One of the things He did was to explain the Sacred Scriptures to the Apostles.

He showed them how the Old Testament prepared the way for His coming as man. The Apostles could only understand the Scriptures in light of what had happened in their lives. In other words, the Lord Jesus showed them how the meaning of the Scriptures was fulfilled not in the past, but in the present.

The same is true today. Even though Christ has ascended into heaven, He nonetheless continues to explain the Word of God to us, through the teaching of the Church.

Of all the teachers in the Church, one is pre-eminent: the Vicar of Christ. Pope Benedict came to visit us here in the U.S. a year ago, during the Easter season.

flag-mapWhile he was here, the Pope explained the Word of God and applied the Gospel to our contemporary American situation.

Did the Pope condemn our country for going down the path of godlessness? He did give us some stern warnings. But first, Pope Benedict congratulated the United States for being a genuinely religious country. When he was at the White House last April, he said:

In the process that forged your nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and the civil rights movement…As the nation faces increasingly complex political and ethical issues, the American people will find in their religious beliefs insight and inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible, and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.

The last sentence makes an important point. The Pope is reminding us: Being genuinely faithful and religious does not make a person unreasonable, close-minded, and divisive. On the contrary, it makes you more reasonable, more open—a better citizen. While He was here, the Pope encouraged us Americans to show the rest of the world how religion, reason, and good citizenship go together.

80726452CM001_POPE_BENEDICTWhen the Holy Father visited the United Nations headquarters in New York, he reminded all the ambassadors what our American Declaration of Independence says: human rights do not come from any human authority, but from God. The rights which the U.N. was established to protect are the rights established by nature and nature’s God.

So during his visit, Pope Benedict tried to help us to see the distinctive contribution that our nation can make. He would not have been a good shepherd, however, if he simply tickled our ears while he was here. He also warned us of the grave dangers that face our country.

The Pope pointed out four over-arching sins which beset the United States of America: materialism, “privatized religion,” false individualism, and relativism. During the Easter season, my plan is to preach on these four problems which the Pope identified a year ago. Today let’s focus on materialism.

Materialism is not just wanting more money, fancy clothes, fast cars, slick computer games, etc. At its root, materialism means neglecting the fundamental truths of God and human nature. Here is how the Pope explained this to the American bishops:

For an affluent society, materialism is an obstacle to an encounter with the living God…People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God…It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain, our lives are ultimately empty.

Easter Candle stand at St. Paul's tomb
Easter Candle stand at St. Paul's tomb
Since the Pope’s visit here, our country—the whole world—has entered into a period of economic uncertainty. The Holy Father’s warning against materialism is therefore all the more timely. This past Wednesday in Rome, he spoke again about the danger of materialism. The remedy for materialism is what Christians for centuries have called, “contempt of the world.” The Pope explained:

From this very root of greed this global economic crisis was born. Christian contempt of the world is not a contempt of creation, beauty and goodness of creation and the Creator, but a contempt of the false vision of the world presented and insinuated to us by our own greed. [Everyone must] fight against greed, against the desire to possess, to live only on appearances. [It is necessary to fight] against the false notion of freedom as the right to dispose of everything according to one’s own will. [Everyone] must find the authentic path of truth, of love.

May the good Lord help us to find this path. It is the path of trust in the Providence of God. May the Lord help us to let go of the things of this world, so that we can find the unchanging truth.

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