Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost—24
August AD 2008
"Do not weep ... a great prophet has risen among us ... God has visited His
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Sermon on Modernism (AD 2007)
The Gospels contain a goodly number of
accounts of our Lord performing miracles. Often, we read that our Lord worked
these miracles out of compassion for someone or for a group of people. In
today's Gospel we read that he had compassion on weeping woman, a widow who had
lost her only son. In that Gospel
where He multiplied the seven loaves of bread to feed four thousand people, He
says clearly, "I have compassion on the crowd, for they have been with Me
for three days and have had nothing to eat."
We never read that our Lord performed a
miracle for His own personal gain. He walked the roads between Galilee and
Jerusalem; He did not fly, nor bi-locate. He seems to have gotten His meals and
His clothing in the normal ways—the Gospels mention women who accompanied Him
and His Apostles, looking after their domestic needs as they traveled about:
"Mary, called the Magdalene ... Joanna the wife of ... Herod's steward ...
Susanna, and many others who used to provide for them out of their means."
He sent the Apostles to prepare the Last Supper and the sacrificial lamb.
Unless you count walking on water, the miracles always worked for somebody
else's primary benefit, and even that sees to have been more for the benefit of
Our Lord's miracles, like all of God's
miracles were relatively rare. Miracles are a suspension of the natural physical
laws that God Himself built into the universe at creation. So much of what we do
depends on being able to trust that those physical laws will operate
predictably, day in and day out. It is the reliable predictability of nature
that makes it possible for us to grow our food and to cook it, to make homes and
clothing, and to cure our illnesses. Life would be impossible if gravity
occasionally pulled us up, if heat made the teapot freeze, or if the doctor had
no idea what his pills might do to a patient. Certainly, all of our technology
would be useless.
But this regularity in nature has had at
least two bad side effects on many modern people. One is that they have been
fooled into believing that, given enough time and money, human science can know
everything and can fix anything that goes wrong. The other side effect, perhaps
the opposite side of the same coin, is the notion that miracles cannot and do
not happen—that with enough scientific research everything can be reduced to
material causes. Both of these mistakes have combined in the widespread loss of
faith we have seen in modern society.
The man who believes that his society
can know everything and fix all that goes wrong has no need for God. He
ridicules or pities those who are so "medieval" that they trust in
prayer for solutions to their difficulties. He tells himself that prayer may
have once seemed like the only remedy against bad weather or famine, or plague—but, today, science takes care of those
things—without need of things
like prayer, and holy water, and the Sacraments. Modern man wants to see the
connection of a physical cause before he will believe that something is real or
Modern man's sense of morality is very
much effected by this "scientism"—this rationalism-this belief that
only material causes are real, and that he can know and control them. In his
universe without God, ethics or morality are restricted to little more than
knowing and doing. If he can do something, he says it is moral. If there is
something important his society doesn't know how to do, he feels it is immoral
not to research how it can be done.
One might think that "replacing" God with science would elevate men
and women to an almost "divine" status. But, paradoxically, this
attitude leads to less respect for the human individual; not more. Yes, the
scientists are all either men or women—but to the rationalist, who thinks only
in material terms, men and women are nothing more than the sum of their
molecules. That one is female, or intelligent, or athletic, or tone deaf, is a
matter of molecular accident-a small molecular difference from those who are
male, or stupid, or clumsy, or musically talented.
Clearly, for the rationalist, there is
no immortal soul, for all collections of molecules fall apart some day. And his
scientific equipment has never seen or measured or weighed a soul. But equally,
for the rationalist, there can be no shared humanity. Beyond having the same
number of chromosomes and sharing a similar sequence of DNA, there is no
underlying reality that the rationalist can call human nature, for human nature
is a spiritual thing, not just an invented label based on a chromosome count.
There is also, for the rationalist, a
need to see the society as superior to the individuals of which it is made up.
The nature of science is that it is a collective affair, with individuals
learning from each other, with generations building on what they have received
from previous generations. Even the great geniuses—the Galileos, Newtons, and
Einsteins, did not exist in isolation, but learned much of what they knew from
the society around them.
The rationalist is thus left with a sort
of "hive morality." He thinks of society as a hive, like those
collectives of wasps or bees. Anything the hive can do is moral. And the
individuals are all expendable for the good of the hive. In the rationalist
society, the concept that we have "inalienable rights endowed by our
Creator," makes no sense at all. For the rationalist, not only is their no
Creator, but all rights must flow to the individual from the society—a person
has "rights"-privileges, really, only if, and as long as, they are
granted to him by the hive.
If you understand this, you will
understand why totalitarian movements like Communism or Socialism so ruthlessly
persecute Christianity, with its teaching of a Creator God and the immortality
of each and every human soul. The only acceptable religion of the hive is the
anti-religion of Modernism. At least at first, the collective requires the
services of those who would reduce Christianity to a colorful rationalism with
nothing more than the symbols of its tradition. At least at first,
totalitarianism will put up with religion is just a personal "feeling"
and not a reality. So much the better if its priests preach indifferentism,
telling everyone that it does not matter what they believe. So much the better
if the priests tell their people that the miracles of the Bible are just fables
that were added in later centuries to impress the gullible in order to enrich
the clergy. So much the better if the teachers tell their students that there is
no objective truth, grounded in an unchanging God-but rather that truth is
continuously evolving, and is nailed down only for the moment by the
"dialogue" of the "authentic acting persons" of the hive.
(The "big-shots," the "nomenklatura.")
But, ultimately, when the Modernists
have done their deed, they will be pushed out of the hive, much as a bees push
out the useless drones, which are no longer good for anything beyond consuming
the winter honey supply.
But, totalitarian politics aside, it is
imperative that we recognize the fact that the Rationalists and the Modernists
are simply wrong. Jesus Christ did work miracles. He would never have won the
support of the crowds with nothing more than telling them to be peaceful and
just with one another-and, indeed, He was far more successful than those who
preached the violence which usually gets crowds worked up. Christianity would
never have gotten off the ground if it had not been for the ultimate miracle of
our Lord's resurrection-a dead messias who died a criminal's death doesn't hold
a following for very long. But, in fact, Jesus Christ had a following that was
willing to die, rather than deny the many miracles which they had seen.
The only good argument against miracles
is that they violate God's natural physical laws. That is why we don't see them
very often. But we do see them once in a while, even in out skeptical age. After
all, God's law is God's law, and He is free to suspend His laws in those times
and places which He deems appropriate.
“do not weep ... a great prophet has risen among us
... God has visited His people.”