Sunday, March 18, 2018

What Will We Learn from our National Suffering?

Peggy Noonan

(Fifth Sunday of Lent (B): This homily was given on March 18, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 51: 3-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12: 20-33.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Lent 2018]

What do all these people—John, Jane, Joe, Jim and Judy—have in common?
  • ·         John’s mother is diagnosed with cancer in April, and dies a year later.  He blames God and stops going to church.
  • ·         Jane asks God for something in prayer and doesn’t get it.  She gets angry, and proceeds to take out her anger on her husband, her children, and anyone else who happens to cross her path.
  • ·         Joe is sexually and emotionally abused by his parents, so he decides to shoot them.
  • ·         Jim has a big argument with his wife.  To forget his troubles he goes to the local casino and spends his entire paycheck after work.
  • ·         Judy feels rejected by her family, and her friends, and the other students at her school—and so she begins to live a very promiscuous lifestyle.

What do all these people have in common—aside from the fact that their names all begin with the letter J?

The answer is: They all learned DISOBEDIENCE from what they suffered.

Each of them suffered in a different way and for a different reason, but they all responded negatively—and sinfully—to what they experienced.

Jesus, not surprisingly, was different, as today’s second reading reminds us.  There the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us (and here I quote): “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered [he didn’t learn disobedience like John, Jane, Joe, Jim and Judy did; Jesus learned obedience]; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

This means that every time Jesus faced disappointment—or rejection—or opposition—or betrayal—or hatred in his earthly life, he said to his heavenly Father, “Thy will be done.”  He didn’t just do that in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night; he did it, in his heart, in every situation of his life.  And in that way—by obeying his Father in every difficult circumstance he faced—he learned obedience in his human nature.

In other words, he learned obedience by being obedient!  Which, when you think about it, is the opposite of the way we often learn to obey.  Because we’re weak and sinful human beings, we often learn obedience only after we suffer the consequences of our disobedience.  For example, how often have you done something wrong, suffered the consequences, and then said, “Well, that sure taught me a lesson!”?

That’s called learning obedience “the hard way”; that’s learning obedience by suffering the consequences of not obeying.

Of course, that’s much better than not learning obedience at all—or allowing the suffering to lead us to more disobedience (which is what sometimes happens, unfortunately).

This brings me to an excellent op-ed piece by Peggy Noonan that appeared in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago (just a few days after the Parkland, Florida school shootings).  The title of her article is, “The Parkland Massacre and the Air We Breathe.”  Her basic thesis is that every country in the world, including ours, creates a social and moral “atmosphere” in which people live and work and recreate and raise families.  Well in her view, sad to say, the social and moral atmosphere in America right now is toxic, especially to young people.

I agree with her.

She asks the question, “What has happened the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?”

She then answers the question by saying,
We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution.  The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing.  Fatherless sons.  Fatherless daughters, too.  Poor children with no one to love them.  The internet flourished.  Porn proliferated.  Drugs, legal and illegal.  Violent videogames, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen.… The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life.  An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hypersexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth.  The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here.

She then makes note of how all this evil “in the atmosphere” has affected young people.  She writes,
[I]t does not feel accidental that America is experiencing what appears to be a mental-health crisis, especially among the young. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported as many as 20% of children 3 to 17 have, in any given year, a mental or emotional illness. There is research indicating depression among teenagers is worsening. National Public Radio recently quoted a 2005 report asserting the percentage of prison inmates with serious mental illness rose from less than 1% in 1880 to 21% in 2005…. In the society we have created the past 40 years, you know we are not making fewer emotionally ill young people, but more.
She then singles out abortion specifically—and the recent failure of the U.S. Senate to pass a bill that would have banned most abortions after 20 weeks (shame on them!).  She mentions abortion as one those evils that has greatly poisoned the atmosphere for our young people, and contributed to their mental confusion and disregard for human life.  She says they see and read news reports about things like this Senate vote, and they think to themselves, “If the baby we don’t let live is unimportant, then I guess I am unimportant.  And you’re unimportant too.”

This, my brothers and sisters, is the corporate, national suffering we’re experiencing in our country at the present time, the latest example of which is the Parkland school shooting.  Peggy Noonan’s article explains it well.

Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, learned obedience from what he suffered.  Will we, as a nation, learn obedience from this national suffering we’re currently experiencing?  Will the trials that we’re presently going through bring a significant number of our citizens back to God and his truth?  Or will those trials lead to more disobedience and more rebellion?

I and many others are convinced that the future of the United States (and in some sense the future of the entire world) rests on how we, as a nation, answer those questions.