2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew 7:15-20
It all started with potty training. I was on a grand adventure in this amazing new world. My hard headed streak and need to experience things on my own made me see all things as a new challenge that only I could overcome. So there I was, with my mother trying to remind me that I needed to hang on to the toilet seat to keep it from falling. Silly person, I know what I am doing! Then my brother walked away and down came the lid. The tortured screams of the broken boy, now bruised in places where no man aught be bruised, who was so confident and headstrong a second before echoed throughout the walls of the house like shouts in the grand canyon. You would think that at some point I would have realized that my mother was right....
Then came the stove. She kept telling me "hot burn baby." She tried to explain me time and again that when the stove eye was red it was dangerous. Like Gollum searching for his precious I began to scheme and plan a way to find out why she was hiding this treasure from me. The eyes of Mordor must have gazed on with bemusement as I pulled a chair from the table to the stove, turned the front eye on HI, and waited in eager anticipation for the glowing relic that had been denied me for so long. Then I placed my hand firmly on the surface to find that it was hot enough to burn my flesh, why had no one warned me? After a trip to the doctor, where he informed my mother to first put salve on my burn, and then to spank my butt; one would think that I had now at this point come to understand that my mother was looking out for me...
A fish tank is such a wonderful device isn't it? Having these carnival fish of ours swimming in our living room reminds me of my first experience with a tank. My parents set up a tank in our room (my brother and I). I loved to get as close as I could, pressing my face to the tank and peering in at my new fish friends. My mother kept telling me I needed to quit pushing my bed over there or I was going to turn the tank over. So I stopped pushing the bed, maybe I was learning, right? Instead I would sit on the bed and scoot towards the fish... pulling the bed with me. Nothing could go wrong now, I wasn't doing what she told me not to do! A few slight miscalculations on the part of my four year old brain created yet another situation in which things just weren't what I expected. I scooted, and scooted.. until the headboard pushed right through the glass of the fish tank. Glass, water, and gasping fish were flooding everywhere! Oh how wise my mother was, and how stubborn I was turning out to be.
A year or so later, I in my infinite thirst for adventure and knowledge had learned to open the screen door. Other foolish mortals might pull the handle or push a button... but I had figured out that with my solid five year old body all I needed to do was extend my arms and push with all my weight at a full running speed. That silly woman who was always nagging at me kept telling me not to do this. That I needed to stop running into it, and open it 'right'. Ah, how could she know? I continued in my newfound bliss to open doors like the brute my father rightly had labelled me. Then my cousin Michael Paul and my brother Danny locked me in the chicken coop. I was scared of the chickens. The rooster liked to jump you from behind when you weren't looking, and the hens would peck you while you gathered the eggs. There I was locked in, or so they led me to believe. So I opened the door.. the solid glass door.... with my hands.. and my head.. and my neck.... the neck didn't fare so well. A trip to the ER and some stitches and I had learned my lesson.. right?
A hundred more stories like this expound my experiences as a youth. I had a hard head, an adventurous thirst for knowledge, and a confidence that I was always right. It's an attitude that our youth of today seem to have inherited as well. Some where along the line we have erred and taught our youth that anything from a previous generation must have been thought up by people who weren't as intelligent, not as gifted at understanding as we are. That all things that happened two thousand years ago must have been a bronze aged myth and that all of those philosophical musings from even further back are worthless. We stopped teaching them how to think rationally, and instead began to teach them to regurgitate.
The first reading about King Josiah and the finding of the book of the law remind us that we need to look back sometimes to where we have been, and ask.. where did we go wrong? After the Babylonians had taken them into captivity the nation of Israel realized that they had been unfaithful to the covenant. In their zeal to return to God, to return to a time when things made sense, to a time when the nation prospered and the people were at peace.. they began to examine their relationship with God. In the temple they discovered the book of the law, the rules and regulations about being in that relationship. "I will be your God and you will be my people." In order for us to be in a right relationship you need to act like this, God had said. They realized that the path they were on was the wrong one and they adjusted their course.. to bring them back to God.
The Church in it's infinite wisdom has never stopped living in this way. There are those who wish for it to remain in the past, to go back to the way things were, and to never talk about anything new. Then there are those who declare that the Church must progress with the times and look to the future! As with most things, it's not an either or scenario, but a both and. We have to look to the past to see our successes and our mistakes. Only by seeing the damage that has been wrought by this action or that can we hope to not repeat that mistake again. Only by also seeing the successes that have come from fidelity to our relationship with God can we also see what we need to return to. At the same time we must have a conversation about society and where it is heading. That doesn't mean we conform to societies standards, but we need to understand where society is in order to engage with our brother's and sisters in the world.
There are those who want to silence any opposition. They want only what they are familiar with and nothing to do with the past. Then there are those who want to go back to the dark ages, with flagellation and oppression. The true Church emerges when we have a conversation about that which is not dogma and we then let God guide us to the truth. Lately I've been seeing a lot of arguing over pre-marital kissing. One camp argues that no one should ever kiss before marriage. Another side argues that you should be free to kiss in anyway you wish, regardless of who or when. The truth is in between, isn't it? There are kisses which are pure and loving, that one could give freely without embarrassment to any person in the light of day. There are other kisses which are clearly meant for lovers, and likely an occasion for sin in the wrong circumstances. Not having the conversation though prevents us from growing. We need to talk about these things, both the past and the present, with our eyes on the future.
Our goal as parents, spouses, lay people, and religious is the same. Help others get to heaven. As a husband my primary work is to help my family draw closer to God and hopefully lead them to a Sacramental Life. Jesus reminds us to continually examine what we are hearing. There are those who will come to you with a message that sounds great, one that hits every bias that you possess, and you hear it and say "This is it! This is the message I've been wanting!" Maybe it is. But what are the fruits of that message? Have we heard it before? What were the fruits then? Too many think that some of these new 'progressive' ideas are unique and original. Yet, if we look back to previous times we find them to be the same principles and philosophies espoused by Stalin, Hitler, etc. That's why we can't forget the past... that's why as a Church we look back to how the Church was in the first century and we say "Let's return to this." Yet, we also look at the world as it exists today and say "This is the language we need to use today to reach out to those who do not yet know Christ." The Church is rightly called our mother, for she watches out for us and warns us that this action or that can cause harm.
“Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” ― Edmund Burke
Are you ready to listen? I for one am tired of being bruised, broken, bleeding on the floor. I don't blindly follow my religion, that's not what I am saying... but what I do? I listen. I converse. I think. I study. I learn. I heed. I hesitate when I see an action I've been told is bad for me.. and I look back to history and ask "In societies where this was commonplace what happened?" "In families where the father behaved in this manner, how did the kids turn out?" I still cringe every time I hear a toilet seat snap shut. We should have the same response every time we are tempted to repeat a sin that has hurt us in the past... We can't live there.. and there alone. If we only live in the past we will be rightly relegated to someone who is not able to exist in the current times... and we can't just live in the future, where apparently truth just dissolves and people are convinced that any action is OK... rather we must live in the present, with our eyes on both, our hearts and minds open to discussion and reason... and then to pray for God's guidance for our Church, our people, and our selves. It's clear that what we are doing now as a society is not working... maybe it's time to look back, to ponder, and to readjust our course. Sometimes we need to take two steps back before taking one step forward.. especially if we are one step from the edge of the cliff.
His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."