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Religion Column — Weary with the years

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

Well, 2021 has surely started off with a bang; and not the fireworks kind. We note the increased infection rate of the COVID-19 virus, with the ever-growing deaths, the riot at the Capitol, and the continued deep divisions within our citizens. Yes, in spite of our proclivities to have fresh hopes for the new year, somehow 2021 appears to be a part of the same-old, same-old of the year before. No wonder we are so impatient and weary of this status quo.

We folks in the South are an independent lot. We have little time for foolishness and do not like to be told what to do; especially by those who presume authority over them. In the end we may, or may not, suffer the effects of our behaviors; leaving the unknown in, “God’s hands.” Sometimes, we forget about God’s part in all of this “stuff” of living, or use him as a backstop for our errant behaviors. Yet, in all of the turmoil, God remains an integral part of the fabric of this country and our part of it; as long as we remember he is there. Not all do.

The onslaught of the negatives, has conditioned us to believe more and more in our fallibility. We have heard the pundits, they too emotionally exhausted, often half-heartedly parrot the expression, “We live in the greatest country since the creation of mankind!” By most standards this is true, but it belies the absolute truth of whether we are yet to be the greatest moral nation; the question remains unanswered.

Now may be the time to remind ourselves of the basics of Biblical teaching. In one of the most famous stories, Jesus Christ is in the temple being questioned by the Pharisees. These were the “know-it-alls,” and were not really asking questions; they were plotting to entrap him into blasphemy. When asked, “What are the greatest commandments? he replied, “You shall love the lord your God, with all your heart, mind, and soul; and your neighbor as yourself. There are none other greater than these.” Not only were the Pharisees dumbfounded, but they were forced to concur with answer.

A bit more obscure is the teaching from the First Letter of Saint John, in which he writes, “If a man says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. For he that does not love his brother, who he has seen, how can he love God who he has not seen?” It’s a tough thing to do. Someone, or some entity, espouses a position, or even a lifestyle, diametrically opposed to our own. As we listen to all of the various voices in our earthly world few, if any, of us are able to resist this pervasive influence. In all of this, we seem to live in greater and greater fear of each other.

One of the great challenges Christianity has today is inspiring its adherents to regularly carry out the basic tenets of the Faith. Certainly, one of these tenets is sacrifice and one of these sub-categories is sacrificing, nee loving, our neighbors. Yet, this view obscures the proper view. Yes, being a Christian is about sacrifice, but it is also about getting along with others even when they don’t love us; and praying deeply for those who are not following God’s plan for humankind.

Remarkably, we may find our fellow neighbors giving to us their love. A neighbor cuts the lawn of another in the hospital, a schoolboy raises funds to buy used laptops for other kids who don’t have them and a young mother delivers meals, made in her own kitchen and at her own expense, to those impacted by a hurricane. They do this because they feel called to do this. Somewhere deep down, the Holy Spirit stirs and the sleeping Christian awakes. The Spirit is not pressed down; it is not suppressed. It is the free expression of love, through Jesus Chris. These are nothing less than our own mandates. Hate, violence and injustice have no place in the hearts of Christians. Saint Paul, in writing to the early Church in Philippi wrote, “Be careful for nothing; but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let requests be made known unto God. And, the peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”