Wednesday, February 05, 2014

"Return, O' ye revolting children!"

It is a principle of Sacred Scripture that people get the leaders they deserve, in spheres both political and spiritual. The rulers that people end up with usually reflect in themselves both the virtues and the vices of the age they live in. In the book of the prophet Hosea, God laments how Israel has gone astray in setting up rulers apart from those whom God has sanctioned:

"They have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, but without my knowledge" (Hos. 8:4).

What a terrible thought for the omniscient God to say a prince has been set up without His knowledge, as when our Lord says to the unrighteous, "I never knew you." This is an indication that these kings and princes are self-seeking and wicked; but then again, so was Israel. Only two verses earlier, God says,

"They have broken my covenant and transgressed my law...Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him" (Hos. 8:1,3).

Because they have rejected God, they have bad rulers. These two things go together. The people get the ruler's they deserve, and if they get bad rulers, it is part of God's just punishments. There is a certain justice in this, as well. Since in rebelling against God, a person casts off spiritual authority, one punishment for this sin is to be oppressed by temporal authority. This is why historically, the most anti-Christian regimes have also been the most corrupt and oppressive to their populations. "Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him."

Without the wisdom which comes from God, authority will always be oppressive:

"A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor;
but one who hates unjust gain will enjoy a long life." (Prov. 28:16)

Knowing all this, when we examine the quality of our rulers both spiritual and temporal, what other conclusion can we come to other than that we are under God's judgment? God Himself says that he brings calamity upon a people in proportion to their rejection of Him, and that this judgment is reflected in the impotence of political rulers to better their situation, as well as of spiritual rulers to console their flock:

"Disaster comes upon disaster, rumor upon rumor; they seek a vision from the prophet, but the law perishes from the priest, and counsel from the elders. The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are palsied by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their own judgments I will judge them; and they shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezk. 7:26-27). 

God's judgments are given to that "they shall know that I am the Lord"; what else can be inferred other than that the reason for the judgments are precisely because we do not know that He is the Lord? Because we have not acknowledged Him in our ways, because, in the words of Pius XI, we have neglected the "public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ" (Quas Primas, 18). Our society has rejected God, and therefore God rejects our society.

Nor is the Church free from this judgment; in fact, the Church, she who ought to have turned the hearts of the people backs towards righteousness, has at times been complicit in allowing the spirit of the world into the Household of God. The priests who ought to have been the leaders have been the followers, leading their flock to the slaughter. This is why priests who have been so complicit bear a greater degree of guilt:

"Let no one contend, and let no one accuse; for with you is my contention, O' priest. You shall stumble by day, and the prophet shall also stumble by night...My people perish for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, therefore I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten God, I also will forget your children" (Hos. 4:4-6).

Again, God warns that the blessings of the priests will be turned to curses if ecclesiastics persist in ignoring God's commandments:

"And now O' priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of Hosts, then I will send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart" (Mal. 2:1-2). 

The prayed-for blessings turned to cursings? Anticipated springtimes become winters? A hoped-for new Pentecost that has resulted in a spiritual vacuum? It all sounds familiar, and in light of these passages, it makes perfect sense. Yes, this thing is from God. That God has us under judgment is clear, but because we are His Bride, His judgments are purificatory, not solely penal. It serves to call us back to Him, to refine us, to refine His priests:

"For he is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi [the priesthood] and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord." (Mal. 3:2-3).

The judgment begins here, with us, "For it is time that judgment begins at the household of God" (1 Pet. 4:17). The principles that were true in the Old Testament are still true today. If the priests of the Old Covenant were guilty of not reverencing the glory of God, how much more guilty are today's priests, who spurn the grace of a greater dispensation? St. John Eudes famously noted that the most evident mark of God's anger with His people was the affliction of bad clerics in the Church. His words are worth citing in full; notice how he, too, grounds this principle in the Old Testament:

"The most evident mark of God's anger and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world are manifested when He permits His people to fall into the hands of clerics who are priests more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds. Instead of nourishing those committed to their care, they rend and devour them brutally. Instead of leading their people to God, they drag Christian souls into hell in their train. Instead of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, they are its innocuous poison and its murky darkness.

...When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people, and is visiting His most dreadful anger upon them. That is why He cries unceasingly to Christians, "Return, O' ye revolting children . . . and I will give you pastors according to my own heart" (Jer. 3:14-15). Thus, irregularities in the lives of priests constitute a scourge visited upon the people in consequence of sin." [Chapter 11: Qualities of a Holy Priest, in The Priest: His Dignity and Obligations by St. John Eudes]

Yes, we get the rulers we deserve. But thankfully, that is not the end of the story. "'Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'and I will return to you," (Zec. 1:3). Let us return to Him with all our hearts, praying for our priests, praying fervently for godly vocations, for rulers, spiritual and temporal, who will acknowledge God in all their ways and be men after God's own heart. Let us remember that God's glory must be sought and honored first, above all else - above the opinions of men, above the fads of the age, above one's own desires. Only when this is the conviction at the heart of the priesthood will this judgment be lifted from us.

1 comment:

Charlotte B said...

Very interesting insight and truly sound advise. That quote from St. John Eudes summarizes the whole thing very nicely too.

I would also add as an example the time of the judges (described in Book of Judges) where we hear not much mention of what the priests were doing other than the priest who sold his services (would seem that almost all of them were probably not that different). You had people who were confused in their faith and even one person who offered up his own daughter as a sacrifice to God.