Who did we trust as children? Where did we look when we were in need? We trusted and looked to our parents, our family. Everything we needed we received from them. If we were hungry, they fed us. If we were cold, they clothed us. They helped provide our education so that we could become capable adults who could do the same when we had our families. But what would happen if we got too big for our britches? What if we forgot our parents when we moved out and never spoke to them again? We would appear ungrateful for all that they had done for us, and would be seen as disrespectful towards our parents, and rightly so.
But how do we appear in the eyes of the world when we forget God? Some might be indifferent, but many would say that we are freeing ourselves from the crutch of religion. They will praise us for casting off this oppressive yoke so that we can be free to do whatever we want. Yet the religion that these ne’er-do-wells despise is not the religion that we practice. They hold freedom to be their salvation and religion as the oppressor, whereas it is almost the opposite. Everything that God demands of us leads towards our true freedom, because God is our Father.
The modern Western world grows darker each day because we have forgotten the God who has given us absolutely everything. Our very existence is due to Him, not to mention the created universe, the planet upon which we live, the air and water and earth which are so vital to our continued existence, and all the plants, animals, and materials that we use not only to survive but to thrive in this world. And we have collectively forgotten that fact. Why? Because our hearts cannot have two masters, as Jesus points out in our Gospel today.
Our era is the most prosperous era ever seen on the face of the earth. Our nation is one of the wealthiest in the world. Even our poor, in general, are far better off than the poor around the world. Yet what are some of the results of this wealth? Increased divorce rates, increased suicide rates especially among teens, decreased birth rates, tremendous disparity between the rich and the poor, a nation increasingly split between two political parties touting two different worldviews. And why do we see all of this? Because we make mammon our master, because we do not seek first the kingdom of God.
This is the classic wheel of fortune, something which is not unique to America alone, but is the fate of all great nations. It is exemplified for us most clearly in the history of ancient Israel. God established the Israelites by His power to be an independent nation. They started out small and weak, almost helpless on their own to occupy a town, let alone form a nation that could stand up to their neighbors. But God was with them, giving them strength and power to overcome anyone and be His people, so long as they were faithful to His promise. Israel would grow and become a great nation, powerful and equal to those around her. But Israel would soon forget her God, would forget the One who had brought her that strength and power, and would abandon God to glory in her power and wealth or even to worship the false gods, the idols of her neighbors.
In due time, God let Israel act as if she had abandoned God. An enemy would come and threaten them, Israel would march out arrogantly to battle, and would suffer many losses as a result of her abandonment of God. Israel might even be conquered for a time, such that she lost all her wealth and power and was reduced almost to nothing. Only then, when a faithful remnant remained, would God call them back to Himself, to worship Him as the one true God, the God of promise, and He would restore them. And so the cycle began all over again, from the ascent of Israel by the hand of God to the fall of Israel through her arrogance and forgetfulness of God. So too it shall be with every nation on this earth, and with the Church. If we do not trust Him, if we do not hold Him to be the source of all holiness and goodness, God will let us fall to our sins, to our wickedness, until we trust in Him once more.
Brethren, our ancestors came to this land not only filled with the promise of what this nation could offer, but with confidence that God would help them at every point. They not only worked hard at their trades, whether in the fields or in the factories, whether labor or capital, but they also prayed hard, they trusted greatly, they never forgot God because He promised He would never forget them. Yet how little faith do we find on the earth today! What would our grandfathers and great-grandfathers think of our age, when so many place their trust and confidence not in the omnipotent, eternal God, the God of our salvation, but in wealth or power or technology? Why would God want to help us when we continue to believe that we can do it all on our own, like a 5-year-old trying to dress themselves or a 12-year-old thinking that he can run away and be better off without his supposedly oppressive parents?
As we begin Lent this week, it is most appropriate that we hear Jesus exhort us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” The Church gives us this season of penance and reflection to ask ourselves whether we are truly seeking the kingdom of God, whether we are striving to live out this righteousness through everything that Jesus has been teaching us in the Sermon on the Mount over the past weeks, or whether we are paying lip service to the Lord before we return to our true master, whatever it may be. Brethren, do not waste this opportune season: make this a meaningful Lent. We have seven weeks between now and Easter to pray, to fast, to give alms, to give far more time and effort than we have done in the past to reconsider our relationship with the Lord, to pursue once more His righteousness, so as to receive His salvation. Do not let this slip by, but make this the time whereby you can begin to make your own the words of today’s Psalm: “Rest in God alone, my soul.”