Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Let's Keep Our Arms Up

Our first Mass reading today from the Second Book of Kings (Fourth Book of Kings in the Douay-Rheims Bible) offers several parallels to our own time. Ezekiah was King of Judah during a time when that kingdom was in decline. For many years now, the people of Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant God had made with their fathers, living in sin and worshiping idols. In punishment for this, God had permitted their once-great kingdom to be divided into two separate kingdoms (Israel and Judah) both governed by a succession of more or less wicked and mediocre kings. Ezekiah, however, was a good king who was pleasing to God—in fact, one of the best since David (cf. 2 Kings 18:3). He had made serious and partially successful efforts to restore true worship of God and to convert the people of Judah back to holy lives in fidelity to the Mosaic law.

In today’s reading, Sennacherib, the powerful pagan king of the Assyrians, is preparing to march on the Holy City of Jerusalem with a strong army and destroy the Temple. He had sent a blasphemous messenger to Jerusalem who proudly boasted that the all-mighty Sennacherib would decimate the city and that the God of the Hebrews could not possibly prevent this (see 2 Kings 18:17ff). This wicked messenger employed psychological warfare, yelling to the Jerusalemites that they should cease their useless prayers for deliverance and instead surrender to the King of the Assyrians who was going to conquer them anyway.

Ezekiah was horrified and deeply saddened by such blasphemy, and he refused to be swayed by it. He humbled himself, rending his garments and putting on sackcloth, and he prayed fervently to God that Jerusalem would be delivered from the hands of the King of the Assyrians. The prophet Isaiah then came to him and told him that God had heard his prayer and would deliver Jerusalem. He did so in spectacular fashion: as the army of Sennacherib camped around the city the night before the planned siege, an angel of God killed 185,000 of the Assyrian troops. The next morning, Sennacherib left for home without so much as touching Jerusalem.

This story has several lessons to teach us today. Like the ancient kingdom of Judah, America today is a once-great empire in decline. For decades we Americans in general and Catholics in particular have been unfaithful to God in our private and public lives, killing millions of our own children through legalized abortion, using contraception in violation of Church teaching, growing weak in religious belief and lax in the practice of our faith, voting for “Catholic” representatives who support abortion and homosexual “marriage,” and worshipping a variety of idols—politics, sports, sex, power, pleasure, money, fame, possessions, etc. And now, in punishment for all this evil, God is allowing a wicked, radically secularist, anti-religious federal government to force employers to provide immoral services—contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients—to their employees in the name of “health care”. Perhaps this is what we justly deserve.

However, God in His Infinite Mercy is always willing to hear the prayers of those who humble themselves and sincerely repent—even in a time of general crisis and decline. Many Americans have now turned away from these evils and are living lives pleasing to God. Like Ezekiah, they are aghast at the horrible sacrilege a powerful leader is attempting to perpetrate in their land. Like Sennacherib, who attempted to desecrate Israel’s most hallowed sanctuary, the Holy Place of the Temple, President Obama and his cohorts are attempting to violate our most cherished liberties—freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, enshrined in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Note that when threatened with destruction, Ezekiah did not take up arms for military defense. Rather, he lifted his arms in confident prayer to the all-powerful God. There may come a time to take up arms in defense of our most cherished freedoms, but now is not the time for that. This is fundamentally a spiritual battle we are now fighting here in the United States, not just a political or legal battle, and thus it requires spiritual weapons. This is a war between good and evil. Those on the side of evil trust in the power of the Obama administration, the media, and their wealthy lobbyist backers. Those on the side of good must place their entire trust in God—which means praying and fasting for the restoration of religious liberty. That’s what this Fortnight for Freedom is all about. If we humble ourselves and turn to God in earnest, fervent prayer as King Ezekiah did, he will certainly hear our prayers and deliver us from the evil now threatening our nation. If we keep our arms raised in prayer to God as Moses did (cf. Exodus 17:10-13), we will ultimately be victorious—no matter how long and difficult the struggle may be.

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