OCTOBER 11, 2013

JOEL 1:13-15, 2:1-2; LUKE 11:15-26

THE PROPER STUDY OF MANKIND IS MAN.   When the poet Alexander Pope wrote these words in his Essay on Man he was giving his opinion as a response to the challenge of the ancient precept of the Delphi oracle " gnothi seauton, that is, Know yourself".   The English poet writing in 1833, addressed a vastly changed social climate from that of the early Greeks and Latin Fathers.   Pope had a distinctive perspective than did other commentators on the same theme that treats of the issue of life's meaning.   When, for instance, his much earlier predecessor, Saint Augustine dealt with this topic he took a broader view.   Even though he held the same Catholic faith as did Pope some 1400 years later, the bishop of Hippo formulated his conception of man's proper study as being more inclusive.   In a prayer that introduces his "Soliloquies" Augustine beseeches God in these terms:   "that I may know you and know myself."   He enlarged the required area of understanding for attaining to an adequate grasp of life's purpose to include the Divinity Himself.   Pope, in contrast, went on to affirm that man should "presume not God to scan".   (Essay on Man, Epistle II.1).   Actually while the ranges of study differ, there is no contradiction; only changed perspective.

Today's first reading by the prophet Joel would seem, at a first reading, to support Augustine's way of stating the matter, for the prophet's message presumes that rightly to interpret the significance of our life we need to know God's plan for his intent needs to be understood so we are prepared for it when it comes to realization.   His message is a warning. Actually, his sure knowledge of God's way of visiting his people by way of disasters, flows from the very nature of God, and so does require a certain knowledge of his very nature.   Joel's message presumes God's sovereign rights and foresees his coming punishments which he later points out are to take the form of a great plague of locusts and represents a warning to repentance.   On the other hand, this way of interpreting natural disaster gives only a limited insight into the nature of God and to that extent falls within Pope's refusal to scan God himself.

Rightly to interpret the events of nature and history, then, as our prophet demonstrates in our text, requires of us a faith that allows us to grasp the hidden significance of natural and historical happenings so as to respond meaningfully to their Providential purpose.   This lesson is no less pertinent for us today in this country of ours than it was in the Israel of 400 B.C.   That we Americans are threatened with serious disasters concerning religious, moral, and political rights and duties is acknowledged by a number of the more qualified observers.   Among their number are Pope Francis, Cardinal Dolan of New York, the Cardinal of Baltimore, various bishops, priests, and religious leaders including prominent Protestants.   Already in the early Patristic Church such oppressive government policies were recognized by the more insightful Catholic leaders who were able to preserve true faith and doctrine, even while many were deceived and fell away.   Evagrius taught that in the process of attaining to pure prayer in view of union with God we need to see beneath the surface of nature and of history so as to discover God's purifying presence in our world and in our society.   Such insight requires effort to enter into the hidden, inner spaces of our own self.

All believers are called to such inner work that is the chief work of each follower of Christ.   As we meet him here at the Eucharist and enter into intimate communion with him in this sacrament, may we strengthen our resolve and firm up our commitment to make him the true meaning and goal of our days in our world of time.   Amen.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger