Thursday, April 2, 2015

Should I Go To Church?

An open stage is provided for shameful things (think Fifty
Shades of Grey), but on the praiseworthy, the curtain falls.
The seduction of evil-minded devils had more influence with
you than the precautions of prudent men.
The fact is, true justice has no existence save that
in that republic whose founder and ruler is Christ.
No man has a right to lead such a life of contemplations as to
forget in his own ease the service due to his neighbor;
nor has any man a right to be so immersed in active life
as to neglect the contemplation of God.  – Thomas Merton
For it is through our vices, and not by any mishap, that
we retain only the name of a republic;
and have long since lost the reality.
--- from The City of God, by St. Augustine
I was led to read The City of God this Lent because of the constant bombardment in the news today of what is happening to Christians in our country, and in our world.  St. Augustine wrote this book around 425AD.  Rome, “the city which would never end” had fallen to the Vandals, and as Augustine lay dying they were laying siege to his beloved city of Hippo.  I look around us today, and so much of what Augustine wrote happened then, is happening now.  The end of life as he knew it, appeared near.
Yet he did not despair.  I wanted to read this book, now, so that I too might not despair.
So many things Augustine wrote about then, could be written about now, today.  Praise of vice and lust, mockery of virtue and goodness, ease of living, a “volunteer army” for the dwindling number who respected their country, and a mockery and persecution of those who believe in God --- all these things were happening in Rome, as they are in America today.  And they partied, until they were slaughtered.
I thought one fact I read was interesting:  Contrary to the custom of war, these bloodthirsty barbarians spared them … for Christ’s sake … in those places specially dedicated to Christ’s name … sanctuaries (churches).  They spared the churches from destruction where, Augustine noted, “those whom you see insolently and shamelessly insulting the servants of Christ, (gathered) fraudulently protecting themselves for the sake of enjoying the light of this brief life.
Even then were those who said they “found God,” to save their lives.
It is educational and heartening to read this book; despite all that happened then, for the City of God survived.  It always will.

I listened to Bill Bennetts’ radio show this morning on the way to chapel (1600AM in Ann Arbor).  He wrote some beautiful books on virtue --- you should read them to your kids and listen to his show, if it’s on in your area of the country.  Call ins this morning were about Easter, called Redemption Sunday by the early Christians.  There was a call from a man full of hope whose wife was dying of cancer, and from another reminding us that Christ said we would suffer in this life --- but that He suffered first.  I found it a very uplifting show, overall, which brightened my mood, and stoked the flames of Hope. 
Christ died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.
He said so.
Some of the callers noted that this republic was founded on the assumptions of Christian virtue, and that even if those virtues are mocked or chastised, they remain in our hearts.
I look now, up as I write these words, and see the sunrise brightening the walls of the chapel; the Light is here and always will be.  No Vandals can chase it away.
Some ask today:  “Should I go to church?”  They really wonder what is to be found there --- for themselves.  They can think of no other reason to go there.  What’s in it for me?  Will God really save me?  Does He hear me?
I think many Romans asked the same question.  Like them, it is never too late to seek answers.  Resurrection Sunday celebrates new beginnings.
            - - - - - - - - - -
O Lord, rouse up Your might,
O Lord, come to our help.
God of hosts, bring us back;
Let Your face shine on us, and we shall be saved.
Lord God of hosts, how long
will You frown on Your people’s plea?
You have fed them with tears for their bread,
an abundance of tears for their drink.
You have made us the taunt of our neighbors,
our enemies laugh us to scorn.
God of hosts, bring us back;
Let Your face shine on us, and we shall be saved.
-- Psalm 80 (from today’s Morning Prayers)

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