Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
(Malachi 3:13-20b; Luke 11:5-13)
Today’s first reading is reminiscent of the so-called “New Atheists.” These writers not only expressed their disbelief in God but also showed contempt for Him. One wrote a book entitled, “God Is Not Great.” Another blamed religion – often defined as “the love of God” -- for most of the wars in history.
The reading from the prophet Malachi looks at the world from God’s perspective. It expresses His outrage that people would deny that they have defied God after commending evil-doers and doubting the need to repent of one’s sins. God then promises justice. He says that those who fear Him will be duly rewarded while those who flouted His authority will perish.
We must take care not to become too impressed with the arguments of the “New Atheists.” Generally they can be reduced to the questions people have asked for centuries. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad people seem to prosper? It is good to keep in mind that Jesus, the Son of God, suffered terribly before being raised to glory. Walking in his way is to often skirt trouble, but completing the journey is to find true happiness.
Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
(Joel 1:13-15.2:1-2; Luke 11:15-26)
A local parish just had its first “Christ Renews His Church” retreat. The men responded well. Most who signed up for the event attended, and most who came on Friday night stayed until Sunday. But the end of the retreat was not the end of the process. As the retreat was closing, the leaders scheduled a follow-up meeting where the men would share how they felt returning to “the world.” Such follow-ups are prevalent in popular movements from Cursillos to Marriage Encounters. Jesus hints at their necessity in today’s gospel.
Jesus has just driven out a demon. The people wonder how he obtained such power. He tries to convince them that it comes from God not the devil because the devil would not work against himself. Then Jesus teaches the people that once cleaned of their impurities they must stay close to the Lord. He might say that trying to remain in virtue without prayer and penitence is trying to stay clean without soap and water. As he puts it, the devil can return with evil spirits more pernicious than what possessed the person before.
We do not use the terminology of spirits and demons even of evil today. But this does not mean that they do not exist. More sophisticated, we typically call the moral problems people face vices, deviant behaviors, and the like. In any case, once we emerge from a bout with evil, we are wise to remain close to the Lord so that greater problems do not overwhelm us.