Reflection for April 1
Readings: Dan 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Jn 8:31-42
In the first reading today, we hear about the three young Jewish men who were in exile in Babylon. These three men, along with Daniel, had been chosen to serve in the royal court. Even so, they were still exiles and, in that sense, slaves. When the king made a statue of himself and ordered that everyone had to bow down before the statue when they heard the playing of musical instruments, these three men refused to obey the order because they chose to give worship to God alone.
When they were brought before the king, he ordered them to be thrown into a white hot furnace with the taunt: “who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?” Among the pagans the gods are similar to us, that is they are all imperfect and tend to have a particular focus. For instance, some were for rain, other were for fertility, others served different functions. One can understand how someone who was king of much of the known world at the time might have thought himself to be a god or even be higher than the various gods they worshiped.
However, the Jewish people knew there was only one God and that He was perfect, all powerful and all knowing. They would not bow down before any man or before any man-made idol. Since the king had determined himself to be a god and, it seems, one of the higher gods, he was not tolerant of anyone who wanted to worship anyone but himself. For this reason, he had the three young men bound and cast into the furnace.
To his shock and amazement, the three men were not burned up. Rather, they were walking around in the fire unfettered and unharmed. King Nebuchadnezzar was astounded and blessed the God of Israel. This account of how God saved these men shows the power of God and His ability to work miracles. But the greatest miracles are not the ones we can marvel at in this world. The miracles, like that of the saving of these three men, are to help us with our faith and to remind us that God is truly with us.
However, the far greater miracle is that of which Jesus speaks in the Gospel. First he speaks to the Jewish people about slavery. They counter by saying they have never been slaves to anyone. They conveniently forgot about the times in Egypt and Babylon. Even more to the point of our Lord’s purpose, the exile in Babylon was due solely to sin. In fact, God tells us through the Prophet Jeremiah, that the reason for handing Jerusalem over to exile in Babylon is because they burned incense to Baal and they sacrificed their children to Molech (Jer 32:26ff.)
It is important for us to note that just a few months ago a pagan idol was brought into the Vatican and worshiped there. The area of Italy that has been hit the hardest by this COVID-19 plague is around the city of Bergamo. The bishop of that city actually wrote a prayer to the Pachamama and required the priests of his diocese to read it at Mass. Worldwide, the number of children killed by surgical abortions is over one billion, to say nothing of those lost by contraceptive abortions. But just yesterday, the ACLU was successful in getting a judge to declare that abortion is an essential service and, therefore, abortion clinics can remain open while churches remain closed during this pandemic. The sacrifice to Satan continues publicly, while all public worship of God is forbidden. Perhaps you saw that a Protestant minister in Florida was arrested on Monday because he had a service on Sunday. He followed all the guidelines and even installed air purifiers. He is in jail while the abortionists are at work. Mayor de Blasio of New York threatened to permanently close any church or synagogue that opened its doors. This is just to open the doors, as we are doing at St. Raphael; it is not even about having any kind of service. It is also interesting to note that mosques were not included in this threat. The man making this threat, along with the Governor of New York, have both worked to make sure abortion is still available during the pandemic.
When our Lord spoke to these Jewish people about being slaves, He went on to say: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” This comes shortly before He tells them that “If the Son sets you free then you are truly free.” Jesus frees us from sin and death. Unlike so many miracles that we can see and recount, we cannot see our sins being removed, nor can we see ourselves being freed from death. The other miracles are to bolster our faith; freedom from sin and death requires faith.
Several times in the past week we have been forced to consider the question of Who Jesus is. If we truly believe, we have no reason to fear. Yes, there are some people who will recover from this virus. Most will be just a normal recovery, some will be due to medical intervention, and some will be miraculous. As the same time, God is also allowing some people to die. It is not only the great sinners who are being taken, but ordinary people who are, if it can be said “ordinary sinners” who are being taken. In plagues and pandemics, the good suffer with the bad. That does not sound just to us, but it is God’s way of helping the good to grow in holiness and, if it be His will, to bring them to eternal life.
We have been freed by the Son of God from what really held us bound: sin and death. If you are in the state of grace, be at peace. If God chooses to call you home, that is a blessing and it certainly nothing to fear. If you are not in the state of grace, get to confession. If you are unable to get to confession, make a perfect act of contrition. This means being sorry for your sins, not because you are afraid of going to hell, but because you have offended God Whom we should love above all things. A perfect act of contrition restores us to the state of grace even before we go to confession. I should point out that a perfect act of contrition also requires the intention to confess one’s sins as soon as reasonably possible. Also, Holy Communion cannot be received until after one has been to confession.
Our faith assures us of the mercy of God. The Lord allows problems like the one we are presently facing, for a variety of reasons. In this case, we cannot say we did not deserve it. But in the midst of such difficulties, we can be a peace because we know God has not abandoned us and, if we get sick, we can offer that in union with our Lord’s sufferings for the good of others. If the illness will result in death, we have cause for rejoicing because we know Heaven is real, and eternal life is promised to us by our Lord. We are free! Do not fear, do not panic. Jesus, the Son of God, has freed you. Regardless of what is in your immediate future, the promises of Christ have opened to you, literally, a whole new world. “If the Son sets you free, you are truly free,” Jesus said. He has freed us from sin and death, so we have nothing to fear, only greater holiness or eternal life to look forward to. Now that is cause for rejoicing!