Instruct Me, O Lord, in the Ways of Thy Statutes.
II Kings 22:8-13;23:1-3.
The Twelfth Wednesday of Ordinary Time.
Readings from Cycle II of the feria, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
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2:21 PM 6/25/2014 — I know it's asking a lot, but you might remember last Saturday when we read in the Second Book of Kings how Jehoiada overthrew Athaliah and restored the covenant of the people with God. Yesterday, of course, we didn't get to hear the next installment, if you will, because we were celebrating the ancient feast of the Nativity of the Baptist, one of the oldest feasts on the Christian calendar. When we pick up the story in today's first reading, it's almost like trying to watch the TV series, “24,” after having missed a couple of episodes, and you're struggling to follow the story line even without the missing parts.
So, like we did last Saturday, we can make a very long story very short by simply saying that the Kingdom of Judah is in bad shape; nothing you can really put your finger on; just a really long stretch of bad luck: a lot of wars, a lot of pestilence and disease, a lot of famine and poverty. So, these two fellows—one of whom is a priest, the other a scribe—are kicking around in the ruins of the Temple, when they stumble upon a book. They don't know what it is, but we do: it's the first five books of the Bible, known as the Book of Moses or what Second Kings refers to as “The Book of the Law.” They take it to their king, and he reads it; and, like a light bulb going off in his head, he realizes what's been going wrong all this time. He calls the entire Kingdom together—I guess you could do that in those days—and has the book read out loud; and, like their king, the whole country understands what the problem has been all along: their ancestors made this covenant with God, but somewhere along the line it had been forgotten.
Last Saturday, again, we had observed how difficult it is to embrace the idea of a quid pro quo in our relationship with God because it offends our society's Protestant sensibilities, but how this is really a recurring theme throughout all of Scripture; we saw how it pervades the teachings of our Lord in the Gospels, and even how it's reflected in the messages of our Lady of Fatima, wherein the Mother of God makes certain requests of us, in return for which we are promised certain graces.
Most people today want religion to be free and easy. We want our religion to be a kind of cheap therapy which heals our emotions without costing anything. When the secular world looks at the Church, it does so through the template of social concern and communal counseling: the job of the Church is to feed the poor and help us cope with our problems. Forget the idea of helping us get into heaven; that's speaking a language the secular world doesn't understand. And while we can nod our heads in agreement and say, “Yeah, Father's got is right,” the fact is that, because of the way society has formed us, we have just as hard a time with it even though we understand it on an intellectual level; and, when King David, in our Responsorial Psalm taken from Psalm 119, has us praying to God, saying, “Lead me in the path of your commands, for in it I take delight” (v. 34), those words don't fall easily from our lips. Who, in his right mind, delights in being commanded?
The answer, of course, is the person who loves God. That's why, in today's very brief but poignant Gospel lesson, our Lord reminds us: “Be on your guard against false prophets, men who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but are ravenous wolves within: a fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos (You will know them by the fruit they yield)” (Matt. 7:15-16). When we go to confession and make our Act of Contrition using the traditional formula, we pray those curious words, “I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments [because I don't want to go to hell], but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love.”
When the people of Judah heard the Law of the Lord read to them, they knew instinctively why their country was in ruins: they hadn't been keeping God's law. If we perceive our country to be in ruins, why would we presume it's for any other reason? If you have not yet brought a particular intention to today's Mass, you might consider taking the words of today's Psalm as that intention: “Instruct me, O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them” (v. 33).