by Will Deatherage, Executive Director
Fairly recently, I began praying the Liturgy of the Hours. This ancient prayer was a favorite of early Christians, and its content reflects their historical setting. Early Christianity’s social alienation and eventual persecution mirrored the struggle of the Israelites. Having been dominated by foreign powers for centuries, the Jews compiled poems and songs called Psalms as a reflection on their history and hopes. Throughout the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, a popular form of prayer emerged that focused on the Psalms. Christianity preserved and modified this prayer, which gradually became known as the Liturgy of the Hours. Its contents often delve into themes of oppression and despair:
You can see all those who are troubling me.
Reproach has shattered my heart – I am sick.
I looked for sympathy, but none came;
I looked for a consoler but did not find one.
They gave me bitterness to eat;
when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.Ps. 68 (69)
What I find particularly remarkable about the Liturgy of the Hours is that it constantly shifts between themes of suffering and praise, as the above passage continues:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
The placement of the “Glory Be” immediately after a lament reflects a common theme of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the face of calamity, we thank God, for God did not treat us unjustly. After all, we never deserved life to begin with. If anything, we abandoned Him and we now face the consequences. When sin corrupts our lives, we have only ourselves to blame.
Our generation is entitled. We think about God so little yet we dare to ask Him for so much. Modern spirituality is often egocentric or superstitious; we treat God as if He was a self-help guide or a genie in a lamp. Even then we mistreat Him. We objectify God. He is no longer the almighty One whom we must trust and submit to. Anymore, God is a cure-all security blanket, a cheerleader affirming our selfish convictions. We do not love God because we hardly know what love even is anymore. In the wake of the Sexual Revolution, love has been reduced to pleasure fests. Love is just a social contract enforcing the “fair” exchange of shallow pleasure.
This pandemic and political landscape certainly is challenging, but we often neglect to rejoice in how blessed we are. As a middle class American, I am rather frustrated when I receive messages from friends complaining about their lives, making martyrs of themselves from their iPhones, air-conditioned rooms, and easy chairs, while thousands of children are exploited because of said iPhones that addict us to hyper sexual content and egocentric social media. A glance at Biblical history reveals that God punished His people for far less offenses than we commit. If anything, we deserve worse than COVID, and worse than Biden or Trump.
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.Ps 62:2-4
God will not help us until we deny our selfish desires. God will not feed us until we beg Him for nourishment. God will not deliver us until we atone for our sins. It amazes me that after generations of betrayal to God described in the Old Testament, even after He sent His own Son to die for us, that we still participate in the same cycle of betrayal that our ancestors did.
‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise,
‘Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out.’
But the wise ones replied,
‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.
Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’
While they went off to buy it,
the bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
But he said in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour.”Mt 25: 1-13
Christ wants us to prepare ourselves for His Kingdom. Those of us who are not ready will receive what we have always deserved: nothing. We will cease to exist, since existence is nothing without God. Without His saving graces that are preserved by our obedience to His will, we retain our lowly states. No amount of human action can elevate us to divinity; only Christ can. But when we do receive saving graces from the sacraments, God does not send us out in the world without security. God gives us a gift that ensures our continued unity with Him: Wisdom.
Whoever watches for [Wisdom] at dawn shall not be disappointed,
for he shall find her sitting by his gate.
For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence,
and whoever for her sake keeps vigil
shall quickly be free from care;
because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her,
and graciously appears to them in the ways,
and meets them with all solicitude.Wis 6:12-16
Just as martyrs were called to bear witness to Christ in the face of persecution, we Christians are called to spread the Word of God in the face of social alienation. A new president and set of leaders does not license us to blindly trust them. If anything, an election year should bring about a renewed interest in pursuing what is good and just. This is because God gave us a world to take care of. The very first chapters of Genesis remind us of this fact. Despite all contexts and situations, it is unfair to say that life is unfair. We did nothing to warrant existence and we can do nothing to earn immortality. God owes us no heaven, no promised land, and no president. It is time to embrace this fact and embrace wisdom, the only hope of sustaining our relationship with Him.
“Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1Corinthians 1:24).