14 March 2012

Can an acorn produce anything but an oak?

3rd Week of Lent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

You've probably never thought of Moses as a salesman. But think about it. He sales thousands of Hebrew slaves on the idea of following him out of slavery. He sales them on a plan to follow him through the desert. . .for forty years! He sales them the truth of a number of improbable revelations from God. Perhaps his best sales pitch comes when he delivers the Lord's Ten Commandments. Note this sentence in particular: “Observe [these commandments] carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations who will hear of all these statutes and say, 'This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.'” That's brilliant! Moses knows that the commandments aren't going to be all that popular; they're going to be downright tough to swallow. That these commandments come from God should be enough for the fleeing Jews, but Moses knows his people. So, a little sugar is added to make any bitterness sweeter. Moses isn't fudging the truth. Following God's law is a sign of a wise and intelligent people. But a simple moral code like the Commandments needs to be practiced over time before it can develop into a proper ethical worldview. When Jesus announces that he has come to fulfill the law, he means that his arrival marks the full maturing of the Commandments' potential. At the deepest root of every oak tree is an acorn.

One of the many delusions of failed revolutions in the modern period is the idea that the traditions of a people must be destroyed before the revolution can succeed. The enlightened revolutionaries of 18th century France murdered priests and nuns. Destroyed churches. And set up a temple to reason. Bolivar, Castro, and Chavez all attacked the Church and their cultural heritages. It's no accident that both Stalin and Mao destroyed the religious and cultural heritages of their respective nations in the pursuit of secular, totalitarian utopias. They saw the past as the enemy of the future and (quite literally) bulldozed churches, temples, museums, and burned whole libraries of books. Their socialist utopias had to be built on a foundation of absolute dependence on the state and the party. Faith, tradition, family, individuality, and equality under the law were all named “enemies of the people” and destroyed. For these two murderous dictators, the past was an inconvenient truth, an obstacle to be eliminated. They came to destroy history not to fulfill it. And without a proper foundation, their revolutions collapsed.

The revolution that Christ brings is the fulfillment of his religious heritage, the full actualization of his tradition's potential. Moses handed down a moral code, a code of behavior designed to regulate how God's people behave toward Him and one another. Behind this code of behavior is an ethical imperative, a universal mandate that gives life to those words chiseled on cold stone, a living, breathing spirit that grows in us with time and practice. At the root of the Christian revolution is the Mosaic Law. Jesus says, “. . .until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law. . .” How can it? Our Lord's commandment to love God and one another rests on the historical foundation of his Father's commandments given to Moses. And Moses' law rests on the spiritual foundation of the Father's love. We cannot love and ignore the law nor can we follow the law without love. Can we grow an oak tree w/o an acorn? Can an acorn produce anything but an oak?

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