One of the first lessons I teach my students – in classes that make use of sacred texts – is that however much our lifestyles and technologies have changed, the fundamental human experience of life has hardly changed at all. Once beyond the issues of basic subsistence [which are, sadly, still central for far too many in the world today], we still have the same longings, frustrations, joys and sorrows of family life, and strife and struggle in society. In short, the experiences and hard-won wisdom of one human age will always bear relevance for another, no matter how far apart they may be in time, space, or culture.
—written for a course in catechist formation—
There is another quote included in our lecture that I find useful in thinking through this relevance:
“The prophet is not so much one who sees into the future as one who sees clearly in the present. He is not so much a man of foresight as a man of insight. Such a person listens to the Lord and speaks the word he or she hears. The prophet hears what is real, and he speaks it to the world. But the world too often does not want to see reality and so it turns a deaf ear on the prophet.”
(Martos and Rohr)
One way we have to “see clearly in the present” is to take advantage of the “insight” regarding human nature that is offered by ancient texts. That insight is multiplied many times over in the case of Scripture, for in Scripture [through the interpretation of Tradition guided and secured by the Holy Spirit] is included the divine truths of our condition. Further still, because it is handed down to us as an act of caritas from God, it offers not only the tragic truth of our lives but also their redemption. When we see yesterday with these eyes, we can see clearly what is today and will be tomorrow. God’s truth and promise obtain for all times.
In the specific case of the Deuteronomic History we are considering, the relevance is immediately striking. As Israel turned away from God in longing for human goods, human glory, and human governance, so too can we see this same fallen desire at work in our world today. Though the name, “God,” is proclaimed almost everywhere, it is not truly the name of God that is spoken in the hearts of men; though Scripture is printed and purchased at an incredible rate, the word of God is as rare in these days as it was in those of Samuel’s youth (1 Sam 3:1). His hallowed name has been attached to the idols of ideology; the realities He revealed to us have been made subject to the perversions of reason that seek to deny our concupiscence and rationalize our sins. It should hardly surprise us then that, as with our forebears, in these days when we cry out because of the “kings” we have chosen for ourselves, it would seem that the Lord will not answer (1 Sam 8:18).
There are many in the Church today who wonder and worry themselves over the slow exodus of her youths and the weakening of her power to attract those outside her doors. Then, acting in a way like Rehobo′am, these worriers chase the counsel of the young (or at least their culture) and seek to hide the hard teachings while showing only what might be popular. If we would but “learn from the our ancestors in faith,” the truth of the situation is plain to see: the word of God is rare in these days. The people do not find anything they need in the Church because they do not know their crimes and so cannot know they need forgiveness. They have been distracted by the shining idols put up in sin, in places far from God, and ever fewer “people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord,” (1 Kings 12:27-29).
Nonetheless we are not left without hope. Let all who would be obedient cling tightly to the faith and, with penitent hearts, be humble before the Lord (2 Kings 22:19). Heed His call to speak the truth of the Gospel clearly, without concern for the fallen fashions of the time or the angry response of the lost, for our Father preserves the faithful in all ages—and protects the children made His in the Son. God sustained Elijah in the wilderness with only stone baked bread and jars of water (1 Kings 19:3-8). We, on the other hand, are fed with the bread of life and our thirst ended by the blood of the covenant. How much less should we despair of life or the age in which we live? “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15), forgiveness and deliverance are prepared.
“Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.”