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Sermon: "The rational response to the slaughter in Paris: Holy Mass"

On this next to last Sunday after Pentecost, my text is from the first chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah, verse 18:  “Come, let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make you white as snow.”

Come, let us reason together.  Those are the words of God to the people of Israel.  Those are remarkable words coming from the mouth of God. Those words are astounding if you really think about them.  God, all powerful, all knowing, above creation, pure Spirit, says to his chosen people, his people that he chose for himself, his people who betrayed him so many times,: I shall be your God and you shall be my people. This God says to his people:  let’s sit down and discuss the situation in a reasonable way.  And the situation is precisely the unfaithfulness of Israel, their constant yielding to the pressures to be assimilate, to be like those surrounding them, declaring their openness to other gods but telling themselves they are doing so while remaining faithful to the one true God. A God who is totally other, who has no relationship with his people except to be inscrutable and to demand obedience would never say:  Come, let us reason together.  This is a God with whom one can have a conversation, a God who will listen to me no matter how stupid my conversation is, no matter how shallow my presuppositions.  This God does not hide himself behind some some impenetrable curtain and merely deigns to communicate to mankind by means of a quasi-angelic intermediary.  And this is because this God’s essence, his definition of his being, his essence, is love.  Let us reason together.  God can say this because he loves the people he has chosen to be his people.  His appeal to reason is founded in love.

Now this sounds odd: to link reason and love. But it sounds odd to us because we identify reason with a disembodied rationality that declares itself free from any true subjectivity, or rather, free from any human relationship, as if reason in the end is like a geometric postulate that has no relation to a thinking person.  It just is. It is disembodied.  And this is the antithesis to the Christian understanding of reason. For the Christian, reason is rooted in the God who made himself deeply knowable in the person of Jesus Christ.  When God spoke, it was a reasonable conversation and the breath of that conversation, the utterance of that conversation was and is the Word of God, that Word whose reasonableness takes flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  And the Word was made flesh.. full of grace and truth…and we beheld Him.  St Anselm’s famous question:  Cur Deus Homo?  Why did God become man? The answer:  that man might be saved by the life, death and resurrection of the person, the real man, Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the reason of God, the reasonableness of God, that reason that includes at its heart the cross, with all of its suffering and shame and so confounds what the world thinks reason is.

Come, let us reason together.  That is the knee jerk response of those who are in charge of things in this world to Friday’s horrific attacks in Paris that have left so far 129 men and women dead. But this is an understanding of reason that has nothing to do with God.  This version of reason is powerless in the face of evil, for evil is not reasonable, is immune to the power of reason.  Secular man is powerless in the face of evil, for secular man places all his trust in rationality, and so irrationality becomes something to be eliminated by education, by training, by planning, and of this done by the elite. This blind faith in man’s ability to solve the deepest and most intractable problems facing mankind, as if these problems can be solved by planning and strategy, is a mark of contemporary man.  In this line of thinking, all you have to do to solve the horrific traffic problems caused by exit 13 on route 95 in Fairfield County is to widen bridges and make one new lane.  So after several years of construction, those of us who use this road every day grind to a halt at the same place on every day.  And this is not only because the strategems of planning commissions are out of date since it takes so long to implement so called improvements. It is also because these problems have a life of their own that defy all efforts to eliminate them by planning.  The attempts at a solution assume a rationality of the problem that simply is not there.  Traffic, like sin, is irrational. 

When secular man is faced with what happened in Paris on Friday, he can only issue communiqués that are laced with pseudo-religious jargon, words whose sentimentality fit the bill but ultimately mean nothing.  For secular man denies the existence of evil.  What does François Hollande’s declaration of three days of mourning mean in a society that insists that abortion is a right and a society that insists that euthanasia is a right?  There can be no doubt that Hollande is genuinely moved by the horrible slaughter of innocent people in Paris on Friday night.  But as the quintessential secular man, a product of that Enlightenment that irrationally discarded Christian civilization founded on the reality of the covenant between God and his people, discarded because of the presence of corruption within that civilization, secular man cannot confront evil except in a sentimental way.  For once the moral foundation of society that is based on the radical objectivity of God, and yet the God who suffered and died for the sins of the world: once this is removed there is nothing left to combat evil except marches through Paris in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo or words of empty piety uttered by world leaders like President Obama about “those who died are in our thoughts and prayers”.  What does this mean in the face of evil?  When Lucifer said to God; I will not serve, do we say to Lucifer “I feel your pain”? 

The Cardinal of Paris, Cardinal Vingt-Trois,  issued a statement deploring the killings and said that he would offer Mass in Notre Dame today at 6 pm. And this is a good thing. But most Frenchmen would say:  “who cares if he offers Mass for those who were killed and for peace? This has nothing to do with us.  What does it mean to offer the Mass for those who have died?  I do not even know what the Mass is.” The Bishop of Rome issued a statement read by Cardinal Parolin “Once again, the Holy Father vigorously condemns violence, which cannot solve anything, and he asks God to inspire thoughts of peace and solidarity in all and to impart on families in this trial and on all of the French people, the abundance of His Blessings.” Thoughts of peace and solidarity have no effect on evil. It is Hollande, the secular man, who is the high priest of secular France, of secular Europe, of the secular de-Christianized West including this country. And it is Hollande who correctly identified those who carried out these merciless and brutal killings as barbarians, those who hate civilization itself, those who hate freedom.  But in the end everyone knows that so much of the reaction to this slaughter is all smoke and mirrors and that all of this has little to do with the reasonable faith in the person and gospel of Jesus Christ that is about salvation and eternal life. 

We grieve together with the people of Paris, and we offer our prayers for those who have died and for those who mourn within the most powerful prayer of all, the Holy Mass. 

And we remember those words of God again today:  “Come let us reason together. Though your sins be like scarlet, I will make them white snow.”  Come, let us reason together.  Those words of God are not only an offer of rational discourse, not only a realistic conversation about what is at stake in man’s relationship to God.  They are an offer to man of love, of a God who cares for us and who loves us and whose patience is coterminous with his mercy.  But the time is far spent.  The night is upon us.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light