All of us, I am sure, have read recent accounts about the decline of interest in religion among Americans. A recent survey reports that 20% of Americans have no religious affiliations at all and feel no need of God or belief in God. It seems they feel that they are self-sufficient; God is not necessary.
So why are we here? Our motives are many and mixed. Some are here in their need seeking God’s help. Some are here seeking God’s forgiveness, others out of love of God, others out of thanksgiving for all that God has done for them. Some are here simply out of a sense of duty and others out of mere habit. All of us are looking forward to everlasting life with God in heaven.
In the opening prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we hear the words: “Help us to embrace the world that you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter.”
From the prophet Ezekiel we hear: “Thus says the LORD GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them…”
Well, what does this mean for us, living out our lives as we do in 2014 America?
To answer that I would pay some attention to what we frequently hear, namely the spirit of defeat often quoted in our newspapers and which sometimes infects our own hearts and thoughts. Fortunately there are words of optimism coming from many people who surround us countering those transmitting a spirit of defeat. Perhaps some of our own sons and daughters, nieces or nephews, relatives or friends, speak of how awful life is, or about how much they are life’s victims. They blame other people for being so mean to them, they blame their depression in the economy, they talk about their own lack of fulfillment, they tell us they’re getting nothing out of life, and so forth. Doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, and depression hold many people in bondage.
What are the causes of this defeatism? Well there are many of course. But here I would like to examine four of them and then turn to what we can do about them.
The first source of defeat for so many people is what I call extremism. It’s the sort of attitude that converts what is really happening only occasionally into something they claim is always happening. “I always goof. I never do anything right,” we hear them say. “People always take advantage of me.” These words and similar phrases are symptomatic of the spiritual condition such people are in. These thoughts come from a way of looking at life that is either extremely idealistic or else extremely pessimistic. They see life as either one or the other, not balanced. Defeat is guaranteed for them because they do not have a balanced view of what really happens in life. Life isn’t “either-or,” “black or white,” “all or nothing.” In reality, life is a complicated mixture of many factors and forces.
The second source of defeat comes from the sort of mentality that continually makes comparisons. This outlook dooms one into never thinking that one has enough. This kind of person is forever comparing his or her lot in life with people who are better off. Someone else is better looking, has more money, lives in a better house, has a better job, and so on. Depression is guaranteed them; defeatism finally takes over. This is one of the major sources of defeat and frustration in our culture today. The entire advertising industry is built on the business of comparing yourself to others so that you will buy their advertised product and then be as wonderfully happy as others are.
A third source of defeat that infests many souls is what is called “passive resignation.” We simply surrender ourselves to our feelings and then call it “fate.” Phrases like the following are its telltale signs: “Well, that’s just my lot in life,” “I was never destined to do any better,” “That’s life, and I might just as well accept it,” “It’s God’s will that I suffer,” and so forth.
The final source of defeat which I’d like to point out is too much reliance on self and the things of this world, and not enough reliance on faith in Christ and the things of God. The underlying problem is a lack of real belief that God can or will do anything to help me. Either we think we’re not worthy because we’re too evil, or else we think that God really doesn’t care because He never seems to answer our prayers anyway. The result is that we make the hidden assumption that if we’re going to be happy and successful in life, we’ve got to achieve it ourselves because God won’t take care of us until we get to heaven… if in fact we do get there.
In the face of all this, God’s Word in today’s readings comes to us with a challenging question.
That question hits each one of us. I want you to seriously listen now to God’s question and think about your answer to it. The question is this: “What is your heart wrapped around?” Put another way: “What is the thought that’s constantly on your mind? What continually absorbs your attention? For thus says the Lord: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new!” God wants us to see things afresh, not in our usual ways but rather in His renewing ways.
You see, we must begin to think now of what can be in our future and stop thinking about what has been in our past. All of the Sacraments are the acts of God in Christ. The Sacraments are not merely symbols, nor did men invent them merely to be pretty ceremonies. Sacraments are the acts of God Himself in Christ reaching out to make things fresh and new for us. Baptism is a Sacrament of beginning a new life for us. The Sacrament of Reconciliation gives us a fresh start, a new beginning, and a new lease on life. Matrimony, Ordination, Anointing of the Sick… all are opportunities for us to pick-up on life where we left off, if only we will let God do His work in us, if only we will do things with Him in His ways.
Really, then, what is defeat for us? When you get right down to it, nothing can defeat us except the spirit of defeatism. We recall that in the bottom of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt cried out: “We have nothing to fear except fear itself:” And we know Roosevelt was right. Once our national self-confidence was restored and once we shook off the spirit of defeatism and isolationism, those two great works of the devil designed to make us weak and impotent, we then began to come out of our depression.
The same is true in our own personal and individual lives. For Easter is the religious and theological statement that, for the Christian, there is really no ultimate defeat. To be sure we shall suffer temporary setbacks. And to be sure we shall suffer in the future. But defeat? We should see that because of Christ’s Easter Resurrection we can never be totally defeated. What is required is that we stop constantly feeling sorry for ourselves and let our faith in God replace our own lack of faith in our selves.
Am I preoccupied by my own failures and misfortunes? Is my heart wrapped up in the illusory comfort of feeling sorry for myself? Am I passively resigned to my fate in life? Well, now is the time to throw open the doors of that self-made prison. The stone has been rolled back from the tomb of poor Lazarus. Christ has commanded that he be released from all that bound him up, and then set him free.
The same is true for you. Christ has rolled back the imprisoning stones that entomb our hearts. It’s time to go free because God in Christ wants us, like poor Lazarus, to be free, to be happy, and to enjoy life. He wants to us walk in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.
Defeatism is the sacrament of the devil, along with his other sacraments of doubt, depression, and disillusionment. For if we walk with Christ and join our passion and suffering into His, then we can walk away from all in life that’s cold, dead, dreary, depressing, and all that which leads us into the hell of our own defeatism.
“Remember not,” your God says to you now, “the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new.” This Easter, let God do something new within you. The Resurrection is God’s promise that we can have a new life.