What is the meaning of life? What is the overarching meaning of your life and mine? What is the meaning of all lives in human history? The answer is as simple as it is profound: friendship with God. I mean, real relationship: a heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul sharing-everything, being-completely-understood intimacy with God. As many people have discovered through visitations from the greater life or from Near Death Experiences (many millions now recorded in a database that stores uncannily similar stories), human life is permanent. And the main part of that life begins after we depart from the world. Life is brief — three score and ten years as we read in Ps 90 — and thousands of years later with all our medical technology, that figure is still accurate to within six years. It passes quickly. Set beside permanence, a never-ending eternity, it is but a blink in time, no more than a long weekend by comparison.
So it turns out that the quality and tone and values and norms of our real and lasting life is what our brief span on earth is about — that God's ways and hopes and plans for us is what worldly life is all about. Truly, God is our Parent, Who has hopes and dreams for us. Even more than a mother and father, His knowledge of what is right for us is perfect, for He made everything and gave each of us a divine faculty, a particular soul, and made plans for that soul, endowed it with a certain genius and gifts, and set out a vocation on earth that would discover those gifts and fulfill us and enable us to become all that He made us to be.
Once we understand this and have opened our hearts to it, loving this Parent Who dotes on us, then we will discover a marvelous thing: that He fills our lives each day and week and month, year by year, with leadings and blessings and prosperings to open the way ahead for us, showing us the path that He wills us to follow.
Does this mean God is a "hovering parent"? That He abridges our freedom? No, far from it! This mutual love with Him turns out to be a fulfillment of our freedom. In fact, it is the only path that enables us to become all that we might be, which opens to us the fullest complement of options and new freedoms. This may seem paradoxical, but it brings to mind an ancient collect:
To know Thee is eternal life
And to serve Thee is perfect freedom.
My spiritual mentor, a Roman Catholic nun who was president of the Catholic Theological Society, told me, "Following God is the last great adventure." But many, many people do not choose to embark on this great adventure. And for them, the things I have just described never come to pass. Oh, God continues to be their Parent; this is their lineage, no matter what they do. And, without question, He has prepared a life and vocation for each and every one of us. But, it turns out, that we must choose Him, we must return His love for us, if we are to know that most wonderful of all experiences, which is His daily Presence in our lives. In fact, this is the point of the famous thirteenth-century prayer,
Day-by-day, O Lord, three things I pray:
To follow Thee more nearly,
To see Thee more clearly,
To love Thee more dearly,
Day by day.
Many years ago, when He began revealing His Presence in my life, even supernatural events, I asked, "Why me?!" I already believe. And then, through reading and spiritual development, I realized that this is His way. To the unbelieving Pharisees, Jesus said, "For this generation there will be no sign." But the fallen angels, by contrast, saw many signs, for they never failed to believe, attesting that He indeed was God. And the rich man in torment, asking if he might warn his brothers of the reality of the Last Four Things, was told that his returning from the dead with a warning would have no effect: "'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead'" (Lk 16:31)
When we decide to entrust our lives entirely into our own hands, doing things our way, then we have parted company with God. Oh, He is still there, waiting for us to return to Him, like the Prodigal Son's Father standing ever at a roadside watching for our the first appearance around a bend. He is slow to anger and swift to bless (Ps 103:8). But He always honors the gift of our sovereign freedom, which He gave us at birth. We are free to go, and He will not follow us down the byways of our strayings. But He will keep a candle lit for us in His empyreal windows, which we are always able to see through the prism of our eternal souls.
The life without God is not a blessed path, nor will it lead through territories that gladden the soul. Here the Evil One has dominion, and "his craft and power are great." How I grieved when I read a study this past week reporting that all young people aged 18-24 in the United Kingdom have "No Religion"! And perhaps this trend has followed the heresy of universalism, which has mainstreamed in the Roman Catholic and Anglican faiths since the 1970s, given new life with the theology of Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ. But make no mistake about it: the Sacred Scriptures, and especially the Lord Jesus, are crystal clear that our love of God is the first and necessary element in our salvation. Our belief in Him and our desire for the life that He has prepared for us is all-important in attaining to our permanent life with Him. And we must never forget that He say, "I call you my friends if you will do my commandments" (Jn 15:14).
This disturbing study, which reports that more than half of all Britons have "No religion," has a backstory which was not reported. For centuries Anglicanism was the compulsory religion for all subjects of the British crown. Going forward in history, this would mean that the two great revolutions in Christian religion would somehow have to be accommodated. In the passing of time, the worldwide Anglican Communion has become, therefore, a loose confederation of three religions: Anglo-Catholicism — being the religion that had been practiced in Britain from the time of the Celtic saints and the earliest Roman Catholic missionaries but rooting itself in the Undivided Church, the first thousand years of Christianity; Anglo-Protestantism — accommodating the Protestant Reformation that occurred in Continental Europe and which then would see multiple Great Revivals; and finally the Broad Church — which began with the rather unwieldy name, Latitudinarianism, expressing "broad-mindedness" and marked especially by the affirmation that Jesus Christ is fully Man, but not fully God. As the much publicized Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson said in an article in the New Yorker, "You do have to say it, but you don't have to believe it." And, indeed, having served in New Hampshire as a chaplain, and then in several other Episcopalian dioceses, I can say that this technique is applied liberally in the Episcopal Church: you must say the words in the Prayerbook, but you don't have to believe them, and few of its clergy do. During the seven years that I worshiped with young seminarians at a liberal Episcopalian seminary, I made a point to ask every seminarian under thirty if they believed that Jesus Christ were God. 100% of my respondents said, "No." Indeed, quite a few were irritated by the absurdity of my question, saying, "He's a man isn't he?" meaning that he lacked the fullness of humanity, failing to be a woman. (And no doubt, this sheds light on the Politically Correct insistence that gender is a human construct, not a firm biological reality.)
During the late twentieth-century, the Broad Church had all but taken over the Anglican Communion in the Northern Hemisphere, chiefly in the Episcopal Church of the United States, the Anglican Church of Canada, and in the UK and Europe. Indeed, faithful Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Protestants have mostly abandoned communion with the Northern Hemisphere, emphasizing communion with the bishops of the Southern Hemisphere, which is, by the far, the majority of Anglicans on earth.
The roots of Broad Church Anglicanism are the Empiricist Revolution and especially the Scientific Revolution, gaining its strongest steam during the Eighteenth Century. Indeed, the first draft of the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer in 1785 is still used today in one of Boston's foremost churches of Unitarianism, which as its name reveals, rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. I myself have heard an Episcopalian bishop ask from the pulpit, "Isn't belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ just too much to ask of us?" Today, Broad Church Anglicanism is most accurately called by its better-known name: Political Correctness. And this is helpful, for Political Correctness surely is a religion. Indeed, it is emerging as the principle religion in the United States today. Witness the "gay marriage" movement is you would like to gauge its breadth and depth and strength. And among the many, many laws of this secular-humanist religion, Political Correctness casts a frosty eye on the belief in God, especially of the God that is revealed in the Sacred Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity.
What I am proposing is that the study of religions in the United Kingdom is flawed in its design. Failing to recognize Political Correctness as being a religion, it misses the opportunity to measure the practice of this religion among it adherents, and especially young people aged 17-24. I also propose a second flaw in the study: that it fails to measure the number of Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Anglo-Catholics who accept and practice the doctrines of Political Correctness. And no doubt, many people have remained in the Episcopal Church because they do not wish to be labeled as Politically Incorrect, which might prove fatal to their careers or to their good name in town. For Christians of the twenty-first century enjoy the high privilege of having to stand up for what they believe.
One of the most startling things I discovered during my one-month sabbatical was the number of my own extended family members, who have defined themselves by the imperatives of Political Correctness. Many of them have done this without realizing it. After all, don't we invisibly morph in the direction of the surrounding culture by virtue of television, radio, internet, and the opinions of our neighbors? At this point it is relevant to share that nearly all of my relatives are Roman Catholic with one or two Anglo-Catholics still surviving from the family of my origin. Indeed, most of my extended family would identify themselves as being "serious Catholics." Yet, during heart-to-heart conversations in New England, in the Midwest, and on the West Coast, individuals in my family told me that a pillar of their daily practice of religion is that they do not "judge anyone." Most of them were startled when I pointed out that this is a primary teaching of Political Correctness, but certainly not a teaching of Christianity. And now, on the second Sunday following my sabbatical, I see that our Sunday Gospel lesson addresses this very issue. What else can I do but to respond to God's prompting?
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take
one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of
two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if
he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you
loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
But what of the Beatitude, you ask, "Judge not, that ye be not judged"? The verb here is κρινετε (krinete), meaning to drag someone before a public tribunal. The key phrase in our Gospel today is "between you and him alone." If he should persist in his stubborn sin, then you are left with no option but to bring him before the whole congregation. Notice that there is not another option: "Forget about him!" To drag someone before a public tribunal reveals a heart filled with rage .... in fact, might I say, heartless rage. The latter, go to him alone, is filled with love, a love that does not permit a life to be lost. And might I say, that it costs one must less to affirm everyone, whatever they might be doing, than to confront them in this costly love. Affirming someone, will cost you about thirty seconds. Loving someone whose life has gone wrong might take you the rest of your life.
We do not live in a world that is increasingly peopled by atheists. Indeed, humans are inherently religious animals. They must have deeper and greater meaning, or they will perish in the precincts of their inner lives. No. The great religion surrounding us today is Political Correctness, and we must begin the process of recognizing this and treating Political Correctness as a religion, placing upon it the same strictures that govern all religions in the U.S. including restrictions on its teachings in the public schools and in the corridors of judicial and executive power. Consider this, Political Correctness is embraced by nearly all celebrities — movie actors, rock-star musicians, and the decision-makers in Hollywood. It informs our television programming. And it regulates American life with an iron grip. For example, Brendan Eich, the founder and CEO of Mozilla (who practically invented the browser, which equates to the World Wide Web for most people) lost his job at the company he founded and then watched his family being vilified in the media simply because he donated money to a cause deemed unacceptable by Political Correctness: traditional marriage, God's building block for society. Indeed, Political Correctness seeks to drive other religions out of the public square by labeling them with the hated tag, "hate speech," with government bureaucracies slavishly following behind. And who could doubt that our high courts are unduly influenced by this gargantuan religion?
Centuries from now, university anthropologists and historians will characterize our era as being the Great Revival of this religion and its establishment, de facto, as a state religion. In this, the dominance of Political Correctness, if it were enshrined in nominal legal structures of practiced religions, would be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Who could question that membership in this religion is compulsory? Certainly, in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and in all the other great population centers of this country, you would lose your right to earn a living if you dared to defect from its doctrines and laws and social rituals. Let us be clear: it has become the de facto state religion of North America and Europe at the very least. And many of the former denominations of mainstream Christianity have chased after, crying out, "Me too! Me too!"
good Christian, journey on!
For God is with you.
And for you in the windows of Heaven,
He awaits with a holy candle.
Keep your eyes on that candle.
For it is the goodly flicker of eternal life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.