Vision in an Era of Cultural Decline
“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven” ~ Hebrews 12:22-24
I. St. Benedict lived in an era of cultural decline.
He was born in 5th century Rome. Civilization wouldn’t be same if it weren’t for the Roman legal system, strong work ethic, and family values. Yet, that had crumbled in Benedict’s time. Barbarian invasions from outside and moral disintegration from inside had plunged Rome into the dark ages. But that didn’t stop St. Benedict. His convictions and lifestyle formed a new civilization. He laid the foundation for what we now know as Western Christendom.
Benedict was born in a wealthy family with a promising career, but wasn’t satisfied. He saw the world like the author of Ecclesiastes, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” So, the young man dedicated his life to the life above. He fled to the wilderness where he lived with a hermit, praying and working in silence and contemplation. After many years, he grew in wisdom and news of his holiness spread. Hundreds followed his example, fled from society, and formed not one but dozens of monasteries around his leadership. The pattern took off like wild fire. Soon, not just monks, but the laity – men, women, families, and whole clans – also uprooted and built their lives around these Christian communities. The communities became towns, and the towns became cities. St. Benedict pursued the Kingdom of Heaven, and in doing so ended up bringing that kingdom down to earth.
Due to saints like this, a historian explains, we see in history a revolution called Christianity, which was “an event immeasurably more impressive in its cultural creativity and more ennobling in its moral power than any other movement of spirit, will, imagination, aspiration, or accomplishment in the history of the west” (David Bentley Hart). As it turns out, it is always the most heavenly minded that are the most earthly good.
II. Why does the Church make so much fuss about the saints?
Shouldn’t we just focus on Jesus?
What the Protestant world fails to realize is that it is our love for the saints that strengthens our love for Jesus Christ.
Christianity is not about “Me and Jesus,” it is about “Us and Jesus.” We are saved in family, in the very family of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter calls that family, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (I Peter 2:9), and St. Paul writes that, “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate US from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). The Church is the Body of Christ. Christ is the head. His servants here and there are the body. You can’t have one without the other. We are all together in Christ.
If we weren’t supposed to pay attention to the saints then the bible could be much shorter, only a few pages really, and just talk about God and Jesus Christ. But instead, the bible has hundreds of pages casting light on the God’s people. The Old Testament is one story after another about heroes, the men and women who sacrificed their ego to serve God. The New Testament puts even more focus on the saints. Jesus Christ “counsels” with the saints, when he meets on Mount Tabor with Moses and Elijah. The Book of Acts and the epistles are records of the lives of the saints, and of all their teachings, miracles, and one shining example they give us.
III. In our gospel reading today, our Lord couldn’t have been clearer:
“Peter said unto Jesus: ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:27-29).
The saints of God aren’t just fluttering around in heaven playing harps. While on earth, they are building the kingdom. In heaven, they continue to build that kingdom: working out God’s plans, interceding for us, judging, discerning, and guiding our lives here on earth towards something better.
IV. Today, we celebrate our parish feast: the Solemnity of St. Benedict.
Each year, we set this Sunday aside to remember the life of St. Benedict. When the parish first dedicated this church to God, it asked God to send Benedict to be our special interceder. He’s our guy.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish" the Proverbs say (29:18). St. Benedict gives us our vision.
The world we live in today isn’t so different then the world in which Benedict lived. We too find ourselves in a cultural decline. America has never been perfect. Like every other nation, we have a mixed history with noble and not so noble memories. Yet, our country was founded on Christian principles. Its citizens have spilt their blood so that we could be free. They grounded our country in ethics, family values, and a worldview unapologetically Christian. But little by little, we have cut those roots and find ourselves in a very different society.
V. We have to wake up.
We want others to fix the problems, but we are the ones who need to fix the problems.
We live in a time when leading ethicists like Peter Singer and James Rachel argue for “forced abortions – to improve the quality of the race,” the “right to infanticide,” and more “flexible euthanasia policies.” Mainstream educators are pushing for gender confusion re-education in grade school. Much closer to home, Christianity has become so watered down that it’s hardly recognizable. Church has become a den for entertainment. Reverence and silence are replaced with smoke screens and rock bands. Doctrines are replaced with therapeutic moralism. The vocation for holiness is substituted with feel good slogans.
VI. So we’re forced to ask a question: what do we do?
At one point, one could sort of float along in the culture and still live a fairly sane life. But it isn’t that way anymore. To be a Christian is to swim up stream, and the current is strong. If you’re going to really take Christianity seriously, you can’t just go with the flow. It’s a fight, and that fight starts in the parish.
St. Benedict painted a vision of Christian community.
He founded a civilization anchored to the Church; a community where one’s whole life revolves around the steeple – one’s schedules, priorities, family values, and life to confess, repent, mature, love and witness to our friends, peers and co-workers all starts and ends here, at the altar of God.
This is life in Christ. This is why we celebrate this beautiful feast of St. Benedict, to remember our vision in our little parish: to be community that shines holiness, sanity, and peace to a broken world.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.