Prayer and Social Delusion
“My house shall be a house of prayer.”
There is only one good life: a life of prayer. In The Little Prince, a 1943 novella, the adventures unfold of a boy traveling through space. He moves from one asteroid to the next, each time meeting an eccentric character. On one asteroid, he runs into a businessman. “Good morning,” the boy says, “Your cigarette has gone out.” The businessman mutters, “Three and two make five. Five and seven make twelve. Twelve and three make fifteen…I haven’t time to light it again. Twenty-six and five make thirty-one.” The boy asks the businessman what he is counting. “Stars.” Why? “I own them.” “What do you do with them?” “I count them and recount them…” the businessman asserted. “[These are] matters of consequence… five-hundred-and-one-million, six-hundred-twenty-two-thousand, seven-hundred-thirty-one…” The Little Prince shook his head, “Grown-ups are certainly altogether extraordinary.”
We take our lives so seriously, but what does it matter? All of it, without prayer, is as meaningless as the life of the businessman counting his stars.
God calls us to one purpose: to fill our hearts with prayer.
“As he came near and saw the city, [Jesus] wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Then Christ entered the temple, “and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer’” (Luke 19:41-42, 25-26).
Our Gospel begins with human delusion.
“If you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.” “They are hidden from your eyes.”
I am reading a book on ethics. The author is wrestling with a question: Is reason enough? Can you figure out ‘good’ and ‘bad’ just by using your brain, or do you need God and religion? The more I read, the more convinced I am: reason alone is worthless. Without faith and religion, all human effort is a waist of time— mental gymnastics that come to nothing.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
We start with the heart. If the heart is healthy, the brain can put two and two together. If the heart is sick, the brain malfunctions. You cannot think right, if your soul is not in the right place. Do some youtube searches about the crazy ideas ethics professors teach. They have more degrees than I have fingers on my hand. Yet, their conclusions are so ridiculous, my five-year-olds can do better. Only the pure in heart can make sense of anything.
‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day” (Luke 19:42).
We have to guard ourselves from delusion. The Jews knew the Law, but they were scared. They feared the power of the Roman empire. Fear and stress turned them into a mop, and that mop hung Christ on a cross.
In the witch hunts of the 1600’s, thousands of women were killed. They were burnt at the stake, not because of crimes, but because they became the scapegoats of insane societies. Fear and stress created mobs, and the mobs became a monster.
Between 1939 and 1945, Nazi officials implemented the Jewish badge. The Star of David marked the Jews as “different” and “dangerous.” The Germans were the most educated people in the world. It boggles the mind that such intelligent, modern people could get sucked into the hypnotism of hatred. The Germans had been normal people. They were educated. They were upstanding citizens. Fear and stress turned them into mobs, and the mobs became a monster.
We are not above this. So much around us is scary. Global warming, Taliban seizure of Afghanistan, new strains of Covid-19, even wearing a face mask or staying locked away at home. Any one of these alone is enough to drive a person crazy. Among all these, what is our biggest enemy: fear. Who will become the scapegoats in our times: extremists, religious fanatics, perhaps, the unvaccinated? We cannot give in to the delusion.
Carl Jung made a brilliant remark:
“It is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer, but man himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics [i.e. mass delusion], which are infinitely more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes.”
Whatever happens in the world, we cannot give in to fear.
What can we do?
Jesus Christ is with us.
“Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer” (Luke 19:45-46).
Make your heart a house of prayer. Immediately after warning the disciples of delusion, Jesus cleared the temple. The people had given into fear. The veil was pulled over their eyes. So what did Jesus do? He taught them to pray.
Everything seems so important. Our to-do-list feels urgent. The news is overwhelming. We get caught up in the fear and gravity of it all. We become like the self-important businessman counting stars, “I have no time for loafing.” It is futile. Christ simply invites us to sit down at his feet.
I want to end with a little story. Something happened to me last week. I was driving home and saw an elderly neighbor. She was hobbling up to her trash can, so I pulled over to see if I could help — but she helped me. She was wearing one of those old, cotton dresses — it was probably made in the 1950’s — and one of those pinned up bonnets. We started talking. She talked about how Jesus keeps her company. He is with her all day long. We are so blessed, she said. For a moment, standing there by this faithful woman, all the hubbub of the world disappeared. I felt like I was standing in a different world. It was an epiphany, a glimpse into the deeper reality around us. God is with us, and God keeps his own.
Above all other things, we have one job: become a house of prayer.