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“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” —Deuteronomy 6:4–7
These words, given to the Israelites by Moses just before they entered the Promised Land, would essentially become the fundamental creed for God’s chosen people. After all the complaints, rebellions, and insurrections during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses urged and pleaded with the Israelites to love God entirely, without reserve, and to teach the words of the Lord to their children faithfully, day in and day out. He knew that for Israel to be a holy people in the midst of a powerful and influential pagan culture, they must first know and love the Lord themselves and pass it down to the next generation. Otherwise they would forget the Lord and fall into sin and destruction.
Whom will you serve?
Joshua succeeded Moses as Israel’s political and religious leader and brought the people into the Promised Land. Shortly before his death he urged them with similar words:
“Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” —Joshua 24:15
Joshua knew what Moses knew: the people had to make a choice about God, either loving and serving him completely or turning away to serve themselves and their own ambitions. There is no middle ground. Choose! What’s more, the next generation formed a crucial element of that choice, as Joshua said he “and his house” would serve the Lord. He chose to know and love God and to pass down his faith to his children.
Unfortunately, after Joshua died, the people did not listen to him or Moses. Judges 2:10 recounts the story:
“And all [Joshua’s] generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were round about them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.”
The resulting domino effect was predictable. There was a catastrophic catechetical failure which led to a new generation of Israelites failing to know the Lord or remember his saving acts for their people. As a result, they were deeply influenced by the surrounding culture and fell into great sin and idolatry. When things got bad enough, they finally cried out to the Lord. God then sent judges to redeem them from the hands of their enemies. Then the cycle repeated. Multiple times.
Warnings for us
It is always amazing to me how relevant these Bible passages are for us today, even when the events took place thousands of years ago. As I was recently reflecting on the state of affairs in our Church, culture, and society, this story of Israel’s history came to mind. This is where we are headed if we are not careful. I think it is fairly easy to demonstrate that we are no longer in a Christian society. The faith is threatened in so many ways. People are abandoning their faith in droves, and many of those who still do attend liturgical services (regardless of the denomination), don’t know what they believe or why they believe it. Their love for Jesus and his Church is lukewarm.
What happened to Israel is happening to us. If we do not first strive to know and love the Lord and the Catholic faith he has revealed, and if we in turn fail to pass it down faithfully and diligently to our children, anarchy will result—as it did for the Israelites. As St. Paul said, “Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6).
In my mind, one of the most striking verses in the prophets comes from Hosea: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). That was true for Israel’s time period, and it is true for ours. We cannot love what we do not know, and we will not share what we do not love.
Setting the world ablaze
You see, Jesus wants to set fire in our hearts. In Luke 12:49 he proclaims, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” Jesus wants us to burn with an unquenchable desire to know and love Him. The two disciples experienced this on the road to Emmaus when they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:22).
We must be white-hot in love with Jesus. Like the Israelites of old, we must make a choice to follow him as his beloved disciples and pass that faith down to the next generation. We cannot be lukewarm, for as Jesus says in Revelation 3:15, “Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” That is a terrible warning to us Christians today!
With all this in mind as we begin this new academic year, I want to congratulate you—whether you are studying with us or not—for committing yourself to growing in discipleship and trying to share that faith with your children, grandchildren, friends, coworkers, etc. The Church needs you to be on fire with love of God in such difficult times.
Allow me to close with the words of St. Paul who said:
“And so, from the day we heard of [your faith], we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” —Colossians 1:9–12