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Religion Column — For He is our peace

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

So, it begins. With expanded waistlines, we begin to stalk the various perceived holiday deals which tickle our fancies and cannot be refused. What with the current pandemic and all, we may do our heavy breathing in front of a computer monitor, replete with a buying “app” which is alleged to find the lowest price on the planet. Frequently, we have metamorphized from getting bargains with our legs, to doing so with our fingers. Perhaps we shall soon be assailed by some study which highlights this addition to our already sedentary lifestyles.

Get ready for some book, or mini-series entitled, “Sloths-r-us,” offering quasi-serious advice to remaining mobile. Actually, we already know the plot, for it only entails us moving around, both mentally and physically, to solve the mystery.

Our world is excellent at ascribing to an easier life. Consider the recent technological resources available at our fingertips. No longer do we have to go to the encyclopedia to find an answer. Instead, we speak into our phones, “What is the capitol of Albania?” (It’s Tirana,) or “How do I get to Keokuk, Iowa?” If not instantly, we immediately are gratified with the result which satiates our desires; for the moment. We speak into our TV remotes, our “Alexa” devices and even our doorbells. Such wonders permit us to remain prostrate, if not in body, then consider the mind.

We have heard the frequent lament, “life is getting more and more complicated.” It is seemingly true. However, it is of our own making.

A few years ago, there was a church in the mid-Atlantic area which decided to offer up a monthly meal to the locals; and a hope to increase the numbers in the pews. It was a simple affair: salad, entrée, desert. As time marched on, church members brought their favorite dishes. They were well received and became an expected part of the menu. Note the word, “expected.” What had become a simple meal was becoming more and more complicated; with planning for the next month’s meal beginning right after the last plate had dried. The most recent numbers included over 30 side dishes, multiple entrées and four different kinds of pies; along with various cakes and cookies. Most of the attendees were older, on fixed incomes, and were long-standing members of the various churches. The message had been lost, in all of the “noise” and the monthly repast was becoming a great burden.

It also was overshadowing the parishioner’s relationship with God, and Jesus Christ. Now ominously present was the quibbling and posturing about the upcoming feast. Oh yes, they attended church, said the words and sang the songs, but they were of little effect. In spite of efforts to the contrary, the stoic resolve of pleasuring the community became the errant priority. They had simply not been paying attention to what they had learned, heard and the real message of our Creator.

Yet, all was not hopeless, all was not despair. One Sunday, the reading for the day was from Saint Paul; once again writing to one of his churches; this time in Ephesus. Speaking to the Gentiles, he said, “That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. For now Christ Jesus, for whom you were sometimes far away, is made nearby his sacrifice for us.”

Not only did it present a message for that church in the North, but is equally apropos for us. It is too easy for us to put our priorities out of “whack.” It seems particularly acute at this time of year and given all of the highly variable sequestration guidelines extant. It is quite attractive to remain in the recliner, or in front of the computer, and allow our closely held Christian beliefs to be eviscerated. 

Someday, and we pray quite soon, there will be an end to all of these onerous times. We, as Christians, are called upon to maintain our vigilance and resist the “snares of the devil.” Getting up from the recliner, reaching out to others and doing what Christ calls us to do is part of the “old normal.” Let us pray deeply it is part of the “new.”