Today the Church celebrates Laetare Sunday, named for the first word in the introit or entrance antiphon: Laetare Ierusalem. Rejoice, O City of men, for God is within you! Our Gospel story is of a man born blind (born in Original Sin) who washes in the pool of Siloam (the pool of “the One Sent”). Only baptism in Christ Jesus heals the man who gropes in the darkness of a world without God. Let’s go to Soviet Russia to see what a city without God would look like. In 1917, Vladimir Lenin and his poor blind Bolsheviks attempted to annihilate any trace of God in their grand social experiment. In 1931, for example, Stalin dynamited the largest Orthodox church ever built, Moscow’s cathedral of Christ the Savior. He began work on a colossal statue of Lenin that would stand in its place. Every single Catholic parish in Russia was destroyed, or converted into warehouses or sports clubs. A great darkness closed in. The Soviet Union, they said, was impenetrable to the Gospel.
Somehow, though, decades before religion was legal again in Russia, Mother Teresa and her sisters slipped into Moscow. She tells this story from those days before 1989: “One doctor in charge of a very big hospital accepted us, and we came there and he gave us three rooms. And we began the work in that place by cleaning the toilets—that was our first apostolic work. …We had a little tabernacle, we had Holy Mass, and the priest gave us Jesus and he changed the whole attitude—the whole place looked quite different after. …After one week, the doctor came to me and said, “Mother Teresa, what’s happening in my hospital?” I said, “I don’t know, doctor, what, what is happening?” He said, “I don’t know, something is happening. I see the nurses and the doctors much more kind, much more loving with the patients. I see the patients are not screaming with pain as before. What’s happening? What are the sisters doing?” And I looked at him and I said, “Doctor, you know what is happening? Jesus is in this house now. There in that little chapel. He is living, He is loving, He is there, He’s the cause, He’s the giver of this joy, of this peace, of this love.” And he just shook his head, “Thank you.” And it was wonderful to feel that Presence of Jesus in that hospital after seventy years.”
Our government has not waged a frontal war on God like the Soviets. American atheism is a personal choice, and all of us have chosen it to some degree. Our lives are growing darker as we go about our daily lives ignoring God’s laws. Take the odd phenomena of Road Rage, for example. It is barbaric, but what causes it? Well, consider what most folks listen to in their cars, some for hours on end. It’s usually rap or rock music, or news, or talk shows, that only stir up anger, fear, and discouragement because it ignores even the idea of God, and often ridicules those who believe in God. People used to have bumper stickers: “God is my co-pilot.” But rarely now do we imagine God co-piloting our cars, or our lives. Our freeways have become darker, less-friendly, more dangerous places. So have our schools, our neighborhoods, and our politics.
In 1863, President Lincoln spoke to a nation that was, in his words, “faced with a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity.” Are we not engaged today in a cultural civil war of “unequaled magnitude?” Lincoln begged the American people to “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes.” The President of the United States urged Americans to return to God’s will. All the newspapers affirmed his prophetic utterance. Can you imagine any news media, liberal or conservative, urging us to trust in God’s will and His laws today?
And yet: there is good reason for hope. We know how bright life can be when we order our lives for God through regular prayer and the exercise of charity. We can throw Jesus out of our cities, but we can also welcome Him back. We can bathe in the waters of His grace, as he instructed the Blind Man: “Go, wash in the waters of Siloam.” We Catholics have three treasures that keep God’s light brightly burning in our cities: Mass, confession, and the rosary. At TAC we get good marks on Mass and confessions, but there is the third treasure, the rosary. Do not underestimate the practice of the rosary. “The rosary,” wrote Blessed John Paul II in 2002, "is my favorite prayer. A marvelous prayer! Marvelous in its simplicity and its depth.” All of us can pray the rosary daily, or at least a decade daily. Our country needs what only we Catholics can give: The Eucharist, sacramental Penance, and daily consecration to the Mother of God.
The good people of Russia have rebuilt the cathedral Stalin dynamited in 1931. The colossal statue of Lenin was never erected. Jesus Christ has won the war, even though the battle for individual souls, and the souls of nations, rages on. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asked the blind man. “Yes, Lord, I do believe,” and he worshipped Him. For each of us, light and joy flood our lives when we echo that blind man’s faith, when we come back to right worship, ortho-doxy. Yes, Lord, I do believe. I worship, not myself or any other, but You alone.