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Voices Online Edition
Lent/Easter 2003
Volume XVIII, No. 1

Inside Voices

The Lamentations of ancient Israel resound compellingly to us this Lent. Like Israel, we are suffering, in bondage, attacked from the outside, betrayed from within.

"Who can heal thee... O virgin daughter of Zion.... Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not exposed thine iniquity.... All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, is this the city that men call The Perfection of Beauty, The Joy of the Whole Earth? All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee ... they say, 'We have swallowed her up: certainly this is the day that we looked for'...

"Their heart cried unto the Lord, 'O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night.... The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword.... Thou hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the day of the Lord's anger none escaped nor remained..."

In the midst of this midnight of mourning, the prophet Jeremiah signals a glimpse of hope:

'"I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of [the Lord's] wrath.... And I said, 'My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord: Remembering mine afflictions and my misery, the wormwood and the gall, my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. It is of the Lord's mercies we are not consumed because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him. (from Lamentations 3)

The prophet returns to disconsolate mourning, however, and ends the Lamentations with a cry of abandonment:

"Why dost Thou so long forsake us? Restore us to Thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days of old! Or hast thou utterly rejected us? Art thou exceedingly angry with us?" (Lamentations 5:20-22)

The words seem to prefigure those of Christ on the cross. And the lamentation of those who mourned the crushed body of our crucified Lord surely echoed Jeremiah's words. In their anguish did they recall that though He is dead, yet shall He live?

Like ancient Israel, we have brought great evil on ourselves by our own faithlessness and wickedness -- and our only hope is the same as theirs. We are paying a great price for presuming we can establish a just and peaceful society apart from God. It was Christian teaching about the intrinsic worth in the sight of God of every human person that undergirded the assumptions of our founding fathers: the idea of building a society based on individual freedom, equality, justice for all. We have seen that no "social contract" can be of any force and effect without a universal commitment to honor its authority -- including its obligations, its binding effect on us. But the notion of suspending one's own private "pursuit of happiness" in this world for a greater goal has become repugnant to many of our contemporaries. Limiting our actions, controlling our impulses, or curbing our desires of the moment is now seen as "un-free", restrictive, oppressive.

This attitude, as it spreads into the farthest corners of the world's societies, is rapidly sinking us into a new Dark Age, far from the thinkers and leaders who took for granted the universal value of personal responsibility, self-transcendence, self-sacrifice.

Our American symbol of everything that is good in an a "enlightened" and perfectible world is the image of a woman --the goddess whose face is on our coins and whose huge image stands on an island in the New York Harbor with lighted torch aloft. Liberty deified. Freedom personified, facing an uncertain future unafraid -- with courage, with hope. But what does this image of liberty mean?

The motto of our country, "In God We Trust", signals the contrast between the hope of American Revolution with the tragedy and despair of the French revolution. But in only a few years our nation has fallen far away from God, just as did ancient Israel. (Remember, "under God" was added to our Flag Salute only about ten years before the "cultural revolution" of the sixties hit with full force).

We have basked in this light without understanding that it is only reflected light. Its source is not man's finite and flawed reason: the extent to which man's reason has power to enlighten the world coincides directly with his understanding that the source of his ability is not within himself, but that God alone creates all light, whether physical or spiritual.

Christians pray (and hope) that the world may finally comprehend that there is no true light save from that One Source, and may turn -- convert -- to God. This is the Gospel, the New Evangelization, which we are obliged to give to the world.

In the midst of Lent, the season of repentance and conversion, the Church also celebrates the Incarnation of Our Savior, the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25. Thus are Christians once again reminded of the source of all our hope. This celebration also gives us the example of Mary's perfect human response to God's will: "Let it be done to me according to Thy word".

Every time we recite the Lord's Prayer, we proclaim our own intention to conform our lives to God's will. Do we realize what we are saying? Or how much depends upon our doing so?

We have much to pray for, this Lent. May our souls be humbled within us. And may we receive worthily the Salvation that was purchased for us at so great a price.

Helen Hull Hitchcock
March 2003

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