It's great to be with you all, those who are watching and listening on the radio, those in the room. I'm excited to be with you. They told me that they just cut my talk down in size, so I'm going to speak more quickly. I'm not going to use vowels.
I am honored and thrilled to be here. I want to leave just a brief message with you that hopefully will be one of challenge and invitation, and finally hope.
We are told by St. Augustine that we live in a world of two cities. These cities are not geographic entities; they are spread throughout the world, and we live side by side. In the one city, the city of man, there are people who love themselves so much that they're willing to deny even God. And then the other city — side by side, the city of God — there are people who love God so much that they're willing to deny even themselves. And the amazing thing is this: These two cities have been in war from the beginning of time, from the fall — and it continues on, and it will last until our Lord comes back.
But the battle actually even extends into our own hearts. Living in the city of God — I hope every day — there's still part of the city of man in my heart as well. And I have to be able to attack that, and go to war with it, so that I can live wholeheartedly for God. The beauty is that people in the city of man also have a spark of the city of God in their hearts — why Abby [Johnson]’s words are so important. We are about trying to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
So what I'd like to do, I'd like to build on a theme that Mark Twain gave me. I read it years ago. He says history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. And I'd like to take a look at salvation history very briefly and point out where I think we are in the rhyme and what the next step is.
There's a pattern in salvation history that goes back into the age of the patriarchs and through the prophets and all the way into the New Testament. It begins by this, there are several steps: God graciously offers us covenant. He establishes His people. We don't deserve His covenant, we don't deserve His love, we could never deserve it — but He offers it freely. And then He welcomes us into the family. And then He does what any good father would do: He blesses His children.
The second step is that He brings blessings. And the third step, we get distracted by the blessings and forget the giver of the gift and get distracted by the gift itself.
So we forsake the covenant. We forsake the covenant and then we begin to suffer. God's people suffer. If you're marking where we are in the cycle, we're right here. The good news is the next step in the cycle is great news. And so I want to look at that because, finally, God's people in the midst of their suffering cry out to God for mercy, and He hears them, and He offers mercy, and He renews the covenant. And we live in right relationship and blessing again.
I believe as we stand here in our nation's capital, looking at a nation that is torn in many ways, that embraces infanticide, we see terrorism, the breakdown of the family — we've heard the litany earlier today. We all know the stories and the difficult times, the suffering that we're going through. And the question is, what's our response? What's our response? Because the issue is God is exceedingly patient, exceedingly so. But He's also almost unnervingly patient. It's amazing how long He waits.
We've just gotten through with Lent, and we read in the book of Daniel during Lent about a couple of incidents that show how patient God is. In the beginning of Daniel, we meet Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, and they will not worship the false gods. And God could have rescued them right away. He could have knocked the king dead and delivered them right at the beginning. But that's not the way our God works. And that's important for us to know because He's not going to be quick with us either, but He will be responsive and faithful.
They actually had to stand trial before the king, be condemned to death, and they still didn't get rescued. Then they were tossed into the burning flames, and then they were saved. In the midst of the burning flames, they were preserved. They had to endure all kinds of hardship and difficulty and anxiety over what might happen, and they trusted. They said, “We trusted God could save us. But even if He doesn't, we're still not going to worship your god. We're going to be true.”
And all of that challenge, the grief, and what it does is it purifies our hearts, like gold tested in fire — in their cases, literally — and to be able to see that the God is there. And when they do, we see this amazing statement by Azariah in the fires. These are good guys, three really great men.
But what they do — and I'm speaking to a room and to a world of really good people who would pay attention to a Catholic prayer breakfast, but we have to own the sins of our culture and stand with them — this is what they say. These are the best of men, but Azariah says this: “We have sinfully and lawlessly departed from Thee. And have sinned in all things and have not obeyed the commandments. For Thy namesake do not give us up utterly, and do not break your covenant, and do not withdraw your mercy from us.” [Dan 3:23]
A little later in the book of Daniel, Susanna is the object of false accusations. And God doesn't come to her rescue right away. The false accusers actually get their day in court and appear to have won. In fact she's condemned, and it's as she's being led out to be executed that Daniel was inspired by the Holy Spirit to stand up and say, “I want to ask a question of these two men,” and he proves them to be false accusers. And they suffer the fate that she was going to.
God is unbelievably patient, unnervingly patient. He will wait. Think about what we just celebrated this week. In His destruction of the devil and his kingdom, Jesus was lying lifeless and cold in a tomb. That's a long wait. Things looked absolutely hopeless. And the greatness, the foundation of all of our other hopes in His resurrection, occurs — and this is who we are. To understand this pattern, to recognize that as we're suffering because we as a people have turned our back on God's covenant, that have broken so many of the things we've been asked to. Bishop Olmsted spoke beautifully about the breaking of vows — whether it's the breaking of the marital vows, the scandals in the Church, the abuse of contraception — we as a people have not been faithful to Christ. But the answer is not for us to start trying harder. This is the great news: It's not that we should start trying harder. I'm looking at over 1,000 people who try really, really hard.
It's not that you try harder. We don't need to work harder; we need to fall farther — to our knees, to beg God because He's the one who will do the work. He's the only one that can bring renewal to this nation.
So where are we now? Let's go back to that cycle and see another rhyme in history. There's a pattern that we’ll see in history. In fact, it's interesting. A theologian wrote an exegesis on the book of Revelation, and he says this (David Chilton): From the first book of the Bible to the last, this is the basic warfare in history. The dragon is at war with the woman and her seed. And it's true in Genesis 3, just after the fall, we see the prediction of warfare between the woman and her seed and the devil and his seed. In Revelation Chapter 12 verse 17, the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off and made war on the rest of her offspring, those who keep the commandments of God, and bear testimony to Jesus.
There's this pattern. See, the devil can't see into the future. But he's a genius. He's brilliant. So he sees where things are trending. And when he sees that his kingdom is at risk, he attacks. We saw it, for example, when Pharaoh was inspired by the devil to kill the Hebrew male children, and many, many Hebrew male children were killed. But Moses escaped and brought about liberation to the people of God. Years later, Herod, another evil leader, is inspired by the devil to kill the holy innocents. But Jesus escapes and becomes the Savior of the world.
I believe where we are in the process here is that the devil, when he knows that great things are coming, tries to attack the unborn and the newly born.
And this generation of young people are the greatest survivors of the holocaust against the unborn, and the newly born in the history of the world. Some people say, “What's wrong with this young generation?” There's nothing wrong with this young generation. We need to proclaim the Gospel to them because, when they wake up, they will vanquish the devil in this generation. We need to understand these are chosen young people, they're survivors by God's design, and the design does not mean just to breathe. It means to triumph in Christ.
So what does this mean for us to be able to sit back and say, we're walking through the scandals, the breakdown of the family, infanticide, we just saw anti-Catholic terrorism. There's gender confusion. The loss of faith in general.
It's our time. And I would appeal to you at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, in the United States: We've been blessed at different times, we've lost our way spiritually, and we've experienced great awakenings, several of them in our history, usually inspired by evangelical Protestants who call people to fall to their knees and beg God for mercy.
I appeal to you today as brothers and sisters: Wouldn't it be a great time for a Catholic Great Awakening, where we would be the first to lead our way by falling on our knees to God and begging for mercy?
I would invite you to join me in a prayer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lord God, we have turned our back on Your covenant. We have been wayward in our thoughts, in our hearts, in our ways. And we come before You, Lord, ourselves and also all of those, our brothers and sisters, begging You to shower mercy on us, to renew Your covenant with us, to allow us to experience the transformation that You’ve brought about so many times — with this time, in our lifetime, a way that would show that You, Lord, are the only cause of this renewal. You, Lord, are the cause of renewal in us, and then through us through the rest of the world. We have our trust in You, Lord, because You have risen, You have truly risen. In Christ's name, Amen.