Divine Mercy Sunday – Fr. Bill McNeeley
April 28, 2019 – 8:30am
“I’m just doing my thing.” This is a colloquial expression associated with the 1960s which actually dates back to an 1840 essay by Ralph Waldo Emmerson. See, aren’t you glad you came to church today? We’ve all heard it, and we’ve all said it at some time in our lives. One thing I have learned in life is that “Doing my thing” sooner or later gets me in a lot of trouble. That’s because it doesn’t take into account anyone but one’s self and in the end, it is selfish if that is all that matters. There was an excellent article in Crisis Magazine this week about how pervasive this attitude is in our society. How we talk is an expression of how we think – about ourselves, about the world and yes, even about God. The Christian Catholic faith emphasizes the transcendent reality of God as opposed to an immanent notion of God. Transcendence means that God stands above and apart from creation like a painter to his painting. If the created order didn’t exist, God would still exist.
In Pantheism, God is the created order. With this line of thinking, if the universe did not exist, then neither would God, and, if everything is God, then we are God, too, or at least we have god within to consult and direct our lives. The experience of God within us is what we call Immanence. Self-deception is far too easy if we believe the Godhead is seated within and not apart from us. The world at large does not realize that the supreme objective of faith is not to help us to feel good about ourselves. The primary work of the church is to sanctify God’s people, cleanse them of their sins and help them to live for all eternity with the transcendent God of our salvation. As Catholics, we must look outside ourselves to find meaning, purpose, and direction through the churches teaching Magisterium, rooted in Scripture and Tradition. A person animated by Immanence knows nothing of the transcendence of God. It’s all about me, it’s about doing my own thing, and it is about feel-good religion. Many practicing “Catholics,” have become seduced by secular culture idea that one only has to consult the god within on matters of conscience, doctrine, and morality. We do so at the peril of our very souls.
This mentality is rampant, even dominant in the prevailing culture for by creating God in one’s own image, our feelings and emotions are the blueprints which animate our lives. This is how we create god in our own image, and it overthrows the very notion of a transcendent God who exists with or without us. I recently heard an interesting interpretation of the prohibition against taking God’s name in vain. As such, it is not so much about casually throwing around God’s name as it is using God’s name, his word, and his being to contradict the word of God the church has taught it for some 20 centuries. This mentality is rampant in our culture and to a lesser degree in the Catholic Church as well. It is all too common when we use our personal experience to negate Christian morality.
God is transcendent and not imminent. He exists outside our own experience of self and does not come from within our experience of life. When doing my own thing runs amok, and sooner or later it invariably gets me into trouble. If there is one thing I have learned in the school of hard knocks, it is that I don’t know what’s best for me.
We see this in the broader American culture that encourages people to “follow their heart,” and embrace “your truth” (e.g., Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the 75th Golden Globe Awards). One wonders what the presses reaction would have been if Oprah had said “Jesus Christ is Lord! Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The wildly popular book, Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, encourages the reader to listen to “the god within.” The god within isn’t a divine voice at all, but an amplified human sound that caters to self-love. In his book Orthodoxy 20th century Catholic apologist G. K. Chesterton rightly pointed out that that Immanence turns into self-worship: That a man shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that such a man worship only himself. He goes on to say that Christianity instructs a man to look outwards and “behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain.” One can see this pattern in the biblical narrative just as one can see the cataclysms caused by the folly of Divine Immanence. Living the Christian life means deciding what kind of person one wants to be and then set one’s life accordingly. This requires renouncing one’s self. One who believes that they are the seat of the Godhead is disinclined to renouncing self or any kind of humility. Let us never confuse creation with the Creator. It is when we surrender ourselves in all humility to the transcendent God who created us and who sustains us that his graces can pour into our hearts, transform our lives.
Later this morning some of our children will receive their first communion. In so doing, they and the rest of the community, witness the transcendent nature of God as it manifests itself in their lives and in ours. The God of our salvation has come to us so many times throughout history and in so many ways; through the lives of Abraham and Moses, through the law and the prophets, but most of all through the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. He comes to us every time we celebrate the Mass, hear his Word and partake of the one Bread and one Cup, for he is indeed our life, our hope and our salvation to the glory of God and his kingdom.