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Sham Rock of Ages

St. Patrick (whose feast day, March 17, happens to fall on a Sunday - the 2nd Sunday of Lent - this year) is known for converting the Irish people from paganism to Christianity. In his effort to do so, he chose the shamrock as an image of the Trinity. How curious it is, then, that Satan has chosen to beguile us with a variety of shams intended to turn us away from the path of true faith, to present us with, as it were, a sham rock of ages.

Alluding to Daniel 2:34-35, Jesus declared to Simon (see Matthew 16:17-20)…

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven1.

Although the biblical inspiration of the hymn, "Rock of Ages", by Reverend Augustus Toplady is less clear (although his allusion to John 19:34 in the body of the hymn is clear enough, his inspiration for the title of the hymn seems less well known), the expression "Rock of Ages" is certainly an apt title for Jesus, given the prophesy in the Book of Daniel2.

This brings me to the subject of this post. I was recently reminded (see this Sunday's Gospel) that Satan likes to play games with images God has established to teach humanity important matters. The original temptation in the Garden of Eden was a sham (or, if you prefer, a scam). Adam and Eve failed to trust the word of God and were tempted by their own ambitions to become like God. Since then, Satan has promoted a variety of sham substitutes for major virtues, especially shams for faith, hope and love.

We see this play out in our own time in identity politics. Fundamentally, identity politics is all about divide and conquer. When people feel aggrieved, they almost immediately feel alienated, and in feeling alienated, they lose any hope of finding genuine love and understanding. The temptation from there, of course, is to settle for sham love and sham understanding. For example, we may feel "understood" only if people agree with our ambitions, whether or not those ambitions are naturally founded in reality. It's not enough to simply live and let live, because that may leave us in a state of self-doubt. We feel more protected in a bubble. The result, inevitably, is people form communities of such bubbles.

We see this play out in centuries old fantasies, such as communism founded on laws rather than on love, and we look for easy solutions to bring about heaven on earth. Along comes socialism to the rescue. We fail to recognize that socialism, as a proposed schema for economic justice, is merely a sham. It substitutes the nanny state for what should be individual decision making about what we want and what we're prepared to offer to obtain it. It substitutes the creativity of the nanny state for the creativity of people with ambitions to make something of themselves and their lives. With the end-goal of communism dangled before us, we put up even with the folly of government and the tyranny of government.

We see this play out in the globalism movement. The most curious thing about globalism is that the brass ring is world domination, and many of the major players fail to realize how dangerous such an ambition is. Meanwhile, the lust for power and influence on a global scale spawns similar ambitions in every country. With the lust for power and dominion infecting governments at all levels, the inevitable result is widespread corruption. Even the Roman Catholic Church is not immune.

Indeed, given that Adam and Eve fell for this temptation to play God, what makes us think we're immune?

The true believes in these arenas become puppets for delusional power brokers. Societies and governments that were once stable quickly become unstable.

The Old Testament repeatedly references a location known as "the mountain of God, Horeb." (We can note here, in passing, that Horeb may be an alternate name for Sinai. See the discussion in the Wikipedia article on Horeb.) I bring this up because it seems clear that God preferred to communicate with his chosen people at Horeb. Later tradition made Zion, the mountain site for Jerusalem, the preferred location. Whether we focus on the historical significance of Horeb or the significance of Zion, we see that the preferred site of communication with God was a unifying tradition. The Old Testament story of the divided kingdom of Israel is replete with mentions of so-called "high places", places which we might term "sham rocks".

If we seek to find God on a mountain, no matter how high we climb we must still look up. If we seek to be God on a mountain, we only look down. The lust for power inevitably leads to the desire to exploit such high places, places from which the dominant can look down on the "simple folk" below. The game even has a name, and children play it. It's called "king of the hill3."

It's no coincidence that Rome is a place with seven hills. It's no coincidence that Washington D.C. has a place called Capitol Hill, where the Capitol building rests.

Even Brussels and Beijing have such high places.

All of these have been or have become places where people want to play God. The temptation to assume God's power and authority was exposed for what it is in the Book of Genesis.

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature4 that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?"

And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it5, lest you die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman6, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So7 when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Thus humanity fell from its lofty state of original innocence. All sin degrades us. We depend utterly on the grace of God to supply what we have lost. By the grace of God we acknowledge our need and we live a life of humility. We ascend in prayer to God when we are aware of our need and we acknowledge our sinfulness. It is humility that opens our heart to receive God's help. Climbing a mountain to commune with God is a metaphor for our need and our unworthiness. We find our direction in this path from Jesus, as he, himself, declared to Nathaniel8.

The devil, of course, knows all of this. He knows that his own pride was the occasion of his separation from God. This is why he works so hard to corrupt us through the sin of pride. Jesus did everything possible to arm us against this temptation by what he taught and by the way he lived. He was especially solicitous of the need of his representatives to do battle with the sin of pride.

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves. 9

  • 1. RSV
  • 2. See, also, Ex 17:6 and Num 20:8.
  • 3. This theme has inspired a variety of creations. See, for examples, King of the Hill_(disambiguation
  • 4. "The serpent", of course, is a metaphor for the devil, Satan. The presence of evident metaphor in this story makes it clear that it is intended to represent the circumstances of the fall in terms that might be profitably understood and remembered by the first to hear it or read it. See ¶390 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  • 5. Notice Eve's embellishment, here.
  • 6. And, here is the lie.
  • 7. The triplex temptation.
  • 8. See John 1:51. Cf. Genesis 28:12.
  • 9. Luke 22:25-27
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