Because the Days are Evil
20th Sunday after Pentecost
“Brethren, see that ye walk, not as fools, but as wise, because the days are evil.”
These are the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, which we read in today’s Epistle. If the days were evil back in St. Paul’s time, believe me, the devil has been taking advantage of the two thousand years since then to improve his methods and make things a heck of a lot worse. We’re all quite grimly aware of all the evils besetting our world, our nation, our church, our families, at this time, so it would not just be depressing but actually pointless to list them here. Instead, let’s take a look at what St. Paul advises should be our reaction as Christians to the evil days we live in. St. Paul does not give us a long laundry list of things we should and should not do. He sums everything up in one thing not to do, and then gives us just the one correct way in which we should act.
Let’s start with the one and only thing he advises us not to do in our depression, fear or anger or whatever else we might be feeling in these evil days; the single vice he picks on is this: “Be not drunk with wine.” Be not drunk with wine…? That might strike us as a tad over-simplified perhaps, but if we analyze what he means, I think we’ll understand what he’s getting at. First of all, there’s no harm in taking a drink now and again. It has many social benefits, and it’s often a good way to relax at the end of one of these ‘evil days’ we live in, and forget, for a little while, the many heavy burdens that beset us. St. Paul doesn’t tell us “Don’t drink wine.” He says “Be not drunk with wine.” In other words, don’t drink to excess. Don’t drink so much in order to forget all your troubles that you’re no longer capable of dealing with them—you’re no longer able to function with Christian charity, loving God and your neighbor as you should. Living in the dull, alcohol-induced haze of drunkenness is merely to bury our head in the sand like ostriches, and effectively do nothing about the evils that surround us. Thus, we allow that evil to continue and thrive, fulfilling the old adage that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
When our blessed Lord was crucified, they offered him wine mixed with myrrh to deaden the pain. Wine mixed with myrrh was a widely used painkiller in those days. He would not drink it. The pain of the crucifixion was meant to be embraced in all its agonizing anguish by our Saviour who wanted to show us the extent of his love for us. Today, his love is still as strong as it ever was, despite the sad punishments he permits to the world in retribution for its many sins. Those of us who remain his loyal children must suffer along with the rest, but our response must not be one of refusal, or even reluctance to accept the cross we have been given. We have been asked to show our love by suffering, not by deadening the pain with alcohol, or indeed with any other form of narcotic, whether it be pharmaceutical in nature, or any form of distraction. When St. Paul said “Be not drunk with wine,” he was also saying many other things: “Be not obsessed with the results of football games,” “Be not overly consumed with political controversies beyond your control,”—in short, don’t let yourself be distracted from the evil of our days by resorting to things which merely serve to deaden the pain but make no contribution to the common good. Sure, we might lessen our own suffering a little, but how is that helping the world at large, how is it helping our neighbors to handle their burden. “Bear ye one another's burdens,” St. Paul said, “and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
So if St. Paul today picks on getting drunk as the thing to avoid, he obviously means this on a deeper level. But how does he want us to act instead? What should we do if it’s not to deaden our own pain with distracting pastimes and excessive pleasure-seeking? The answer again might surprise you: “Be filled with the Spirit,” he says, “speaking to yourself in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” What does he mean? Singing? Is the answer to all life’s problems to simply follow the advice of Rodgers and Hammerstein and just “whistle a happy tune”? Again, let’s take a quick look at what St. Paul is really saying…
First of all, we must be filled with the Spirit. In other words, we must be Temples of the Holy Spirit, we must remain constantly in the state of grace and avoid all sin. And in that state of grace we must sing to God, not necessarily out loud or with an actual tune, but “in our heart to the Lord.. speaking to yourself”. We must sing, whether aloud or silently, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Where else are these psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (known as canticles) to be found but in the Divine Office of the Catholic Church. Every week the priests and clergy pray this Divine Office from a book known as the Breviary. This book contains the Church’s official prayer, in which we pray our psalms, our hymns and our spiritual songs. We recite all 150 psalms every week, we pray the main canticles of the Church, the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis, the Te Deum, every single day, and we offer up our hymns at every hour of the Office, from Matins during the night hours to Compline before we go to bed again. This official worship of God is second only to the Mass itself in its worthiness and efficacy. Thanks to the Internet, the Breviary has been made available online to all Catholics in these modern but evil times, in English as well as in Latin. Now, any of us, if we’re able and willing, can join the clergy in their daily prayer, offering this Divine Worship to God. Just go to breviary.net if you’re interested.
However, God understands that those who live in the world usually don’t have time to devote much time to long daily prayers. Instead, he has given us, through the hands of his blessed Mother, what has always been known as the “poor man’s Breviary”—the Rosary.
With its 150 Hail Marys mirroring the 150 psalms of the Breviary, the Rosary is something you can pray at any time, and even without a book. It doesn’t change from day to day, which means it can be memorized easily, and it can be said all at once or in short sessions; for example during those “down-times” when we’re doing some of those routine things that won’t distract us from our prayer, like when we’re driving to work for instance. The Rosary contains all the chief mysteries of our faith, arranged not only chronologically, but in such a way that we might come to a true understanding of the chronology of our own life—a series of joyful and sorrowful events, all interspersed, which come together to make sense only in the glorious things that await us after our death. Praying the Rosary makes sense of the life we live in the midst of so many trials and tribulations. When we meditate on what the Son of God and Son of Mary enjoyed and endured, it inspires us to enjoy and endure our own ups and downs, and grants us that peace in our hearts that can come only from the promise of eternity with God.
Here, then, is the answer contained in St. Paul’s words. This should be our reaction to the evil days in which we live. The Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose feastday we celebrated this past Thursday, provides us with all the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs we need to sing to God in our hearts, and thereby stave off the evil of our times. It is our melody par excellence, the most perfect expression of the prayer we offer from our heart. Pray the Rosary, pray for the world, not just for ourselves and our own little troubles, but for all of “us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Instead of drinking ourselves silly or burying our head in other frivolous pastimes to take the pain away, instead, pray the Rosary. It’s the instrument of salvation given to us from the hands of the blessed Mother herself, a gift meant to enlighten us and do good in this world, good that will dispel the darkness of evil. Time and again, she has appeared to her children, each time exhorting them to pray the Rosary and pray it well. She didn’t give us the Rosary so we could hang it from our bookshelf as a decoration—we’re meant to pray it, and to pray it hard for the world we live in. So let’s not waste our time on frivolities any longer; it’s time to pick up our beads and commit ourselves from this time forth to pray the Rosary in the spirit of today’s Epistle, “giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting ourselves one to another in the fear of God.”