In April of 1966 Time magazine gave us a front cover with the phrase “God Is Dead” emblazoned in big, black letters. The cover story was reporting the then popular theme among intellectuals, philosophers, theologians and popular opinion columnists. The social engineers were telling us that God didn’t matter anymore.
The phrase “God is dead” came from a famous German philosopher named Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche who died in the year 1900. Back in 1882 he had written a book entitled The Gay Science and in that book he depicted a character, a madman, who at noonday in the public square smashed the lantern of a man who was carrying it. The lantern was lit and the madman couldn’t stand it. He grabbed it and smashed it. Nietzsche wrote:
“The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. “Where has God gone?” he called out.” I mean to tell you! We have killed him, you and I. We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move?”
Nietzsche’s answer was that we must become a super race, a race of supermen and superwomen. We no longer need God because now we can shape reality and deal with the world using, through technology, our own super powers.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s story was prophetic; back in the 1800’s he was giving us a vision of what would come to pass in the 1900’s. Adolph Hitler adopted his philosophy, as have many others, all of them intent upon snuffing out the light and sponging away our vision of what is beyond this world.
In our day we find many social engineers busily about the task of driving God out of our culture, our public life, our schools, and our social institutions. Religion is being privatized; we are to keep our opinions about God, our faith responses to God, private and to ourselves alone. Going public with them causes us to be accused of “imposing our values” on others. They, too, are using the sponge to wipe away all visions of God. I was told recently of a question someone put to one of our priests. The question was: “Why do you Christians worship a dead man?”
What is our response to all of this? What are we Catholics to think in the midst of all that surrounds us, in a culture that no longer gives us any acknowledgment of God, in a world that proclaims the Church is of no use, that God is dead, and that even if He isn’t, He and His Church are irrelevant to our lives?
We need to note we are not the first to live in such hostility. Remember those first disciples of Jesus who were walking to Emmaus just after Christ’s passion and death on the cross. To say they were dejected would be an understatement. They felt defeated and useless. They felt that all they believed about Jesus of Nazareth was for nothing. But remember that it was in just such a moment that Jesus walked with them. They recognized him and came to realize in other significant moments that He was alive and with them, particularly in the breaking of the bread.
It has been so throughout the history of Christianity. Every time the principalities and powers of this world have buried the Church in the tombs to which they have assigned her, she has come roaring back out of the grave, resurrected and renewed in the power of Christ’s own Spirit-filled resurrection. We are living now in just such a time.
We are gathered here to receive the Bread of Life. In the ground up wheat and crushed grapes that are about to consecrate, Jesus Christ comes to us in His resurrected and Spirit-filled Mystical Body. He is about to give us that Bread for which we pray so often, the Bread to sustain us in our daily lives. For we do not worship a man that is dead, we worship the Living God who comes to us in such love that He shares His very life with us. God is a God of the living, not of the dead. It is in the living of our lives that He comes to us. He comes to us to redeem us and save us from all that would erase His presence from our world. He comes to fill us with life amidst all of the forces of death that are trying to bury us.
Where is Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche today? Dead. Where is Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and all those other tyrants who would deal us death rather than life? Dead. And where is Jesus Christ? Alive and well, living among us in His saints, living among us in the little people of this world, living among us in everyone who brings kindness, compassion, decency, truth, justice and love into our everyday lives.
Finally we need to see what is more insidious. The truth is that while we are not intellectually atheists or agnostics … we are nevertheless secularists in our lifestyles, not in our thinking. We are sinking in a quagmire of ordinary, normal things. Our bodies are overfed and overweight, but our hearts are starving, and our souls are hungry. We say that many things are “awesome,” but we lack the capacity for wonder. We are over-busied and over-extended but feel we have accomplished little. We are distracted by sports, sit-corns, and talk shows… and yet feel bored. We are continually entertained but learn little. The more we develop timesaving devices and gadgets, the less time we seem to have. We are obsessed with celebrities and yet have few true heroes. We fill our lives with greed for things, and indulge ourselves with every pleasure, but we are not at all happy. We are compulsive problem solvers and so cannot live with any form of mystery.
Where is love in all of this? Where is God? Why doesn’t God take care of us and take care of our world?
Today and in the four Sundays that have preceded our Church has been giving us spiritual food and spiritual vision. The gospel accounts in those Sundays have been taken from the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. They all present us with the Eucharist, the Living Bread that God our Father gives us in His risen Christ. They present the heart and core of our Catholic Faith. You would do well when you go home from this Mass to take out your bible and read the 6th Chapter of John with those whom you love. Read it with your children; read it with your friends. Read it and realize that our God is a God of the living, not of the dead. He offers us His Daily Bread so that we need no longer be malnourished and starving. Take this Living Bread, eat it, and let your souls be nourished by His loving Presence, a loving presence far above and beyond anything this world can ever hope to offer. Be nourished with the Bread of Life and live as God in His love wants you to live.