June 19, 2018, 7:53 pm
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Living in God’s truth

JESUS came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder the house. Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

***

When we hear today’s First Reading from the book of Genesis, many images and ideas spontaneously emerge: paradise, first parents, a fruit-tree, the serpent or snake, deception and trickery, human weakness and disobedience, the fall into sin. However, we also recall God’s loving creation of Adam and Eve, his desire for their happiness, God’s fidelity and compassion. We hear God’s promise of a Savior as he predicts enmity between Satan and the offspring of Eve. This prediction in Genesis has long been viewed as the first hint of Christ’s ultimate victory over Satan.

In Christian theology, the Statement about the woman’s offspring crushing the serpent’s head is referred to as the protoevangelium, the “first gospel.” This is taken to mean that the offspring of Mary-Christ-will ultimately defeat the Serpent, the Devil. Several Church Fathers, such as Justin the Martyr and Irenaeus, view this passage as the first messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. This interpretation provides the background why we often see many paintings and statutes of Mother Mary crushing the serpent under her feet.

A Fresh Pastoral Insight. Recently, Pope Francis took some aspects of this passage from Genesis about the events in the garden of paradise and gave us a new, insightful, contemporary interpretation. Francis focuses on the “conversation” that Eve has with the serpent; the Pope’s reflections are found in his message for the 2018 World Communications Day, entitled: “‘The truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32): Fake News and Journalism for Peace.” Francis asserts that “the strategy employed by the ‘crafty serpent’ in the Book of Genesis...created the first fake news.” The deceptive words of the serpent, the devil, called the “Father of Lies” (Jn 8:44), trick Eve and result in “countless other evils committed against God, neighbor, society and creation.”

Pope Francis sees the clever action and deceptive arguments of the devil as subverting God’s plan. “Communication is part of God’s plan for us and an essential way to experience fellowship. Made in the image and likeness of our Creator, we are able to express and share all that is true, good, and beautiful.... But when we yield to our own pride and selfishness, we can distort the way we use our ability to communicate….On the other hand, when we are faithful to God’s plan, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit of goodness.”

Examining “fake news.” The topic of “fake news,” the object of much recent discussion and debate, refers to “the spreading of disinformation online or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader…. The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others…. Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth.”

Pope Francis is aware of “the difficulty of unmasking and eliminating fake news.” Yet, “none of us can feel exempted from the duty of countering these falsehoods.” As responsible Christians, we need to “create educational programs aimed at helping people to interpret and assess information provided by the media, and teaching them to take an active part in unmasking falsehoods.... We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’.”

Difficult Challenges. Pope Francis has given us an important insight from the book of Genesis on the very current topic of “fake news.” He challenges us to be truthful in all aspects of our lives as a means of countering falsehoods. We must not become purveyors of “fake news” by lies or gossip (which Pope Francis calls “terrorism”). He asks us to trust Jesus who proclaims: “I am the truth” (Jn 14:6) and who also asserts: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). We are invited to be authentic “Good News” Christians in very challenging times!

***

– Fr. James H. Kroeger, MM
– (June 10, 2018)
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