This warning has been with us here in Edmonton for a while now. Massive wildfires in British Columbia are giving off thick smoke, which the winds then drive over us. Weather channels and apps announce an air quality statement and advise people to stay inside so as to avoid breathing in the toxins.
As I read the Scripture texts assigned for last Sunday, it occurred to me that they were issuing their own “special air quality statement.” They warn against various atmospheric toxins emitted not by fires but by false gods, and caution us against “breathing these in.”
Consider, for example, Sunday’s first reading from the book of Joshua (Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b). He has just led the chosen people into the promised land, where they encounter among the inhabitants the worship of false gods. Present, in other words, is the toxin of idolatry, and Joshua in effect asks the people to choose whether they will breathe in this poisonous fume or the pure air of authentic worship.
This situation in which our ancestors in the faith found themselves is not entirely dissimilar to our own. Native citizens may not be living in a foreign country, but at times it can feel alien. There are many ideas and ideologies floating in the air that run counter to the Christian principles that shaped this nation, and breathing them in, allowing them to shape our mindsets and behaviours, will lead inexorably to a distance from the Gospel.
What to do?
In the passage from the gospel of St. John (6:53, 60-69), Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” When we listen to the words of Jesus Christ and obediently appropriate his teaching, we “breathe in” the pure air of the Spirit, who gives life. Moreover, what Christ announces are “words of eternal life,” as St. Peter realized. They purify us of whatever toxins have settled into our souls, so as to heal us and be our moral compass through this earthly life to the next.
I’ve noticed more than a few people donning special face masks to guard against the smoke and its dangerous particles. To protect against the noxious ideologies and idolatries that threaten the soul, we have Scripture and the sacraments of the Church. God’s Word enlightens; the grace of the sacraments purifies and strengthens.
Let’s be attentive to the quality of the air that surrounds us and breathe in only that which gives life: God’s merciful love, spoken and revealed in Christ and communicated in the Church’s sacraments.