One of the questions I have asked God is, “Why does it always take so long to build something up while it only seems to take moment to tear it down or destroy it?”
Destruction is always so much easier than construction. Decades, centuries, even a millennium of building a culture (e.g., Christendom) seems to have vanished overnight.
All I get from God is, “Never mind, just keep working.” It would seem that God finds value in the work, not just in the results. Even so, my question (my frustration, actually) remains. However, I will do what He asks and keep on teaching, building, and working.
The following commercial speaks humorously to my concern. Months of mathematical analysis is destroyed in a moment by a tuned-out man who does not recognize the beauty or value of what he erases.
In these days of nearly instant information availability, we think we know a lot about people, things, and issues. Truth be told, we may know more in a quantitative sense but less in a qualitative sense. Too much information can make us less discerning.
The Christmas commercial below is touching and enlightening at the same time. Basically, it plays off the Scrooge/Grinch theme. The commercial shows a grouchy fellow who is touched and converted by the Christmas kindness of some children. That’s the obvious message.
But I wonder if there isn’t another way to see this commercial. Perhaps it is the children (and we whom they represent) who need to add some depth to their perception of the man. He does come across as lonely and rather private, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a grouch or that he should be feared. Perhaps he’s just shy. Maybe his wife died recently. Perhaps his age has limited him.
At any rate, the man returns the kind gesture of the children, multiplied. And while this might mean that he experienced a miraculous conversion, it more likely means that he wasn’t really as grumpy and cold as they thought.
A while back, someone wrote to me saying that in my writing I come across as grouchy and generally displeased with things. The person continued on to say that hearing the sound of my voice and my laughter on the radio revealed another side of me, such that my writings no longer seem so severe.
Well praise the Lord! We can’t avoid perceptions, but we do well to consider them provisional until we have more information. To seem is not to be.
Who is your neighbor? This isn’t really a request for a list of names; it’s an invitation to ponder more deeply who our neighbor really is.
The commercial below contrasts two worlds. The first is the loud, chaotic world, of which Satan is prince—and he wants all your attention. The second is the quieter, more serene, more beautiful world of the Kingdom, of which Christ is King and Mary is Queen Mother. Choose for yourself.
St Anselm writes:
Insignificant man, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him. Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him. And when you have shut the door, look for him, speak to God … (Proslogion, Chapter 1).
Most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen. Why does he not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various sorts and from events that cause sadness, setbacks, or suffering?
While the answer is mysterious, the clearest response is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing may occur. To some degree I have found this to be so in my life; some of my greatest blessings required that I accept painful things as well.
I wonder if we consider often enough the countless times Goddidstep in to prevent disaster in our life. We tend to focus on the negative things, overlooking an enormous number of often-hidden blessings: every beat of our heart, the proper functioning of every cell in our body, and all the perfect balances that exist in nature and the cosmos in order to sustain humanity.
Just think of the simple act of walking and all the missteps we might take each time but most often do not. Think of all the foolish risks we have taken in our life—especially when we were young—that did not end in catastrophe but surely could have. Think of all the poor choices we have made and yet escaped the worst possible consequences.
I thought of all these things as I watched the commercial below. While it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, it also makes me think of my guardian angel, who has surely protected me from many disasters.
As you watch the commercial, don’t forget to thank God for the many times He has rescued you through the intervention of your guardian angel. Thank Him, too, for His hidden blessings—blessings you know nothing of—that He bestowed upon you anyway. Finally, think of the wonderful mercy He has often shown in protecting you from the worst of your foolishness.
The situation of the man in this commercial reminds me of modern life in general. We talk a lot about freedom, but compulsiveness, addiction, and lack of self-control are more the case with the average person.
We have collectively rejected the “Ten Big Laws of God,” declaring our freedom from being told what to do. But the result has not been that we have fewer laws; rather we now have thousands of “little laws,” imposed upon us through oppressive government, by which we are told what we must do under penalty of law.
Many cultural revolutionaries have marched under the banners of freedom and tolerance, but once having gained a foothold they have tyrannically forced their agenda on others by law. The talk of tolerance and respect for differences turned out to be just that—talk.
The man in this advertisement talks a lot about how important mobility is to him, but the reality of his life is far from his self-description. In fact, he seems quite unaware of his condition. Does he not seem familiar?
The commercial below basically says, “If you prefer the inferior product of our competitors, go right ahead and stick with them, but as for us, we’ll go with what’s better!
One of the tasks of the spiritual life is to allow God to convert our desires. In our fallen state we have tend to want things even if we know they are harmful to us—and we desire them in abundance, too. We are also inclined to be averse to things we know are good for us. It all began in our childhood when we wanted Twinkies galore but pushed broccoli around on our plate rather than eating it.
Many people struggle to desire prayer and spiritual reading, preferring lesser or even sinful activities. The root sin here is sloth, which is sorrow about, or aversion to, the good things God offers. We need to pray frequently and fervently for the conversion of our desires.
If I were to reword the theme of this commercial along spiritual lines, I’d say, “If you want to go on preferring the lesser, passing things of this world, go ahead, but as for me and my household, we will prefer the Lord!”
The commercial below shows a glimpse of the special kind of love that we call familial love. The Greeks called it storge (στοργή), and the Romans called it pietas. Both words refer to familial love, the natural or instinctual affection between parent and child. Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” depicting Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus with tenderness and sorrow, demonstrates beautifully the meaning of pietas.
Familial love has some unique qualities. For example, we don’t choose our family; we are born into it. We can choose friends, and for the most part we select them because they are agreeable to us. Not always so within the family! And when couples marry, although they establish their own nuclear family, each brings to the marriage his or her own family and extended family.
Because we don’t simply pick our family, some of God’s most important lessons can be found in family life. There is often a lot of tension in day-to-day family life due to all the different personalities and viewpoints, not to mention the different historical dynamics. But if there were no tension, there would be no change! The Lord surely means some of these tensions and differences in order to help complete us and purify us. We need to learn patience and show a lot of love and forgiveness within the family—but that’s good for us!
Familial love is especially oriented toward raising children and bringing us all to maturity. I remember once, in a fit of anger, telling my mother that she was kinder to strangers than she was to me. She responded, correctly I now see, “I’m not in the same sort of relationship with strangers as I am with you. I don’t the same obligations to them that I have to you. I’m your mother; it’s my responsibility to correct you and help you to grow up well.”
As we all know, no one can drive us crazier than our family members, yet at the same time no one can bless us the way they do. Familial love is a mysterious mix of fondness and frustration, conflict and care, shared memories and shared melodrama.
Ah, family! Can’t live it; can’t live without it. The song in this commercial beautifully puts it: “I don’t know why I love you, but I do.” Enjoy this glimpse at the ups and downs of familial love.
Most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen to us. Why does He not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various kinds and from events that cause sadness, setbacks, or suffering?
While mysterious, the clearest answer is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing may occur. To some degree I have found this to be so; some of my greatest blessings required that a door slam shut for me or that I endure some suffering. If my college sweetheart had not ended things, I would most likely not have the very great blessing of being a priest today. Had I gotten some of my preferred assignments in my early years as a priest, I would not have been enriched by the assignments I did have. Those difficult assignments have drawn me out and helped me to grow far more than the cozy, familiar placements I desired would have. Had I not entered into the crucible of depression and anxiety in my thirties, I would not have learned to trust God as much as I do, and I would not have learned important lessons about myself and about life.
So despite that fact that we understandably fear suffering and dislike it, for reasons of His own (reasons He knows best), God does allow some degree of it in our lives.
Yet I wonder if we really consider often enough the countless times God did step in to prevent disaster in our lives. We tend to focus on the negative things in life and overlook the enormous number of blessings we often take for granted: every beat of our heart, the proper functioning of every cell in our body, and all of the perfect balances that exist in nature and the cosmos in order to sustain us.
Just think of the simple act of walking, all of the possible missteps we might take but most often do not. Think of all the foolish risks we have taken in our lives—especially when we were young—that did not end in disaster. Think of all the poor choices we have made and yet escaped the worst possible outcomes.
Yes, we wonder why we and others suffer and why God allows it, but do we ever wonder why we don’t suffer? Do we ever think about why and how we have escaped enduring the consequences of some awfully foolish things we have done? In typical human fashion, we minimize our many, many blessings, and magnify and resent our sufferings.
I have a favorite expression, one that I have made my own over the years, that I use in response to people who ask me how I am doing: “I’m pretty well blessed, for a sinner.” I’ve heard others put the same sentiment this way: “I’m more blessed than I deserve.” Yes, we are all pretty well blessed indeed!
I thought of all those things as I watched the commercial below (aired during the 2014 Super Bowl). While it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, it makes me think of my guardian angel, who has surely preserved me from many disasters.
As you watch the commercial, don’t forget to thank God for the many times He has rescued you through the intervention of your guardian angel. Thank Him too for His hidden blessings—blessings that, though you know nothing of them, are bestowed by Him all the same. Finally, think of the wonderful mercy He has often shown in protecting you from the worst of your foolishness.