An Image of Dying and Rising in a Touching Animation

One of the greatest paradoxes told to us in the Scriptures is that if we would save our life, we must lose it in Christ (Luke 9:24). That is, we must die to this world in order to inherit eternal life. “Eternal” does not simply refer to the length of the afterlife, but to its fullness as well. To inherit eternal life is to become fully alive.

This idea that we must die to ourselves to go up to something higher is evident throughout nature. Minerals and other aspects of the soil are taken up into plants by being leached out of the soil, but in so doing they “come to life” in the plant and are no longer simply inert minerals. Plants must die and be taken up into the animal that eats them, but in so doing they become part of sentient life. Animals must die and be taken up into the human person that eats them, but in so doing they go up higher, joined to the life of a person with a soul, one who ponders meaning, studies the stars, writes poetry, and knows God. Man, too, must die to himself, die to this world, in order to be swept up in the life of the Trinity in the glory of Heaven. In every stage, we die to something lower in order that we may go to something higher.

The video above presents a very moving story, one which requires us to suspend some notions of reality. Obviously, robots do not have consciousness and feelings—but this one does. The robot in this video is sent to the home of an older woman in order to take care of her.

When the robot is first taken out of the box and turned on, he behaves just like a robot, going through his chores mechanically. In his association with the woman, however, he begins to go up higher. Dying to himself and serving this woman puts him in association with her. This relationship begins to give him almost human traits: love and loyalty, joy and sorrow, and even desire. We see the first change in him as he admires a sunset, in imitation of his mistress. The lesson here is that we learn what it means to be more fully human from one another and by gazing into the light of God’s glory.

It seems that the circus is coming to town. And oh, how the robot wants to go! The tickets are purchased and the anticipation builds.

One thing we notice in the story, though, is that this robot lives on battery power. No matter how good battery power is, it can only last for so long.

The day of the circus arrives, but alas, his mistress dies that very day. Misunderstanding the higher life he has been serving, the robot tries to revive her by putting batteries in her pockets. Obviously, no amount of battery power can help, for the power of this world is powerless over death. Upon her death, the robot sits gazing at the sunset, remembering a time when he first began to experience life.

We who view the story know that the robot cannot last forever because his batteries, which symbolizes the things of this world, are bound to fail. Sure enough, five days later, his lights go out, and his eyes close in a kind of death.

In dying, however, we are born to eternal life. Suddenly the robot’s eyes open and he is in a world brighter than he has ever known; and there she is, his mistress, the one he served. She has come to walk with him to the circus, a circus far more glorious than any he could ever have imagined. In dying to his battery life, he has gone to real and eternal life.

But Father, but Father, robots don’t have life! I know, it’s just a story; but like many stories, it’s really about you and me. For now, we are like servants, depending on battery life. We learn what it means to be more fully human from one another and by gazing at the light of God’s glory. To become fully alive, however, requires that one day our battery finally die. Then, a new and more glorious life awaits us, if we faithfully serve in the house of mother Church, in the house of God’s Kingdom. In losing our life for the Lord and His kingdom, we gain it back more richly. From battery life to real life.

Why Wasn’t the Resurrection More Like This?

I have often joked that from a worldly point of view, Heaven has a poor marketing department. Jesus’ saving actions were “publicity-poor” and many of the most important events, such as His birth and resurrection, were almost completely hidden. If I were God (and be glad that I’m not!), I would ride down on a lightning bolt while the whole world marveled. And then when I rose from the dead, I’d have put up the ancient equivalent of a JumboTron so that everyone could watch as I stepped forth gloriously and sent word out to round up my enemies. At the very least I would have said “Ta Da!”

Somehow I thought of all that as I watched the commercial below. Imagine that the ad is focused, not on a soccer match, but on the tomb as the stone rolls back, light pours out, and Jesus emerges. Instead of the announcer yelling, “Goal!” he could yell, “Alive!” or “Like a Boss!”

Enjoy the commercial.

Doing Something Even Though Everything Is Needed

The commercial below depicts the common problem of feeling overwhelmed by the all of the need we see around us. There is so much neediness, yet we don’t have sufficient resources to help in every effort or to donate to every worthy cause.

The commercial rightly concludes that we can address this feeling by doing. In other words, while we cannot do everything, we can surely do something. What that “something” is requires discernment. What are my gifts? What are the needs I am best positioned to help with? What is my state in life (married or single, parent with young children or empty-nester, wealthy or poor)? What is my natural demeanor (patient, energetic, organized, creative)?

I don’t have all of the gifts; you don’t have all of the gifts; but together we have all of the gifts.

Sometimes the sense of being overwhelmed is God’s way of tapping us on the shoulder and asking us, “What do you have?” “Five loaves and two fish, but what good is that?” (see John 6:9). Jesus simply says that we should bring them, bring what we have. Even little things can mean a lot; they can make a big difference. Lots of little things add up to a lot.

Straining Out Gnats but Swallowing Camels, as Seen in a Commercial

In the Gospel of Matthew (Mat 12:1-8), Jesus is rebuked for violating the Sabbath. This reminded me of the video below, which illustrates how we sometimes follow smaller rules while overlooking more important ones in the process.

The Lord Jesus was often scorned by the people of His day, who claimed that He overlooked certain details of the law (often Sabbath observances). But those who rebuked Him for this were guilty of far greater violations. For example,

  1. [Jesus] went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus (Mk 3:1-6).
  2. Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone (Luke 11:42).
  3. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Lk 13:14-16)
  4. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean (Matt 23:24-25).

Yes, they are straining out gnats but swallowing camels, maximizing the minimum but minimizing the maximum. Note that in the first passage above they are actually planning to kill Jesus for healing on the Sabbath!

Perhaps my all-time favorite illustration of this awful human tendency is in the Gospel of John:

Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out … (John 18:28-29).

They are plotting to kill a just and innocent man; indeed, they are plotting to kill God. They are acting out of wickedness, envy, jealousy, hatred, and murderous anger, but their primary concern is avoiding ritual uncleanliness! Yes, they are straining out gnats but swallowing camels.

We who are pious and observant need to be wary of this tendency. Sometimes in congratulating ourselves over adherence in lesser matters, we can either offend or neglect in weightier ones. Perhaps I attend Mass each Sunday (a grave obligation); perhaps I pray the rosary (a highly commendable practice); perhaps I tithe (a commendable precept). These are all things that ought to be done (one is commanded, one is commended, and one is a precept). But what if at the same time I am hateful toward someone at the office, unforgiving to a family member, and/or insensitive to the poor?

The danger could be that I let my observance of certain things allow me to think that I can “check off the God box” and figure that because I went to Mass, prayed the rosary, and gave an offering, I’ve “got this righteousness thing down.” Too often, very significant and serious things like love, mercy, forgiveness, and charity are set aside or neglected as I am busy congratulating myself over my adherence to other, sometimes lesser, things.

This oversight can happen in the other direction as well. Someone may congratulate himself for spending the day working in a soup kitchen, and think that he therefore has no need to look at the fact that he is living unchastely (shacked up, for example) or not attending Mass.

We cannot “buy God off,” doing certain things (usually things that we like) while ignoring others we’d rather not. In the end, the whole counsel of God is important.

We must avoid the sinful tendency to try to substitute or swap, to observe a few things while overlooking others.

We see a lot of examples of this in our culture as well. We obsess over people smoking because it might be bad for their health while ignoring the health consequences of promiscuous behavior, which spreads AIDS and countless venereal diseases and leads to abortion. We campaign to save the baby seals while over a thousand baby humans are killed each day in the United States. We deplore (rightfully) the death of thousands each year in gun homicides while calling the murder of hundreds of thousands of babies each year a constitutional right. The school nurse is required to obtain parental permission to dispense aspirin to students but not to provide the dangerous abortifacient “morning after pill.” We talk about the dignity of women and yet pornography flourishes. We fret endlessly about our weight and the physical appearance of our bodies, which will die, and care little for our souls, which will live. We obsess over carbon footprints while flying on jets to global warming conferences at luxurious convention center complexes.

Yes, we are straining gnats but swallowing camels. As the Lord says, we ought not to neglect smaller things wholly, but simply observing lesser things doesn’t give us the right to ignore greater ones.

Salus animarum suprema lex. (The salvation of souls is the highest law.) While little things mean a lot, we must always remember not to allow them to eclipse greater things.

The ideal for which to aim is an integrated state in which the lesser serves the greater and is subsumed into it. St. Augustine rightly observed,

Quod Minimum, minimum est, Sed in minimo fidelem esse, magnum est (St. Augustine – De Doctrina Christiana, IV,35).

(What is a little thing, is (just) a little thing, but to be faithful in a little thing is a great thing.)

Notice that the lesser things are in service of the greater thing—in this case fidelity. And thus we should rightly ask whether some of the lesser things we do are really in service of the greater things like justice, love, mercy, fidelity, kindness, and generosity. Otherwise we run the risk of straining out gnats but swallowing camels.

Enjoy this commercial, which illustrates how one rule (no loud voices in the library) is observed while violating nearly every other.

A Picture of Brotherly Love in a Commercial

There’s something interesting about the love between brothers and the way in which they show it. There’s a combination of competitiveness and deep love: “I get to hassle you, but no one else had better do that!”

In the video below, although the older boy continually reminds his younger brother who’s in charge, there’s actually some underlying respect in his actions. It’s as if he’s saying, “I know you can take it. I’m just trying to prepare you for life. There’s always going to be someone bigger and stronger than you are, so stay humble!”

When someone else torments the younger boy, however, the older brother steps in. Without uttering a word, he conveys this message: “I’ve always got your back.”

At times, Jesus was pretty tough on His Apostles, but I suspect the situation wasn’t so far removed from what this video shows. Jesus was saying, “I’m getting you ready for something that you can’t handle right now. And remember, I’ve always got your back” (see John 16:12 and Mat 28:20).

Enjoy the video.

Spiritual Readiness, As Seen in a Humorous Commercial

The commercial below is a great illustration of how we often focus on lesser things in order to avoid considering the more important ones. For every one of us, both the day of our death and the day of our judgment are already set.

Although these two realities are the most certain things in our life, many of us seem to think about or prepare for them less than for just about anything else. Never mind death or judgment; I have to go shopping, or prepare for a meeting, or watch my favorite TV show. Not all these other things are frivolous; many are significant, such as earning a college degree, or getting married.

But whether frivolous or important, they are all secondary and uncertain. Death is certain; it is the one “graduation” we absolutely must prepare for. The world, the flesh, and the devil have a thousand others things with which to distract us, divert us, and throw us off track.

We succumb to these distractions too easily, often maximizing the minimum while minimizing the maximum. Perhaps we do so in order to be anesthetized; perhaps it is that we just prefer short-term, immediately available joys to long-term, future ones.

Enjoy the humor in this commercial, but don’t miss its hidden message. No distraction or earthly focus can change the fact that we are moving toward a moment that is critical to our destiny. Death and judgment do not go away simply because we are laughing now or enjoying a moment of earthly repose. Jesus warns,

Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. … But if a servant says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming,” and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful (Luke 12:35-46).

Love Finds a Way – As Seen in a Commercial

1230-blogOne of the more poorly translated (into English) verses of the Bible is this one: If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). This gives the impression that the commandments are an imposition on us and that we prove our love for the Lord by keeping them through our own human effort. The verse thus translated could be interpreted to mean this: “If you really love me, prove it by keeping my commandments.”

But the verb translated here as the imperative “keep” is not an imperative in the Greek text. The Greek word used is τηρήσετε (tērēsete), a future active indicative verb form, better translated as “you will keep.” A more literal translation of the verse would be this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

This changes the tone of the verse and helps to show that the keeping of the commandments is the fruit of love rather than evidence that we are proving our love through human effort. In effect, the verse can mean this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments with a joy and enthusiasm because lovers like to please their beloved.”

Love can take a difficult task and make it joyful for us because we know that our beloved is pleased. We are happy to please people whom we love.

This commercial shows the draw of love even when the task is difficult. Love empowers us to overcome obstacles to be with our beloved. Are we this way with prayer, or getting to Mass, or keeping the commandments? There may be times when we are reasonably hindered from such things, but overall, do we resist distractions and difficulties or do we just give up? Do lovers give up easily or does love find a way?

Who Is My Neighbor? Answered by a Touching Christmas Commercial

dec16-blogIn 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.

Enjoy the commercial!