On Honesty and Sincerity, As Seen in a Commercial

021315The word honesty comes from the Latin honestas meaning an honor received from others, a kind of “standing in honor” before others (honor + stas (to stand)). It’s interesting that most people are willing to be a little phony in order to get vague appreciation or to be thought well of. (The whole cosmetics industry is based on this.) But when one is actually “honored” in a formal way by others, there is an elevated sense that we need to truthfully deserve the honor. And thus honor calls forth honesty.

A similar concept is sincerity. The word sincerity comes from the Latin as well: sine (without) + cera (wax). It seems that sculptors in the ancient world often used a hard, resin-like wax to hide their errors. But every now and then there was the perfect carving, with no wax needed, nothing phony about it, no cover-ups.

I thought about these words as I saw this commercial. In the ad, the “honor” of engagement draws forth honesty and sincerity. The honesty of one person brings forth the honesty of the other and they both end up more relaxed.

A Glimpse of Our True Enemy, As Seen in a Commercial

St michael archangel iconThe commercial below is a good illustration of a description of reality supplied by St. Paul.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the higher realms (Ephesians 6:10-12).

As the video opens we see a man and woman approaching each other, each surrounded by cartoonlike demons. I call them demons because although they appear to be “cute” they are nothing of the sort. Like the biblical “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” they are influencing the two humans in the video in a hidden but very real way. Demons surely do this to all of us, tempting us to sin and seeking to influence our thoughts and actions. The two people in the commercial seem oblivious to the presence of these creatures, just as we are often unaware of the demons who seek to influence us.

When they meet, the man and woman confront each other with hostility. St. Paul would remind us that they ought to set aside their petty “turf war” and realize that they are being manipulated by dark forces from higher realms.

But they do not do so; much as we often do, they begin to fight.

In a moment of revelation, though, they both see their common enemy and join forces against him. There’s an old saying, “Warring brothers reconcile when there is a maniac at the door.”

As St. Paul says, our battle is not so much against one another, but against powers and dark forces from higher realms. Would that we could all see this more clearly.

Scripture is a prophetic declaration of reality; it tells us what is really happening. Enjoy this brief depiction of an archetypal biblical teaching. Even if the commercial’s creators did not intend to convey this understanding, the eyes of faith can see it.

Better or Bitter? How Have We Left Our Children?

question markThe message delivered in the commercial below is puzzling at first. In each case, the young boy on the left appears to be handing something “better” to the young girl on the right. But then you realize that it is actually a father handing something “better” to his daughter than he had as a child: the shabby leather basketball becomes a shiny synthetic one, the clunky old joystick becomes the multifunctional video game controller, etc.

It has been a common American aspiration to want to hand on something better to the next generation. And although it’s not an evil notion by any means, it tends to be overly materialistic. Most parents want to provide their children with more money, bigger homes, and more creature comforts than they had.

But I really wonder if today’s typical 3,000 square foot home is really better than the 1,200 square foot one I grew up in. Are granite countertops really better than the laminate ones I knew? Is being constantly available through cell phones really better than relying on the hit-or-miss nature of using phones attached to the wall in nearly every home when I was growing up? I don’t know, you decide. My opinion is that the “bigger, richer, more options” world of today has diminishing returns.

On a deeper level, do our children really fare better in a world of unrestricted abortion, rampant divorce, sexual confusion, and the diseases and dysfunctions that accompany them? Have smaller families, euthanasia, political correctness, and moral relativism really improved things? Is the world we Baby Boomers are handing on really better or is it just more technologically advanced? What good are bigger homes when they are empty? What good are granite countertops when families don’t gather to eat dinner together anymore? What good is the Internet when it often pipes in error, pornography, and false values?

What if the commercial instead depicted a father handing on a deeper relationship with God than he had? What if it showed him handing on a clearer sense of moral and theological truth than he knew? Well, I guess that wouldn’t sell chicken, would it?

There’s nothing wrong with chicken nuggets; they do taste great. But the better world we hope to hand on to our children cannot be reduced to material things. Deeper values have been lost and we Baby Boomers allowed them to be pitched overboard on our watch. Bigger houses and more trinkets aren’t what our children need; what they need is a better world. As a Baby Boomer myself, I can say that unfortunately we are passing on to them a real mess instead.

Allow this commercial to make you think, especially if you are a Baby Boomer.

Love, It’s What God Does – As Seen in a Commercial

Blog-07-29I enjoy the GEICO “It’s what you do” commercials (which I manage to see in the less than one hour of television I watch each day). They remind me of a sort of syllogism I’ve used to explain why Gods loves us: God loves us because God is love. When love is what you are, love is what you do. Therefore, God loves.

Why does God love us? Because God is love and that is what love does: it loves.

God does not love us because we are good or because we deserve it; He loves because He is love.

Enjoy this “It’s what you do” commercial. It illustrates the old maxim agere sequitur esse (action follows being). In other words, what one does follows from what one is.

Not All Things Are as They First Appear, As Seen in a Commercial

Blog-07-22In the video below, things are not as they initially appear. Our eyes are easily deceived. Further, we tend to make rash judgments. Enjoy being fooled for a moment and then consider the need for deliberation and a patient spirit until all or most of the facts are in.

Here are some appropriate references from Scripture:

  1. Call no one blessed before his death, for by his end shall a man be known (Sir 11:28).
  2. Remember, the sins of some men are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later (1 Tim 5:24).
  3. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now (2 Cor 5:16).

Enjoy the video!

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

Blog-07-14Today’s Gospel (Mat 12:1-8), in which Jesus is rebuked for violating the Sabbath, reminded me of the video below. It illustrates how we sometimes follow smaller rules while overlooking bigger 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.

Overlooking the Obvious, As Seen in a Commercial

In the humorous commercial below the police investigator cannot seem to draw the obvious conclusion even when the evidence is literally sitting right in front of him. He just dismisses the evidence a priori; it cannot be so since he has decided ahead of time that any such conclusion would be impossible.

Although the commercial is funny, it highlights the common tendency today to make conclusions without evidence or to exclude evidence based on preconceived notions, which is far from humorous.

For example, despite mounting evidence that abortion kills a living human being, many will simply ignore the evidence and declare the unborn child to be a non-person or a mere clump of cells. No amount of pictorial or medical evidence will even be considered.

Another example is the refusal to accept the possibility that Hell is a reality for some, or as Jesus says, “many” (see Matt 7:13). No amount of scriptural evidence (and there are quite a few passages that can be cited) will convince them. In the words of the commercial, God is “the nicest guy.” He wouldn’t do such a thing!

There are many, many other examples. To some degree, we are all guilty of overlooking the evidence right in front of us and instead insisting on our preconceived ideas and opinions. Enjoy the commercial, but takes some time to ponder this human tendency.