Sometimes when you’re having a bad day, troubles multiply; I’m not sure why. Perhaps one distraction leads to another, one trip leads to successive stumbles, until we fall headlong. It’s said that trouble comes in threes, but sometimes they come in even longer sequences. The poor soul in the video below is having one of those really bad days. Some of the following psalms came to mind as I watched this painfully humorous video:
The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses O Lord. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles. (Psalm 25:17-22)
Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord; may your love and faithfulness always protect me. For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Be pleased to save me, Lord; come quickly, Lord, to help me. (Psalm 40:11-13)
Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more. (Psalm 71:20-21)
I wonder if he could have avoided all of his troubles if he’d been at Mass on this Sunday morning instead of at home cooking breakfast. 😉
The video below is from a recent series of KFC commercials featuring the iconic Colonel Sanders as Colonel RoboCop. The commercial humorously demonstrates how a countdown or deadline can motivate people. As a writer, I frequently face deadlines and I know they certainly spur me get things done! With April 15th looming, most in the U.S. are increasingly motivated (if that’s the right word in this instance) to get their taxes finished.
However, all of these are earthly deadlines. Sadly, one of the most fundamental deadlines facing all of us is among the most ignored. It is a deadline in the most literal sense of the word: each of us will die one day. With few exceptions, the exact moment and manner of our death is unknown to us and outside our control.
What are we doing to get ready to meet God? Because we don’t know when we will die, it is easy to push it to the back of our mind—but it is an ever-present deadline, a possibility at every moment. Like a person with a life-threatening allergy who must always keep an emergency injection pen with him, each of us needs to stay in God’s grace at all times, for we know neither the day nor the hour (Mat 25:13).
In the commercial, the family is engrossed in a movie (featuring RoboCop, naturally). They ignore the intrusion by Colonel RoboCop until he begins counting down to zero. Don’t let this be a picture of your life with God, because you won’t get a countdown. Repent while it is still today; tomorrow is not promised.
The video below is an advertisement for the “depth control” feature in a smartphone camera. It enables the production of an image in which the essential part is emphasized by blurring the background.
We must learn to exhibit similar “depth control” in our own life. Indeed, much goes on in the background or far away. Life has many complexities; we need to decide where we should focus our attention, time, and energy. This is especially important in this age of non-stop communication and constant interruption. The 24/7 news features many stories about far away places or issues over which we have little control. We need to practice depth control by understanding what is ours and focusing on what we can personally do.
There may be a lot of foolishness in government or out in Hollywood, but I personally can’t do much about it. I can, however, work on my own life and speak the truth to people I know and love. I may not be able to fix politicians or celebrities, but I can work on fixing myself and helping those closest to me to do the same.
Simply shaking our heads and saying that the world is awful is not a solution. Depth control comes with knowing what part of the awful world has been assigned to me and my influence. We must focus there and leave the rest to God and those to whom he assigns pieces of it.
People oversimplify Original Sin in various ways. Some reduce it to the mere eating of a piece of fruit rather than the act of disobedience, mistrust, and ingratitude it really was.
Others miss the subtle but important difference in the descriptions of Adam’s sin compared to Eve’s. Of Eve’s sin, Eve herself is a witness. She said, The serpent tricked me and so I ate it (Gen 3:13). But of Adam’s sin God said, Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it …’ (Gen 3:17). Eve’s sin lay in her allowing Satan to deceive her. Adam’s sin lay in his willingness to allow his wife to tempt him.
A final misconstruing of Original Sin is to label it “the Sin of Adam and Eve.” But Scripture calls it “The Sin of Adam.” For while both our first parents sinned, Original Sin comes to us from Adam who, as head of the first family and primogenitor of us all, conveyed it to us.
As is typical for my Saturday blog, today’s post is a lighthearted one in which I find something of the Scriptures in a video. Now some object to my taking biblical stories (especially one as dark as the story of Original Sin) and making light of them. But my prudential judgment on such things is that they are acceptable and that sometimes we can best process sad and serious things through humor and playful reimagining.
In the video below we see a playful “what if” scenario. In effect it poses these questions: What if Adam, when presented the forbidden fruit by his wife, found it less enticing than what God offered? What if there had been something to remind him of God’s greater offer?
Of course there was something greater and it was all around him! It was called paradise. Now the writers of this commercial want us to think that if only Adam had had Doritos at hand he would clearly have preferred them to the forbidden fruit. In other words, they present their product a metaphor for paradise. Nice try, and very creative I might add! But God offers even more than Doritos.
In the end, though, the insight is important. Like Adam, we are tempted to forget the blessings of God and become mesmerized by some lesser pleasure (represented by the forbidden fruit). The key is to remember the greater gift of God and His Kingdom, not choosing anything that might interfere with that. Remember the gifts of God!
Enjoy the video and remember that far greater visions await you if you are faithful!
(And by the way, thank you, Frito-Lay, for the affirmation of human life displayed in your recent Doritos commercial (that aired during the Super Bowl)! I am not focusing on that commercial here today because many others have already commented on it quite well.)
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.
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,
[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).
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).
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)
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.
There is an old saying that sometimes “less is more.” In other words, at some point excess becomes burdensome and pointless.
In the commercial below, the upgrades to mowing equipment begin as helpful, but end as silly and even dangerous. Meanwhile, the poor wife struggles with an “upgraded” watering can that is downright burdensome.
One of the secrets of life is learning to enjoy things in moderation. A glass of wine brings joy; a full bottle brings inebriation and a hangover. A nice dinner is satisfying, but too much food brings obesity and even disease.
What in your life has become excessive? Where have you come to realize that less is in fact more?
The commercial below illustrates an important principle about side effects. When faced with a problem, we often wish for an easy cure, one without any personal costs or side effects. However, in general, the bigger the problem, the more drastic the cure and the larger the side effects.
In my experiences with deliverance ministry and pastoral counseling, I have found that many people are desperate for a solution. They are hoping without hope that a few prayers will drive away the demons or problems and everything will be fine again.
Most people want relief, not healing — but healing is hard work and true deliverance often requires making significant changes. Some of the uncomfortable “side effects” can be having to confront past sins and traumas. Relief is cheap but often temporary. Healing is costly, but it brings about more lasting effects.
Enjoy this zany commercial. I got a particular kick out of the ending, when the pets reap a bountiful harvest as a side effect of the family’s unusual stress reduction technique.