Our Strengths Are Often Our Struggles

One of the things that I have learned about myself, and humans in general, is that our strengths are very closely related to our struggles. Some people are very passionate; this makes them dedicated and driven to make a difference. But it also makes them prone to anger or depression. Their passion in one area (e.g., truth, justice) can cause difficulties with passions in other areas such as sexuality, food, or drink. Passionate people can inspire others and are often great leaders. But they also run the risk of crashing and burning, whether emotionally or morally.

At the other end of the spectrum, consider those who are very relaxed and steady emotionally. They are thoughtful, thinking and acting deliberately. They are calm under pressure, not easily excited. They make good diplomats; they are the sort to bring conflicting parties together. But such people may often struggle to maintain integrity. Sometimes they make too many compromises and forget that there are things that are worth being angry about, worth fighting for. If a person never gets worked up, it could be because he doesn’t care enough about important issues. There’s a saying that the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.

This is part of what makes human beings complex and fascinating. There is a certain tipping point at which a virtue becomes a vice either by excess or defect. St. Thomas Aquinas said, In medio stat virtus (Virtue stands in the middle).

And thus in our example here of the passion of anger, the virtue to be sought is meekness. Aristotle defined meekness as the proper middle ground between too much anger and not enough.

The unusual commercial below shows an example of underwhelming joy. It is humorously portrayed in a perfectly deadpan way. But like anger, joy indicates a zeal for what is good, true, and beautiful (even if the subject is just shoes). It is certainly a virtue to be emotionally balanced, avoiding silliness and frivolity. But the strength of a stable and balanced personality can too easily become indifference about things that are important and should bring joy.

Think of someone you love. I’ll bet the thing you like most about him or her is often the very thing that frustrates you the most. Now think about yourself. What are your strengths? Are they not in fact closely related to the areas in which you struggle the most?

Enjoy this humorous commercial. In his subdued joy, is he exhibiting admirable control or is his heart dull? Is this virtue (balance) or is it a defect?

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Our Strengths Are Often Our Struggles

The Two Worlds, as Seen in a Commercial

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).


Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Two Worlds, as Seen in a Commercial

Time to Upgrade

The world often tries to present itself as the latest and the greatest, but that’s only true on the surface—if at all. The Scriptures see the world as old and outdated, as passing away:

      • For this world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor 7:31).
      • The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17).
      • For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:18).

The tennis player in the commercial below is using an outdated racquet, and it hinders her game; it’s time for her to upgrade her equipment. This is true for each of us, too. The Lord says to each of us,

      • My friend, come up higher (Lk 14:10).
      • If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:1-2).

Upgrade your life. Rise above fleshly and passing things to spiritual and eternal ones. Step up to higher and better things. Accept the upgrade of grace, which will permit you to reach your full potential.

It’s time for an upgrade!


Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Time to Upgrade

Life Takes Softness and Strength, as Noted in a Commercial

The commercial below focuses on a mother and daughter as the youngster gets ready for the day. There is the mother’s soft presence and support during the morning routine, but there is also her strength, as she makes sure that her daughter is ready for school on time, remembers her backpack, and promises to call (for some unknown reason). Love is not merely about softness; it is also about demands.

I am grateful that Georgia-Pacific (the manufacturer of Angel Soft) has chosen to feature a young girl with Down syndrome in its advertisement. As we all too sadly know, the overwhelming majority of parents (67 percent to over 90 percent, depending on the study/estimate) whose unborn baby is diagnosed with Down syndrome choose to abort the child. This is tragic. Everyone deserves to live. Life takes softness, but it also takes strength. Parents who have children with special needs deserve the softness of our encouraging love and the strength of our supportive love.


Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Life Takes Softness and Strength, as Noted in a Commercial

On Finding the Proper Focus, as Seen in a Commercial

GEICO has a new commercial that, in addition to plugging their insurance, speaks to the importance of focus. Having the proper focus can change one’s outlook entirely.

In the commercial below, a youngster’s science fair project brings chaos. One of the parents at the fair barely notices, however, because he is focused on exciting news.

This is our goal: to remain astonished and joyful even in a world that is at times tumultuous and confusing. Astonished and joyful at what? The Good News that Christ has paid the price of our redemption, that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life, that the Word of the Lord remains forever.

Allow this perspective and focus to keep you serene and joyful even in the current chaotic mess of our society, the failed social experiment of a cultural revolution gone wrong.


Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: On Finding the Proper Focus, as Seen in a Commercial

An Image for the Church in a Car Commercial

The commercial below says this about the car it is advertising:

    • Three out of four people say this much horsepower is excessive.
    • Three out of four people are wrong.
    • If we were for everyone, we’d be for no one.

We can say something very similar about the Church:

    • Three out of four people say our teachings are excessive, unrealistic (or even impossible), and outdated.
    • Three out of four people are wrong.
    • If we sought to please everyone or agree with everyone, we’d be for no one.

The Church does not exist to reflect the views of her members, to please them, or to satisfy the world. Rather, the Church exists to reflect the teachings of her head and founder, Jesus Christ, and to please Him.

Would that we leaders of the Church were as plain-spoken, confident, and clear as is this commercial.


Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: An Image for the Church in a Car Commercial

What Not to Do, As Seen in a Commercial

I often post and comment on commercials that seem to hint at the gospel or some virtue, but today I focus on one that shows something wrong.

The commercial features a man who is a new father. Apparently, marriage and fatherhood have caused him to lose his “swagger.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines swagger as follows:

to conduct oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner; especially: to walk with an air of overbearing self-confidence [*]

The word also brings to my mind the life of some young, single men: drinking, partying, and generally irresponsible, boastful behavior. This, is course, is not something to be desired.

While youthful vigor may have its place, life is supposed to move in stages. Once a man is married, and surely once he is a father, youthful swagger is hardly appropriate. It is time to leave the single life behind and accept the calling to be a good husband and father.

As a priest I often help younger couples in making this transition. They cannot and should not go on living as they did when they were single. Marriage is a new reality. Nothing helps you to grow up the way getting married and having children do!

This is a good thing, though. Swagger usually bespeaks frivolity, phoniness, and immaturity. Our modern culture holds up youth as an ideal and seems to want to extend adolescence interminably.

In the commercial, the “friend” who comes to rescue his buddy from the world of marriage and fatherhood and get him back his swagger is not a friend at all; he is more of a tempter. There’s nothing wrong with feeling young, but maturing and accepting responsibilities is a good thing, not something from which to be rescued.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Not to Do, As Seen in a Commercial

Mercy Triumphs! (As Seen in a Commercial)

Below is an older Mercedes Benz commercial. In it, Satan promises a young man the pleasures of the world if he will just sign on the dotted line. Not only will he get a free Mercedes Benz but all the things supposedly go with it: beautiful women, fame, money, popularity, and excitement.

The man weighs paying the price of the Mercedes against entering into a partnership with the Devil and chooses the former. Do not miss the meaning of the names “Mercedes” (mercy) and “Benz” (brave). Mercy is worth more than anything else, no matter how fleetingly pleasurable; for the mercy of the Lord endures forever while the trinkets of the Devil are but for a time. In financial terms, you might say that mercy has positive leverage while the Devil’s payouts have diminishing returns. If the Devil gives you a payout, you’ll watch it diminish with each passing day, but God’s grace and mercy grow to yield an abundant harvest. There may be the cross and the deferral of pleasure, but just wait until you see the harvest! One must bravely (“benz”) reach out for mercy (“mercedes”).

In the commercial the man considers all of Satan’s trinkets compared to the glories of mercy and chooses mercy. He knows the cost but considers it acceptable if he can but have mercy for himself without the Devil as partner. How about you?

There is a final detail worth noting in the commercial: At the bottom of Satan’s proffered contract are a backward Chi Rho (the Greek abbreviation for “Christ”) and the Latin inscription Sigilla posuere magister diabolus et daemones (master seal of the devil and demons). The backward letters recall an image of the anti-Christ, and the Latin text more literally means “A seal to set the devil and demons (as) master.”

In the end, that is the choice. You will have the master you choose, and the Lord reminds us that we can choose only one:

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matt 6:24).

Whose coins are in your pocket? Whose seal is on them? The choice is yours. You are free to choose, but you are not free not to choose. You can have it all now, or bravely store it up for later:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:19-21).

Why not be Benz (brave) and choose Mercedes (mercy)?

In the end, Scripture is fulfilled for the young man: Resist the Devil and he will flee (James 4:2).

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Mercy Triumphs! (As Seen in a Commercial)