If You Know The End Of The Story, There’s A Lot You Can Disregard – As Seen On TV

Usually we don’t like to know the end of the story. When someone blurts out the ending it’s called a “spoiler.” What fun is it to read a whodunit when you already know who done it?

When it comes to the faith, though, not only should we know the end of the story, but we must never forget it and must base our very lives upon it. As we look about the world, it is easy to get discouraged and think that evil is winning. Yet Scripture plainly states that Satan’s plans are going nowhere, that Jesus has already won the victory. Mysteriously, the Lord allows Satan a little time to sift through the ruins of his former kingdom. Do not be deceived—Satan has lost and so have all who are allied with him.

Some lines from Psalms come to mind:

Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more; look for them and they will not be there. But the poor will inherit the earth, will delight in great prosperity. But my Lord laughs at the wicked, because he sees that their day is coming. Wait eagerly for the LORD, and keep his way; He will raise you up to inherit the earth; you will see when the wicked are cut off. I have seen a ruthless scoundrel, spreading out like a green cedar. When I passed by again, he was gone; though I searched, he could not be found. mark the upright; Because there is a future for a man of peace. Sinners will be destroyed together; the future of the wicked will be cut off (Psalm 37).

Spoiler alert! Yes, dear brethren, I checked. I went to the end of the story and, sure enough, Jesus wins! There it is, right at the end of the Bible. This is a spoiler you need to know, because you have to choose which team you’ll be on and it’s nice to know ahead of time whose team has already won. It’s like going to today’s horserace armed with tomorrow’s newspaper. You’d be a fool to bet on any horse other than the winning one. Well, you have tomorrow’s paper, and here’s what it says:

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. They invaded the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city. But fire came down from heaven and consumed them. The Devil who had led them astray was thrown into the pool of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death.) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire (Rev 20:7–15).

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.” The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.” He said to me, “They are accomplished. I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water. The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:1–8).

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, and the Lord, the God of prophetic spirits, sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon.” “Behold, I am coming soon.” Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic message of this book. … The one who gives this testimony says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all (Rev 22:6–7; 20-21).

Keep this in mind; keep it always on your mind. The result of this victory is obtained in the paradox of the cross. Jesus destroyed death by dying and tells us that to save our life we must lose it to this world. Whatever your struggles and setbacks, do not be dismayed. Love and humility have already overcome hatred and pride. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Pride cannot drive out pride; only humility can do that. The Lord allows opportunities for the light of truth to shine in the error of darkness, for love to endure in the face of hatred, and for humility to put pride to shame.

Until the last day when the trumpet shall sound, the drama carries on. But see what the end shall be. You already know the end of the story; make sure that you serve in the Lord’s army and wield the weapons of light, love, and humility.

I know this video is going to seem strange after such a serious reflection, but what could be more humble than a pig “spoiling” the movie for the entering patrons? If you listen to his advice, though, he’s basically saying what I just did: “Don’t waste your time on losers. Don’t waste your time going down a path of wrong ideas or theories. Don’t get all worked up about characters and things that don’t matter—here’s what’s really going on in the movie.”

It’s not bad advice for life, either. If you know the end of the story, there’s a lot you can disregard along the way. You’ll know where to set your focus. Keep your eyes on Jesus and the truth of His Gospel.

Our Interconnectedness as seen in a Commercial

interconnectedness

interconnectednessThe commercial below reminds us that the products we use don’t just come out of nowhere. Good goes around and around. The Cheerios in the cereal box started out as seeds in the ground, but the commercial stops well short of showing everyone we should thank for the final product.

• Before sowing the seed, the ground has to be tilled and prepared.

o Thank you to the farmers as well as those who invented, designed, and build the plows.
o Thanks to the steel workers and miners, who contribute the raw materials to build the machines that till.
o Thanks to the petroleum and refinery workers who supply the fuel for the machines to till the earth.

• Once the seed is planted, water, fertilizer, and pesticides need to be supplied in order to ensure a rich harvest.

o Thanks again to the farmers, who rise early in the morning in all kinds of weather to do this work.
o Thanks to those who invented and supply the fertilizer and pesticides.

• Once the crops are ready, they must be harvested and sent to the mill.

o Thanks to those who do the hard work of harvesting.
o Thanks to the truckers and rail workers, who are responsible for conveying the material to the mills.
o Thanks to those who designed, built, and maintain the roads, rails, trucks, and rail cars.

• Once at the mill, the raw material must be processed.

o Thanks to all who work in the mills.
o Thanks to those who invented the machines and processes.
o Thanks to those who supply the steel and the parts for the machines.
o Thanks to those who repair and maintain the machinery.

• Once out of the mill, it’s over more roads and rails to the warehouses and then finally the stores.

o Thanks to all who built the warehouses and stores.
o Thanks to those who carefully monitor inventory so that we consumers are seldom faced with empty shelves.
o Thanks to those who risked their money to build the warehouses and stores.
o Thanks to the bankers, investors, and the people whose deposited money serves to make cash available for the costs for such operations.
o Thanks to the store employees, who stock the shelves and ensure that the products we need are at hand.

This is only a brief list, but never forget that a huge number of people stand behind every box of cereal, behind every other product you buy. Do you see how interconnected we are?

Are you grateful to God, who sustains all of this and from whom every good and perfect gift comes? Each of us should be!

What Is the Shortest Distance Between People?

blog-11-13It has been said that the shortest distance between two people is laughter. There is something strangely intimate about laughter. Indeed, it is an intimacy that can often break through many divisions. Upon hearing a joke, even enemies can laugh and share a moment of intimate and mutual joy, or at least mirth.

Watch this video and consider how complete strangers share a kind of intimacy through laughter, and how laughter is contagious. “I dare you to watch this and not feel a certain intimacy with the people in the video!”

On Blaming Others, as Seen in a Humorous Video

in the CourtroomWe live in a litigious culture, especially here in America, where we think of most things in terms of the law and legislation. If there is a problem, one of our first thoughts is to have lawmakers or judges craft a solution.

This is also true with assessing blame for things. Not long ago, perhaps fifty years or so, we were more accepting of the fact that accidents sometimes happen, and that they are the fallout of many factors, including the involvement of human beings in the situation. I use the word “fallout” deliberately, since the word “accident” comes from the Latin accidens, meaning “that which ‘falls alongside’ of something.” Many unfortunate events have complex origins, a kind of witch’s brew or perfect storm of factors that come together. For example, an accident at a processing plant might involve a combination of human error, improper maintenance, lax safety precautions, poor training, a sleepy employee, a rush order, etc. It is almost never just one thing.

In the absence of malice or extreme negligence, we were once more willing to admit that sometimes accidents just happen and that we should concentrate on improving the situation. Today the more frequent response is to look for someone (hopefully someone with deep pockets) to blame so that lawsuits can be brought.

Further, there was more acceptance of so-called “acts of God” such as storms and earthquakes. These, too, were things we chalked up to unfortunate circumstances, which we all had to expect and factor in. For example, if it snowed everyone was expected to use caution by walking more carefully, discerning whether work or other activities should be cancelled, and generally factoring in the presence of snow and ice. Today, however, if someone slips and falls on my sidewalk it is assumed to be my fault for not shoveling it well enough. Even if I made some effort to clear it, if I didn’t achieve a perfect surface I might be sued.

I remember one bitter cold morning when an angry parishioner pointed to ice in the parking lot and said, “Look at your parking lot; it’s covered with ice!” I responded to her with some mirth, “I swear I didn’t do it!” She smiled, realizing that we all too often look for someone to blame. Sometimes ice just can’t reasonably be removed in time or even at all. So we all need to adjust and proceed with caution.

Today we frequently look for someone to blame; we expect comfort and a sort of perfection without any difficulties or dangers. Life is a little more complex than that.

In this post, I do not propose to find the definitive answer as to what should be punished/fined and what should be chalked up to unfortunate circumstances. This is more of a light-hearted reflection that occurred to me as I watched this video, which I hope you will enjoy.

An Image of Grace in a Paul Simon Song

gospel musicI’ve got my Gospel glasses on and my holy hearing aids in; I’m seeing and hearing God in strange places. There are several Paul Simon songs that bring holy thoughts to me, even if he didn’t mean them that way. One them is this one (followed by my commentary):

When I was a little boy,
and the devil would call my name
I’d say, “Now who do … who do you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consecrated boy

Singer in a Sunday choir

Refrain: Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Oh, she loves me like a rock
She rock me like the rock of ages
And she loves me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

When I was grown to be a man
and the devil would call my name
I’d say, “Now who do … who you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consummated man
I can snatch a little purity

Refrain: My mama loves me, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Oh, she loves me like a rock
She rock me like the rock of ages
And loves me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

And if I was President
and the congress call my name
I’d say, “Now who do … who you think you’re fooling?”

I’ve got the presidential seal
I’m up on the presidential podium

Refrain: My mama loves me, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
And she loves me like a rock
She rock me like the rock of ages
And love me
She love me, love me, love me, love me
She love me, love me, love me, love me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

Here’s my commentary, wearing my Gospel glasses and with my holy hearing aids in:

When I was a little boy, and the devil would call my name. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, with fallen natures. And even the youngest find that these thrice-fallen forces reach them. Scriptures are clear in saying that the devil is prowling through the world like a roaring lion seeking souls to devour. We are to resist him, solid in our faith (cf 1 Peter 5:8).

I’d say, “Now who do … who you think you’re fooling?” There is a power within the soul to refuse Satan’s voice. Where does this power come from? It comes first from our freedom, from our will. It also comes from the voice of our conscience, the voice of God that echoes in the depths of our soul saying, This is the way walk in it (Is 30:21). Even the youngest children know basic right and wrong. It is not hard to appeal to them to understand what they’ve done wrong. But because of the weakness of our human nature, our inclination to selfishness, and our tendency to justify sin, we need additional help.

I’m a consecrated boy; singer in a Sunday choir. This describes a young man who has been consecrated in Baptism and is walking within the life and sacraments of the Church. The Sacrament of Baptism and the life of the Church give us additional insight to understand that the voice of the devil is seeking to deceive us. But human soul and intellect—illumined by the consecration of Baptism, the other sacraments of the Church, and strengthened by the fellowship of the Church —further strengthen us to be able to say to the devil,

“Who do you think you’re you fooling? I’ve been consecrated and I’m living my life in the light of God’s truth as expressed in the Church. I see your darkness for what it is and I’m not fooled. It is error; it is deception. It is darkness, not the light! I am no fool because, consecrated in baptism, the wisdom of God has reached me.”

Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me. She get down on her knees and hug me, oh she loves me like a rock. She rocks me like the rock of ages, and loves me. She loves me, loves me, loves me, loves me. And this “mama” is Mother Church, who loves us as a mother. She is our mother because we have come forth from her womb, the baptismal font, having been conceived by the chaste union with her beloved spouse, Jesus.

She is Mother Church, Christ’s bride, and oh, how she loves us! Down on her knees in prayer for us, she reaches out and embraces us. Yes, she loves us!

It will be noted, that the word “love” occurs seven times in the song’s refrain. Mother Church loves us sevenfold. Is it the seven sacraments? Is it the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? Is it the seven corporal works of mercy? Is it the seven spiritual works of mercy? Yes, and more besides! It is love in all its perfection.

And in her sevenfold, prayerful love that embraces us, she loves us like a rock. This is the rock of Peter upon whom Christ, the rock of ages, builds His Church.

When I was grown to be a man – All of us are called to the maturity of Christ.

  • We [must] all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. So may we no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of erroneous doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:13-14).
  • Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults (1 Cor 14:20).

Our Mother Church raises us to be mature in the fullness of Christ’s truth.

And the devil would call my name – Still the devil calls. He does not give up, hence we must remain ever-vigilant. So the song still says, “… who do you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consummated man. Yes, we are called to full maturity in Christ, as stated above.

I can snatch a little purity. The strength to resist the devil comes from the maturity and purity that come to us in our walk with Christ and by the ministry of His Bride and our Mother, the Church. The purity and maturity of our faith help us to see even more deeply how the devil tries to fool us. Then we can reject him in strength, and with certainty and clarity.

Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me. Yes, she does! The Church just keeps on loving us. Sadly, many walk away from the Church in young adulthood. For those who come to maturity in Christ, the ever-stronger devil requires an even stronger capacity on our part to say, “Who do you think you’re fooling?” This comes through our maturity, wrought in us by our Mother, the Church. She raises us up in the faith to be strong and mature, teaches us the Word of God, bestows His sacraments, and gives us Holy Teaching. Thank you, Mother Church, for loving me like a rock!

The last verse gets a little strange and must be interpreted allegorically, not politically.

And if I was President – In other words, even if I should rise to the highest worldly power, even should I become a great leader.

And the congress call my name – While to modern American ears this refers to the people gathered in Washington, D.C. (the U.S. Congress), the word “congress” itself comes from two Latin roots: con (with) and gradi (go or walk). “Congress” means “coming or being together with,” or more literally, “going with.”

Scripture often warns of those who gather against us, telling us that they are often gathered by Satan himself. Jesus warns of the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 3:9; 2:9). “Synagogue” is just the Hebrew word that means gathering or “congress.”  The Book of Psalms also warns of those who gather against us:

Rise up Lord against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples (Synagogus) gather around you, while you sit enthroned over them on high. Let the Lord judge these people (Psalm 7:7-8).

The devil often calls our name through pressure groups, through our desire to be popular, or through those who are together against us tempting us to do wrong. And thus this verse reminds me that even should I rise to the highest places, with many gathered about me pressuring me to do wrong or trying to intimidate me, yet still will I say to the devil, “Who do you think you’re fooling?”

I got the presidential seal. In other words, I have the highest seal, the seal of the Holy Spirit!

I’m up on the presidential podium. That is, I have the highest office, the office of prophet. I am one who speaks for God by this office! And despite the hatred of the world that comes to me from proclaiming God’s Word, and despite the gathering of my enemies all around me, yet still will I proclaim God’s Word as God’s prophet!

And through whatever hatred comes from those who gather against me, my mama loves me, she loves me like a rock. Yes, I have the love of my Mother, the Church, and my Lord, Jesus Christ, who is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.

You may say, “Well, this is all a bit much. And your interpretation is surely far from what the lyricist probably ever intended.” That’s fair enough, but with my Gospel glasses on, I see Christ everywhere. With my holy hearing aids in, I hear Jesus all the time.

 

Let’s Pretend We Know What We’re Talking About – As Seen in a Commercial

blog10-23In life we don’t always have answers. There are just times when the best answer is, “I don’t know.” This is especially the case with the deeper mysteries of life such as the problem of evil, the “why” of suffering, and the reason why things sometimes don’t make sense.

As a younger priest I felt a lot of pressure to “have the answers” when tragedies occurred or when people experienced persistent setbacks in their lives. In more recent years I’ve learned to say less and to be more willing to sit quietly with people in their pain. To be sure, we have some answers, but explanations are poor substitutes for understanding and acceptance. Whatever explanations I can offer still leave even more things unexplained.

In life we sometimes must make decisions even though we don’t have all the information we’d like. Sometimes we simply have to guess at what’s best. At other times we have information and lots of (often-conflicting) advice, yet still remain uncertain as to what to do. We have to decide to trust God, remaining humbly open to His providence.

All of this is hard for us, especially these days, because we’ve cultivated such a high sense of being in control. But control, in anything but a limited sense, is an illusion. While you may have plans for tomorrow, tomorrow isn’t promised; you’re not even guaranteed the next beat of your heart. Your control of little things is based on myriad other things you can’t control.

Enjoy the video below, which humorously reminds us that we aren’t always certain what the best answer is even when the whole world is waiting for us to decide. Sometimes the best we can do is to decide and then accept the consequences of that decision. Hypocrisy—in this case pretending that the decision is all wise and fully informed—has a way of bringing scorn upon us that is far worse that what simple humility offers. Sometimes it’s OK to say, “I’m not sure,” or to accept that our decisions may be flawed.

Divine revelation is certain, but human decisions are flawed and uncertain.

To the Weak I Became Weak – As Seen in a Powerful Commercial

blog10-16-2015The video at the bottom of this post is a heartwarming one with a surprise ending. I see in it an illustration of something St. Paul wrote of the essentially sacrificial nature of evangelization:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Cor 9:19-23).

To be clear, what St. Paul says here must be understood as solidarity and brotherhood, not compromise with sin or evil. At every level, St. Paul is willing to set aside anything in the moment that hinders the preaching of the truth of the Gospel. Every pretense, every honor, every distinction, every preference that interferes with the message of the Gospel message is forsaken where necessary. There is described here a great willingness for kenosis (emptying oneself).

And of course St. Paul is imitating Jesus, who,

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

Yes, it is remarkable that Jesus, though sinless, was not ashamed to be identified with sinners. And thus He took baptism at the Jordan. He associated with sinners and ate with them. He underwent the most humiliating punishment meted out to the worst of sinners. Yes, He was crucified, and between two thieves! Everyone walking by that Friday would have said, “Look at that sinner!” (which He was not). To us sinners, Jesus was willing to be seen as a sinner (though He was not), in order to save sinners. And He was assigned a grave with the wicked (Is 53:9).

There is an old saying that Jesus didn’t come only to get us out of trouble; He got into trouble with us. Yes, He endured every blow this world and Hell itself could give. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody but Jesus.

Surely he endured our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Yes, He got into trouble with us and joined us in order to save us:

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers He says, “I will declare your name to my brethren…” (Heb 2:9-11)

All these Scriptures ran through my mind as I watched this commercial. To be clear, there is no sin in paralysis. But here let it be a metaphor for our weakness, which the Lord took up, and for our sin, that though sinless, the Lord was willing to be identified with. And what of us? Can we be like St. Paul and imitate Christ in this matter?

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

blog10-9I’ve been enjoying the Geico “It’s what you do” commercials (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 God’s loves us: 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 we deserve it; He loves because he is love.

Enjoy these “It’s what you do” commercials. They illustrate an old truth, agere sequitur esse (action follows being; what one does follows from what one is).