Power Gone Wrong – As seen in a Superhero Cartoon Clip

We tend to demonize the word “power” in our culture. But of itself, power is simply the capacity to act, a kind of energy to accomplish what must be done. Power in this sense can lead to magnificent and creative solutions to difficulties, wonderful breakthroughs and great progress.

God gives us all a certain degree of power to act. We have capacities, abilities, talents and charisms. And these powers, these capacities interact with our will and freedom. It is here that power can bring about great good or go terribly wrong.

Power gone wrong leads us to dominate and impose our self on others in a self-serving way. And power used in this way can lead to unimaginable human suffering and misery and the wars, conflicts, genocides, killing fields and high death tolls of the last century show. As many as 100 million people were put to death in that bloody century in the name of many secular ideologies, of ushering in secular “utopias” and the quest for raw and dominating power.

In the video below we see power gone wrong. A man comes to apply for the job of “superhero” and he is put through certain tests to discern if he has the temperament to handle power for good.

The first few tests seem to go well. But suddenly his use of power goes to his head and he gratuitously kills someone he is supposed to protect. Things go off the rails quickly and the result is utter destruction.

How did this happen? As already stated his power has gone to his head. He has forgotten that he has power for others, not for himself.

It frequently happens in history that those who stage revolutions for the “good of the people” or to end injustice, rise to power and then usher in their own reign of terror. Secular utopian notions of the last Century and their leaders while claiming to be “for the people” often created worse oppression and dictatorships than they claimed to replace. Iron curtains fell and a loss of freedom ensued, as killing on a mass scale was ushered in all “for the sake of the people.” Hitler killed millions, as did Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and others.

There is a subtlety to the video as to how the power goes to his head. For on the face of it his turn to darkness is quite sudden. But I would suggest it is not and that we could see it coming.

How? In the fact that our “hero” uses deadly violence to solve every problem presented in his test sequence. It is not enough for him to rescue the victim, he must destroy the threat. Finally a threat sees his prepared response and back down. He has won without destroying. But by now he has a lust to kill. He must get the kill! But the kill has evaded him by retreat. Thus he turns his lust for power, his lust for the kill on the one he is supposed to protect. From there it is all downhill. No one will limit his power, tell him what to do or keep his blood lust in check. Power has corrupted him. He is addicted to it and must use it.

Here is power gone wrong in miniature, in a cartoon that well illustrates the dark side of power. Power is not wrong, but power can go wrong when it interacts with our sinful nature and its use is no longer measured, or its object is no longer helping others but merely serving the self.

A Little Primer on Charisms as seen in an animated video

"Taisten-Tabernakelbildstock 04"  by Wolfgang Sauber - Own work.  Licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Taisten-Tabernakelbildstock 04” by Wolfgang Sauber – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The video below illustrates a charism gone wrong. More on the video in a moment, but first, let us consider what a charism is and why it is important to properly understand it.

Charisms are a type of grace which God gives to individuals for ministry, for service.  As such, they are not so much given to the individual for the individual’s sake, but for the sake of others. St. Thomas calls the charisms  gratia gratis data. (grace freely given). These graces given “freely” in the sense that they are not given to the individual on account of some merit, or as some personal reward that God bestows. Rather, God bestows these gifts “freely” on certain individuals, for the sake of the wider community, and for that benefit, rather than because the individual receiving the grace particularly deserves it.

Therefore, some receive the gift to preach, some to teach, some receive great musical or artistic skills. Still others have a kind of genius of some technical expertise, some are magnificent problem solvers, others are great counselors, and so forth. Individuals receive gifts such as these for the sake of the Church, and even the wider community. And again,  it is fundamentally for the sake of others that God bestows these gifts on individuals.

It is certainly true, that if an individual uses their charisms, their gifts, well and generously, they can be the path to holiness. But frankly, not everyone with charisms does this well. And God does not necessarily remove the gift on account of that. This is because, as we have emphasized, he gives it primarily for the sake of others.

Most of us have had the experience of perhaps being greatly blessed by the gifts that someone had, only to discover later that they were real scoundrels! This does not deny the fact that they had the gift. Only they did not apparently benefit them personally. Just because someone sings well does not mean they are a saint. The same is true for preaching, teaching etc.

Those who have charisms, and we all have them, must be careful not to become egotistical, and arrogant about them. They are given by God freely, not because we are particularly deserving, or somehow better than others. If anything, the presence of a charism should be a source of humility for us. And it should make us realize that we have the gift for the sake of others, not for our own glory.

And realizing this, we must accept the implication of generously using our gifts for the sake of the others, for whom they are ultimately intended. In so doing, we respect the fact that the gift does not belong to us, but ultimately to God. And thus we must use the gift as God intended, namely for others, not for our own glory.

The charisms are distinct from sanctifying grace (gratia gratum faciens) which is given to us for own sake. Sanctifying Grace is the grace that God gives us to make us pleasing to him, to make us holy. But as we have already seen, the charisms  and have a rather different intention and purpose.

And now to the video. As a video opens we see a violinist, in the town square. He seems a bit down on his luck, and begins to play, hoping to get a few coins.

Frankly, his talent is only average, but it is a talent, it is a charism. It is not utterly wrong for those with charisms to in some way benefit financially from them. Scripture says elsewhere, the laborer deserves his wage (1 Tim 5:18). And in that passage, St. Paul with speaking of preachers, and preaching is certainly a charism. So our violinist is using his gift, hoping perhaps for a little extra money.

Things get dark very quickly however. A sinister figure, quite clearly the devil, enters the scene and tempts the man to gravely misunderstand his charism.

In effect, the devil, tempts the man’s vanity (vainglory), tempts the violinist to think that his gift is really only for his glory, for his self aggrandizement. He tempts the violinist to think that his charism exists only for himself, and his own glory, rather than for the good and building up of others.

He offers our average violinist a potion that will make him a great virtuoso, and he will have fame and glory all for his own sake rather than for others. Yes, his charism will become all about him, and him alone.

The violinist eagerly takes the potion and drinks it down. In so doing, he has failed to read the warning on the bottle that says of indulging his fantasy and his egocentric dream: “You will have to pay for it later.”

And as he drinks, suddenly his dream is realized. He is on a stage, all by himself, and he is a virtuoso. His brief playing brings a thunderous applause.

It is interesting, he’s an absolute soloist. He is not even part of a larger Symphony Orchestra with a solo part, he is all alone on stage.  His glory is shared with no one. It really is all about him.

Quickly, his sample dream is over, and he is presented again by the devil with a chance for more personal glory. He eagerly grasps the potion, once again ignoring the warning that he will have to pay for it, and eagerly drinks it.

The video ends with the man all alone in the desert with his violin. He can play all he wants, but there is no one to hear him. He’s quite alone, no one will applaud.

And thus the full payment is exacted when we live only for ourselves, and care only for our own glory. And what is the payment? We end up quite alone When we live only for ourselves, we ultimately get what we want, only ourselves. We end up in a lonely, isolated hell. The payment, is to get exactly what we want. And getting what we want, rather than what God wants is hell.

God gives us charisms for the sake of others. If we understand them properly, we will give him the glory, and use them to relate to others, to bless others, to live for and with others also enjoying their charisms. And if we do this, our charisms, given to us not for our sake, can interact with the sanctifying grace that is given to us for our own sake. But if we do not use them this way, they can lead to our downfall.

Quite a little video actually one the powerfully illustrates it in the end, Hell is to get what we want, rather than what God wants. And one path to Hell is to live only for our own glory, and what want we will get. But the only problem is, we will go to a place filled with a lot of other egocentric people. And the “kingdom” we inherit, will be an awfully tiny kingdom, the kingdom of one, the kingdom of our own sorry, selfish self.

The video ends in hell, and this sort of hell is very lonely place.

The Protection of the Flock, as seen on TV.

050313There is a line from scripture that says, Woe to the solitary man. If he falls he has no one to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

Scripture also says, And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25). The teaching is clear, we must come together each week for Mass and learn to live in deep communion with one another. We are not meant to make this journey alone. We need encouragement and exhortation, food for the journey, company and protection.

In the days of Jesus its was almost unthinkable for a person to make a lengthy journey alone. Once a person left the relative safety of the town the journey got dangerous. There were robbers lying in wait along the roads just looking for vulnerable targets. For this reason people almost always made journeys in groups.

This is a good image for the spiritual journey we must all make. Alone we are easy targets. We are vulnerable and without help when spiritual demons attack.

Yet another insight says,  Feuding brothers reconcile when there is a maniac at the the door.

Somehow I thought of all this when I saw these two videos. They are cleaver and make the point of partnership or perish, teamwork or terror, love or lose, hang together or hang separately. Yes, woe to the solitary man! How necessary the protection of the flock. How necessary for the herd to stay together.

"The Pearl of Great Price" and "The Woman at the Well" beautifully retold in a short animated video

The video below is a kind of retelling of the parable of the pearl of great price, and also a bit of the story of the Woman at the Well.

The parable of the pearl of great price is a brief one:

Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matt 13:45-46)

And as for the Woman at the Well, that story is too long to reproduced here but the pertinent facts are that a woman comes every day to a well that symbolizes the world. And that well gives water, but a kind of water that keeps her thirsty. Every day she has to come back for more with her water Jar. Jesus asks her to consider how the well (i.e. this world) cannot really satisfy the God-sized hole in her heart, that He alone can ultimately fulfill her deepest longing. After leading her through stages of faith and repentance, Jesus brings her to the point that she leaves her water jar behind to go and tell others of the joy she has found in Christ.

The video below tells a similar story. A young girl is playing in the sandbox of this world, creatively building with its resources. Around her neck is a locket which symbolizes her greatest treasure from this world, her “idol,” if you will. What exactly that worldly treasure or idol is, that is  for you to answer. Perhaps it is popularity, possessions, power, or some pleasure.

But as the world, with its false promises of lasting joy often does, her worldly creations and accomplishments are swept away in a moment by a huge wave. Her idol cannot save her, it too is swept away. Sic transit gloria mundi

But she must recover it! She must regain her foothold in this world’s passing pleasures and powerless idols! So she dives even deeper into this tumultuous world, as if willing to experiences its most deadly forces, if only she can get back what she lost, what the world cruelly took back! Her idol not only cannot help her, it is what leads her into the very jaws of death.

She dies in the process, never getting her idol back. She is like so many of us who will risk our eternal salvation, diving ever deeper into this world’s peril if only we can gain its treasures. Even if it kills us, and lands us in Hell, we want what it offers. Idols kill, only God gives life.

But then comes the paradox, the twist in the story. For her death becomes an image of baptism. In dying to this world, she awakens from the waters, to a new life. And the Lord has placed a gift in her hand, a pearl of great price! God has taken the very waters that led to her death and through them, drawn her through them to new life.

Awakening to this new life she looks into her hand and sees her pearl of great price. In an instant we can tell that she has forgotten her sand castles, and her locket/idol. And she runs forth to tell others what she has found.

And just like the woman at the well who left her water jar behind to run and tell others about Jesus who was now her living water, thus we see the once treasured locket washing up on shore, as the young girl, with her greater treasure, runs to share her joy, the locket forgotten and left behind.

Enjoy this video. It has the interesting quality of having been sketched out but not fully finished. Maybe that is because you have to finish it, and fill in its lively colors with your life.

The Good is not the Enemy of the Better, it is its Foundation. As Seen in an Animated Video

041913Back when I was in seminary (24+ years ago), I was an organist, and Music Director of the Seminary. And in those years I learned an important, albeit, frustrating reality, namely that many did not always appreciate what I considered to be the finer things of Church Music.

I remember one November having the Seminary Choir Sing a rather elegant piece by Palestrina. It was a difficult piece to master, but oh how wonderful it was, sung in four parts, acapella. Yes! The high water mark of Catholic music. I was so sure the men would love to hear it sung. And we sang it beautifully. That same feast day of all saints we also happened to chant the Litany of Saints. We used the simple tone. We rehearsed it only once and sang it with little effort.

After the Mass I awaited the accolades that would certainly come! And sure enough they did. On the way over to dinner some of the seminarians walked up and said in different ways,

Wow, that piece you sang was really beautiful….so moving….We need to do more of that!
Ah, yes! I replied, Palestrina is the best!
To which they all responded, Pala..who? I was talking about the litany.
Oh! said I, Well what did you think of the piece we sang at offertory?
Looking puzzled, as if they were trying to remember it, came the answer,
Oh that was pretty good too…, What was it?


And thus I learned that sometimes the glory of finer things escapes the average listener. The Litany was beautiful, but, for a trained musician, its simplicity made it seem insignificant. And yet, sometimes, less is more, little things mean a lot, and the good is not the enemy of the better, it is its foundation.

At the end of the day, liturgists and Church musicians, do well to mix with simple and accessible with some of their more lofty offerings. While we might wish that everyone would appreciate the finer things instantly, frankly not everyone does. Some of the finer things are an acquired taste and require some background to appreciate.

I have found that certain types of music and art have grown on me over the years. I was not born appreciating Palestrina, or a Bach Fugue, or Gospel music for that matter. But over time I learned the intricate and internal moves of these sorts of music and came to appreciate them like fine wine.

That said, I still like a “good beer” every now and then too. My iPod has many offerings from 70s pop and rock, when I was in High School and College. Most of it is not high art, and lacks the intricacy of the Brandenburg Concertos, but I enjoy it. And frankly some of that music served as a foundation for my later appreciation of classical and Choral music.

One thing that Church liturgists and musicians should surely avoid is snobbery. Nothing can so slam the door on what they hope to inspire than snide remarks about what people clearly like. Snobbery is no way to inspire an openness to finer and more intricate things. Cheese snobs can sneer all they want at the rubbery plastic-wrapped Velveeta cheese all they want, but Americans eat it in abundance and with gusto. Sneering won’t get people to suddenly start liking Roquefort, or Gouda.

Once, I was drinking a glass of chillable red wine (the kind that comes from a box), and was rebuked by a wine connoisseur to the effect that what I was drinking was not even real wine. Frankly, I was less likely to try a “fine wine” with that sort of attitude. And my palate might not even be ready for some of the drier wines favored by connoisseur.

Work with me, don’t sneer at me. Perhaps my world of chillable red, boxed wine can be expanded. But my appreciation for it will likely grow in stages, rather than rushing to the dry red fine wine that, to me with my unrefined wine palate, currently tastes like liquid ashes going down.

It is the same with music and liturgy. Snobbery is highly to be avoided. I love the Traditional Latin Mass, but I do understand that appreciating it requires some history, some basic knowledge of Latin and so forth. I find that I can lead people in stages to it. But honestly, I wince every time on this blog or elsewhere, those who, like me appreciate the old, but sneer at those who like more modern forms, or simpler forms.

Snobbery wins few converts. I could listen to a Bach Fugue all day long, and enter deep prayer with Renaissance polyphony, but I do understand why not everyone is of the same mind, and I feel blessed to like what they like too. Perhaps, in stages and through friendship, rather than snobbery, I can open bigger worlds to others, and they to me.

Simple chanted Litanies are good! So is Victoria and Palestrina. Appreciation for fine things is built on an appreciation for other things. Life builds and expands, it need not narrow and become fussy. The Good is not the enemy of the better, it is its foundation.

This video illustrates these points well. A little girl sees in a baker’s window what she wants, a simple cherry. But the baker will have non of it! She must try this delicacy and that delicacy! But so fine is what he offers her that she barely recognizes it as food at all. It is really the simple red cherry she wants. At the end, the Baker finally meets her where she is, and presents her with the prettiest cherry she has ever seen! And thus, he builds on what she knows and likes. He shows her the finer things in stages, respecting the true and actual goodness of what she likes.

Pay attention liturgists and musicians, and all who appreciate the finer and more advanced things in many areas of life.

An Allegory of the Truth and an Important Warning in a Creative Video

The video below is a kind of allegory on the truth. In the video the truth is symbolized by a “Lutin” an small caretaker of a house who orders everything and keeps it clean. And this is what truth does.

Enter a woman, harsh and mean. She has just bought the house and enters upon on it. Disdain is written all over her.

She is a symbol for the modern West and those who reject truth and disdainfully hurl overboard even the most obvious parameters of truth in the Natural Law, let alone the truth of the Scripture.

Observing the house all in order, she moves through scoffing. To her it is old, outdated, and she begins to disrupt its order. Her first encounter with truth, symbolized by Lutin, is to see him, wince, conclude he is ugly, and throw him in the trash.

But the truth won’t be so easily shown the door! I am mindful of an old quote by, of all people, Elvis Presley who said, Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.

Truth, the Lutin, responds by returning quietly and restoring order as she moves about disrupting and disdaining the order and sanity of the house. Yes, he does so quietly at first. But seeing this woman is a hard case he reveals himself and offers her his hand in friendship. She rejects him and continues her destructive rampage, seeking to oust him and his influence.

He seeks her conversion by issuing various small punishments, hoping to bring her to her senses and then once again offers friendship. But outraged she seeks only to kill him. Sadly she succeeds. But in killing the truth, she sees the destruction of everything. For truth had sustained the house and ordered it. Now, having wholly and finally rejected the truth, complete destruction and chaos ensues. All order is lost and fundamental structures collapse.

Welcome to the 21st Century West which, having rejected the most basic and fundamental truths about God, the sacredness of human life, the meaning of human sexuality, marriage, and family, and the need for self-control, is seeing all the basic structures collapse. Of these times Jesus said:

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt 7:26-27)

Here is a video that powerfully illustrates the Lord’s warning.

And of Lutin, the personified truth quietly at work sustaining and ordering the home, I am mindful of a quote on the truth by the Ancient Philospoher of India, Chanakya: The earth is supported by the power of truth; it is the power of truth that makes the sun shine and the winds blow; indeed all things rest upon truth.

Surely for us Christians we know the Truth of whom Chanakya speaks: Jesus, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He is the Logos, who sustains all things in Himself showing forth the logike (logic) and order in all things. (cf John 1: 3; Col 1:17).

Did this Woman, successfully kill the truth? Of course not. But the truth is dead to her and she suffers the consequences of the dismissal she has made. And thus for us in the West, God is still calling, reaching out the hand of truth. But, like this woman, we in the West are experiencing the increasing consequences of our collective rejection, even hatred of the truth revealed by God in his Word, Sacred Tradition, and in his creation.

And though perchance the West does fully collapse, yet the truth lives on. The truth will out. I am mindful of the words of the Dr. Martin Luther King:

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

Enjoy and learn from the video.

To God Who Gives Me the Joy of My Youth. A Meditation on a beautiful video.

For all the almost 25 years of my priesthood I have been privileged to say the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, known more widely as the “Traditional Latin Mass.” And one of the more memorable aspects of that form, remembered even by those who haven’t attended in years, are the prayers at the foot of the altar. Most prominent in those prayers is the recitation of Psalm 42. The key text which gives context to the moment are these lines:

Et introibo ad altare Dei: ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.
And I will go to the altar of God: to God who gives the joy of my youth.

I will not wade in the waters of debate over how best to translate the Latin. The difficulty is rooted in the Hebrew word giyl which usually means joy, but is also used elsewhere (e.g. Daniel 1:10) to refer to youth. The Latin text elaborates both senses into the phrase “who gives joy to my youth” or by extension “who gives my youthful joy.”

I’ll be honest, my youth wasn’t all that joyful. I am happier now than then. God has been good to me and delivered me from many personal trials that originated even in my earliest days.

But that said, there is a great beauty in the line, indeed the whole psalm, which speaks of deliverance. The Psalmist asks himself, “Why are you cast down my soul, why groan within me? Hope in God, I will praise him still! My savior and my God!

And thus as we go to God’s altar, we seek to leave our troubles behind. We go to praise him, to forget our troubles, to lay down our burdens. And, coming now so close to him at his altar, he gives us a youthful joy, a gladness.

To me, the notion of a youthful joy is that of a joy that comes from innocence, from a time before the all to common cynicism and jadedness of this world has reached us. Here is a simple joy, a joy that is in the moment. Here is an innocent joy like that of a youth who, without pretension look wide-eyed at a gift and says, “Wow! Gee! Thanks!” and vigorously and exultantly enjoys it. Yes, a youthful joy, an innocent and unpretentious joy, a simple joy, A Christian son or daughter in the presence of Abba, our loving Father.

Et introibo ad altare Dei: ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.
And I will go to the altar of God: to God who gives the joy of my youth.

I thought of all this as I saw the video below. As it opens, it is clear we are in the autumn of life. A song plays in the background called “The Last Song.” Our focus shifts to an elderly woman who, looking out on the world from her window, casts a whimsical look at the autumn scene. She shuts her window (for the last time).

She is clearly living more now on memories more than the present. A picture of her family from long ago hangs over the mantle and she grabs a photo of her dead husband, looking as he did when she first met and fell in love with him. Yes, her last thoughts are of love.

She sits in her chair and dozes off. Suddenly the radio goes dead, but it is really she who has died. Her final and fading memories, as she clutches the memory of her love are those of her youth, when she was strong and could dance to life’s rhythms.

And then it happens. God gives her the joy of her youth. She awakens, forever young.

Enjoy this beautiful video. It is told in secular terms but its message is of youthful joy, and the endurance of love.

One day, if we die thinking of Love and longing for Him, Our Lord will sing us to sleep and awaken us, forever young.

For now, I will go to the altar of God, to God who gives me youthful joy.

On Honesty and Sincerity as Seen in a Commercial

021315The Word Honesty comes from the honestas meaning an honor received from others, a kind of “standing in honor” before others (honor + stas (to stand)). It’s an interesting insight in the word that most people are willing to be a little phony in order to get vague appreciation or to be thought of well. (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, nothing phony about it, no coverups.

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 in each others presence.