The commercial below basically says, “If you prefer the inferior product of our competitors, go right ahead and stick with them, but as for us, we’ll go with what’s better!
One of the tasks of the spiritual life is to allow God to convert our desires. In our fallen state we have tend to want things even if we know they are harmful to us—and we desire them in abundance, too. We are also inclined to be averse to things we know are good for us. It all began in our childhood when we wanted Twinkies galore but pushed broccoli around on our plate rather than eating it.
Many people struggle to desire prayer and spiritual reading, preferring lesser or even sinful activities. The root sin here is sloth, which is sorrow about, or aversion to, the good things God offers. We need to pray frequently and fervently for the conversion of our desires.
If I were to reword the theme of this commercial along spiritual lines, I’d say, “If you want to go on preferring the lesser, passing things of this world, go ahead, but as for me and my household, we will prefer the Lord!”
The commercial below shows a glimpse of the special kind of love that we call familial love. The Greeks called it storge (στοργή), and the Romans called it pietas. Both words refer to familial love, the natural or instinctual affection between parent and child. Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” depicting Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus with tenderness and sorrow, demonstrates beautifully the meaning of pietas.
Familial love has some unique qualities. For example, we don’t choose our family; we are born into it. We can choose friends, and for the most part we select them because they are agreeable to us. Not always so within the family! And when couples marry, although they establish their own nuclear family, each brings to the marriage his or her own family and extended family.
Because we don’t simply pick our family, some of God’s most important lessons can be found in family life. There is often a lot of tension in day-to-day family life due to all the different personalities and viewpoints, not to mention the different historical dynamics. But if there were no tension, there would be no change! The Lord surely means some of these tensions and differences in order to help complete us and purify us. We need to learn patience and show a lot of love and forgiveness within the family—but that’s good for us!
Familial love is especially oriented toward raising children and bringing us all to maturity. I remember once, in a fit of anger, telling my mother that she was kinder to strangers than she was to me. She responded, correctly I now see, “I’m not in the same sort of relationship with strangers as I am with you. I don’t the same obligations to them that I have to you. I’m your mother; it’s my responsibility to correct you and help you to grow up well.”
As we all know, no one can drive us crazier than our family members, yet at the same time no one can bless us the way they do. Familial love is a mysterious mix of fondness and frustration, conflict and care, shared memories and shared melodrama.
Ah, family! Can’t live it; can’t live without it. The song in this commercial beautifully puts it: “I don’t know why I love you, but I do.” Enjoy this glimpse at the ups and downs of familial love.
Most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen to us. Why does He not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various kinds and from events that cause sadness, setbacks, or suffering?
While mysterious, the clearest answer is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing may occur. To some degree I have found this to be so; some of my greatest blessings required that a door slam shut for me or that I endure some suffering. If my college sweetheart had not ended things, I would most likely not have the very great blessing of being a priest today. Had I gotten some of my preferred assignments in my early years as a priest, I would not have been enriched by the assignments I did have. Those difficult assignments have drawn me out and helped me to grow far more than the cozy, familiar placements I desired would have. Had I not entered into the crucible of depression and anxiety in my thirties, I would not have learned to trust God as much as I do, and I would not have learned important lessons about myself and about life.
So despite that fact that we understandably fear suffering and dislike it, for reasons of His own (reasons He knows best), God does allow some degree of it in our lives.
Yet I wonder if we really consider often enough the countless times God did step in to prevent disaster in our lives. We tend to focus on the negative things in life and overlook the enormous number of blessings we often take for granted: every beat of our heart, the proper functioning of every cell in our body, and all of the perfect balances that exist in nature and the cosmos in order to sustain us.
Just think of the simple act of walking, all of the possible missteps we might take but most often do not. Think of all the foolish risks we have taken in our lives—especially when we were young—that did not end in disaster. Think of all the poor choices we have made and yet escaped the worst possible outcomes.
Yes, we wonder why we and others suffer and why God allows it, but do we ever wonder why we don’t suffer? Do we ever think about why and how we have escaped enduring the consequences of some awfully foolish things we have done? In typical human fashion, we minimize our many, many blessings, and magnify and resent our sufferings.
I have a favorite expression, one that I have made my own over the years, that I use in response to people who ask me how I am doing: “I’m pretty well blessed, for a sinner.” I’ve heard others put the same sentiment this way: “I’m more blessed than I deserve.” Yes, we are all pretty well blessed indeed!
I thought of all those things as I watched the commercial below (aired during the 2014 Super Bowl). While it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, it makes me think of my guardian angel, who has surely preserved 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 that, though you know nothing of them, are bestowed by Him all the same. Finally, think of the wonderful mercy He has often shown in protecting you from the worst of your foolishness.
The commercial below is a reminder to all of us clergy who stand before the people of God each Sunday that they aren’t easily fooled.
People know if we are genuine or if we are just saying things we think we ought to say or heard others say. They can tell if we really know the Lord and the truths we proclaim or if we’ve just studied them. No preacher can perfectly live the Gospel he preaches, but people know when clergymen are living double lives or are being inauthentic. They know when we are merely playing a role. They know when we are half-heartedly saying what we think we’re expected to say without really believing it—a lot like Pinocchio in the commercial.
People also recognize when we are striving for holiness, really loving God and His people. They can tell whether we are men of prayer, preaching God’s word with experience because we try to live it each day and see its fruits in our lives.
Yes, I am convinced that you in the laity can tell the difference. Pray for the bishops, priests, and deacons who stand before you; pray that we will be the men that God and you deserve.
The following commercial inadvertently highlights some interesting moral and spiritual issues. It is an advertisement for some sort of virtual reality (VR) game and encourages us to “defy reality.” The protagonist is a young man engulfed in the VR world of Star Wars, where he valiantly slays dangerous enemies attacking from all directions. He is then jolted back to reality and confronted by an older man who chides him with “You used to be such a nice boy; now look at you!” The young man responds to the confrontation with reality by retreating back into his VR world.
In the largely adolescent culture that seems to have taken over, norms and limits are seen as undesirable and unreasonable. Those who summon us to reality are viewed merely as hopelessly out-of-touch scolds.
To be sure, games, movies, fantasy, and other diversions have their place, but there isa real word that must be accepted for what it is. Real life can be incredibly beautiful, but it also can be hard; we don’t have light sabers at hand to solve our problems. Indulging in too much fantasy can make us resentful of the real world and its legitimate demands.
Fantasy also reinforces the flawed notions of existentialism and solipsism, namely, that we can just make things up and declare our own meaning. Our culture is currently suffering from these ideas; the most extreme example is so-called “transgenderism,” in which individuals indulge the fantasy that they are something other than the males and females they are. Ideologues who promote this fantasy then demand that the rest of us go along with it, threatening punishment if we refuse. More widely, our culture is also marked by its inordinate focus on the individual at the expense of the common good. Virtual reality games are certainly not the sole cause of this, but they do help to reinforce it.
Finally, engaging in too much retreat into fantasy tends to make reality seem boring by comparison. Most video games are fast paced, requiring split-second decisions and rapid-fire responses. Many require violence in order to “win.” Too much of this can make ordinary human interactions seem dull and slow. A college student going from playing a VR game one moment to taking notes in a lecture hall the next must cross a wide gulf.
Much more could be said on this topic, but Friday posts are meant to offer brief insights taken from the current culture world. Ponder the following advertisement and ask yourself, “Is it really healthy to defy reality?”
Most of us struggle with one of more of our passions: anger, love, sorrow, desire for food or drink, desire for sexual intimacy, desire for possessions, desire for popularity, and so forth. None of these is inherently wrong; indeed, they are good as they come from the hand of God. They become sinful when focused on the wrong object or when they become excessive. The key is to learn to master them through moderation/self-control and by focusing them on the purpose for which they are intended.
This year’s John Lewis Christmas commercial features a young fire-breathing dragon who, though not fierce, has an ability that he cannot seem to control. He must learn to use it only at the proper time and for good purposes. Allow his ability to breathe fire to represent a passion (e.g., anger, love). Observe the damage caused when this passion is uncontrolled or focused on the wrong things, but also observe the blessing brought when the young dragon learns to master it and use it for a good purpose.
It seems to me that the world is resembling an insane asylum more and more each day. If you think I exaggerate, just turn on the news for a moment. I don’t think you need me to provide a long list to know what I mean. A good example of the lunacy is that many people today consider it reasonable for a man to compete in a women’s sporting event simply by declaring that he “feels” he is a woman. I have pity for the individual men involved and believe that they should receive help. However, when entire segments of the population, including legislators and judges, go along with the delusion and try to force us to play along with it, we must conclude that madness has descended on our culture. I will not say more; this one example is sufficient evidence enough of the collective, growing lunacy.
In the commercial below a woman returns to her home to find a ludicrous situation inside. In response, she retreats back into her car. As for me, I escape to a nearby tabernacle, where things still make sense. Jesus is the Truth.
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.