Monday, November 30, 2015

Peace and Joy Possible in This World, Too

Let’s be honest, the primary reason Christianity is so attractive is the promise of eternal life. Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will receive everlasting life. What a wonderful offer.

Do the math. Compare all of eternity to our brief 60, 80, or 100 years of life here on earth. It’s no contest. Eternity is a really, REALLY long time. It makes perfectly good sense for people to desire to spend eternity in a place described as paradise rather than in a place described as never-ending torment.

However, many Christians who are very firm in their belief in eternal life in Heaven, are convinced that we are REQUIRED to suffer in this world while we wait for the joy of the next world. Maybe that’s why so many Christians always seem to have such sour expressions on their faces, or why secular critics often describe Christians as people who are haunted by the idea that someone, somewhere might be having fun.

The Baltimore Catechism asks the question, “Why did God make you?” And the answer memorized by school children is, “God made me to know Him and love Him and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him forever in the next life.”

I’ve heard this interpreted to mean, “See, you’ll eventually be happy when you get to Heaven. But for now you’re supposed to sacrifice and suffer and serve God—so just forget about being happy.”

Well, that doesn’t make any sense. If someone truly knows God and loves God and serves God, he or she will be the most joyful person on earth.

Don’t get me wrong; we obviously live in a fallen world. The stench of sin has corrupted our entire planet, which often makes life very difficult. All of us at one time or another are forced to deal with illness, accident, disease, crime, and death. This world is definitely not paradise.

But Jesus never said our life on earth is destined to be a joyless journey of somber sadness. We are not supposed to mope around here with sour expressions on our faces while we wait to go to Heaven. Jesus clearly said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Sure, Jesus was talking about eternal life in Heaven. But He also was talking about having abundant life here on earth. We are supposed to have joy in this earthly journey, despite the struggles and the pain. Jesus wants us to be filled with joy—right here and right now—not just later in Heaven.

A lot of the suffering and pain here on earth cannot be avoided. Illness, accident, and tragedies often strike without warning, bringing pain and grief to people. But there is still a great opportunity to experience joy in this world. And ironically, the best way to experience joy is to do exactly what the Baltimore Catechism says: know God, love God, and serve God.

Those are simple words; after all, they were designed to be memorized by school children. And yet, those words are incredibly profound. Knowing, loving, and serving God are the very things for which human beings were created. They are the fundamental purposes and goals of our lives. 

So yes, the promise of paradise in Heaven for all eternity is very attractive—THE most attractive aspect of Christianity. But Our Lord is a God of immense love. He not only wants us to experience eternal joy in Heaven, He wants us to have a taste of it right now. If we know Him and love Him and serve Him, those sour expressions will disappear from our faces.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, November 28, 2015

This past Tuesday, at a joint press conference with French President Fran├žois Hollande, President Obama said this: “And next week I will be joining President Hollande and world leaders in Paris for the global climate conference. What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children.”

Wait. What?! “Powerful rebuke”? Does Mr. Obama really think the ISIS terrorists will flee from the battlefield when confronted by solar panels and windmills? Let me see if I have this straight: the goons of ISIS, essentially a 7th century death cult, are spreading like a cancer, murdering innocent people wherever they go, and our fearless leader continues to claim the greatest threat to the world is global warming, er, I mean, climate change, or whatever they’re calling it this week? (By the way, the so-called experts predicted that by now New York City would be underwater and snowy winters would be a distant memory. Check out this article: ) 

Yeah, I’m sure a fleet of Priuses and Chevy Volts, driven by gender studies majors from Yale and Amherst, will pound the ISIS murderers into submission.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Top 10 Famous Movie Quotes

A few weeks ago, while discussing that classic Wes Craven horror flick, “The Sound of Music,” I asked readers to send me a list of their favorite films and favorite movie quotes. Many of the emails I received were quite interesting. (I am, of course, using the definition of the word interesting that means, “Please start taking your medication again.”)

One reader is a big fan of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Bambi.” Another reader’s favorite movies are “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Exorcist.” And yet another reader loves the movie where Bruce Willis is a cop hiding on the upper floors of a high-rise building which has been seized by terrorists. Unfortunately, she couldn’t remember the title of the movie. But I know which one she means. It’s called “Fiddler on the Roof.”

In one of the email replies, a person sent me a link to a website that lists the Top Ten movie quotations of all time. I read through the famous quotes and realized that all ten of them are from “The Sound of Music.” Here they are:

10. When Captain von Trapp is hugging his children, right after singing with them for the first time, Maria hands the Captain a guitar and says, “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”

9. At the very beginning of the movie, when Maria is dancing and twirling in a mountain meadow and singing the title song, just as the music ends, she looks around, smiles, and says, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

8. During the scene where Rolf rides up to the von Trapp mansion on his bicycle with a telegram, Captain von Trapp opens his jacket slightly to reveal a holstered revolver. He then glares at Rolf and says through clenched teeth, “Go ahead, make my day.”

7. When Maria first arrives at the von Trapp mansion, the butler Franz answers the door and expresses his annoyance at being bothered by visitors. He tells Maria, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

6. When Max Detweiler is negotiating with the organizers of the Salzburg Music Festival and threatening that the von Trapp Family Singers will not appear, he shouts, “Show me the money!”

5. In the gazebo, right after the Captain and Maria sing “Something Good” and realize they are in love, the Captain holds her in his arms, gazes into her eye, and says, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

4. When Maria and the seven children row a boat up to the dock, and then the boat tips over because they got excited at seeing the Captain, Kurt struggles to shore and in a spluttering voice says to Maria, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

3. In the scene where Max discusses his desire to become the musical agent for the nearby monastery choir, he tells the Baroness how he will negotiate with the leader of the monastery: “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

2. Early in the film, when the Reverend Mother sends Maria to be the governess for the seven von Trapp children, as Maria turns to leave the office, the Reverend Mother says, “May the Force be with you.”

1. Toward the end of the movie, when Liesl sees Rolf again, who by now is totally committed to the Nazis, he spurns Liesl’s expressions of love by sneering, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” 

Well, I’m pretty sure all ten quotations are from “The Sound of Music.” I might have to dig out my DVD of the film and watch it again just to be sure.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Is Satan Real?

Over the last few weeks we’ve covered some rather serious topics here, so let’s lighten it up a little, OK? This week let’s talk about … Satan.

Oh, I saw you roll your eyes. Who wants to talk about Satan, for God’s sake? Well, actually, it is for God’s sake that we need to talk about the devil. You see, there’s a very popular idea nowadays that Satan does not exist. A sizeable number of Christians think that Satan merely symbolizes evil but is not an actual personal being. Sure, people acknowledge that there is evil in the world. You’d have to be living in a cave not to notice that the world today is full of murder and violence and destruction—just as it has been ever since Cain killed his brother Abel soon after mankind appeared on this planet.

But when most people say that evil exists, they mean simply that human beings are capable of doing nasty things. They don’t mean there is an actual fallen angel with a mind and a personality who is actively trying to draw us away from the goodness of God and lead us into a life of sin. That idea is way too old-fashioned. It sounds like a superstitious medieval notion of a guy running around in red tights with horns and a pitchfork, and who talks a lot like Snidely Whiplash.

A survey conducted by The Barna Group a few years ago found that 59-percent of people who identify as Christian agreed with the following statement: “Satan is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” 

We are about to enter the season of Advent, as Christians worldwide prepare to commemorate one of the most amazing supernatural miracles in history: the Incarnation, when the almighty, eternal Creator of the universe lowered Himself to become a human being. People sincerely believe that God is personal and that Jesus truly is the Son of God. So we ought to listen to Jesus’ words, right?

Well, Jesus said very clearly that Satan is real. The Lord said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven.” How can a symbol fall like lightning?

Jesus also said this to His adversaries: “You belong to your father the devil….He was a murderer from the beginning, and he does not stand in truth….When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Does it sound like Jesus was referring to a symbol? Does it sound like He was talking merely about mankind’s inclination to do bad things once in a while? I don’t think so. The Lord very obviously was describing the devil as a personal being.

There’s someone else who has commented on this topic. His name is Pope Francis. Just last year the pope said, “This generation, and many others, have been led to believe that the devil is a myth, a figure, an idea, the idea of evil. But the devil exists and we must fight against him.”

The fact is, there is indeed a supernatural personal being who wants to draw us away from God’s goodness and have us suffer the torments of Hell forever. Satan is thrilled when people consciously serve him, and there are many Satan worshippers in our world today. But Satan’s most effective technique is to convince people that he simply does not exist. But they’ll find out soon enough—when it’s too late.

However, the good news is that the power of Christ is way stronger than the power of Satan. So cling to Jesus and rebuke the devil in Jesus’ name. It may seem old-fashioned, but it is true. 

OK, that’s enough of this light and fluffy topic. Next week we’ll get back to the serious and somber stuff.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, November 20, 2015

In a recent interview, President Obama lamented the checks and balances built into the American system of governance. He said, “What I didn’t fully appreciate … is how decentralized power is in this system.” He also often expresses frustration toward the framers of our constitutional system: “I am constrained by a system that our Founders put in place.”

Wait. What?! The man is allegedly a constitutional scholar. Wasn’t he a professor of constitutional law at the Univ. of Chicago? And he’s surprised that we have a system which balances the power of the Executive branch (him), Legislative branch (Congress), and Judicial branch (Courts)? This is news to him? Um, right.

And this week, a second Wait. What?! Does this mean our president really wishes he could wield dictatorial powers? A perusal of his many executive orders—some of which have been blocked by the courts as unconstitutional—would indicate the answer is: Yup. 

Well, he did take office proclaiming that he wanted to “fundamentally transform” our country. (Question: Does anyone desire to fundamentally transform something he thinks is good? Just sayin’.) I guess acting like the Emperor of America is a fundamental transformation.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Key To Success: Pay Attention, Take Notes

People often ask me how I come up with topics to write about each week. It’s simple. I always keep a small notebook in my pocket, and whenever I see, hear, or read about something weird, I scribble a quick note to myself. These notes often become the basis for an entire column. To give you an idea, here are some notes I recently wrote (along with a few extra comments):

  • “News report: 8 deaths this year from shark attack, but 12 deaths so far from taking selfies.” Apparently, people are falling off cliffs or getting hit by trucks as they attempt to take memorable photos of themselves. We heard a lot this past summer about shark attacks, but I don’t remember hearing any news reports about selfie deaths. They should put a warning label on smart phones. Also, I wonder if there is any overlap in those numbers. Did someone with a water-proof camera snap a picture of himself frolicking in the surf at the exact moment he became a shark hors-d’oeuvre? 
  • “Sign at tailgate entrance: ‘No excessive alcohol use’.” My family went to a college football game in September, and that sign cracked me up. Excessive is a perfectly fine word, but in this context, it is completely meaningless. Who defines what excessive alcohol use is? Is it the senior citizen alumni wearing jackets and ties, who were sipping wine at a fancy tailgate party with candles and tablecloths? Or is it the students in a different area who were doing keg stands, having chugging contests, and throwing back shots of tequila? (And the game started at noon, so all this was taking place at about 11:30 a.m.) I bet these two groups would have quite different definitions of the word excessive. The sign might as well have said, “Tailgating rules: Whatever.” 
  • “When I’m alone in the house, I talk to myself constantly. Is that a sign of a problem?” I searched online and found an old expression: talking to yourself means you have a lot of money in the bank. Well, we can cross that one off the list. Another website said talking to yourself means you’re losing your marbles. Um, let’s tentatively pencil that one off the list, too, at least until further review. Still another website said talking to yourself is a sign of creativity. OK, that sounds like a winner. We’ll go with that explanation. 
  • “Drones with cameras — if one hovers over your house, do you have the right to blast it with a shotgun?” This is a contentious issue nowadays, and no doubt new regulations will be hashed out in the near future. But in the meantime, my view is quite simple: you not only have the right to blast it with a shotgun, when the drone’s owner comes looking for it, you have the right to give him a 12-gauge prostate exam. 
  • “News headline: Poisonous snake bites farmer on penis while urinating in field.” That is the news story headline, exactly word for word. However, it’s phrased kind of vaguely, as it could mean the snake was urinating in the field — but I doubt that’s what they meant. The very day I read that news story, I was scheduled to play golf, a game in which the wooded areas are often used as convenient bathrooms. During my round, with unpleasant images dancing in my head, I refused to go near the woods and painfully waited until we got back to the clubhouse before racing to the men’s room. 

So, now you know my secret: pay attention and take notes. Something every teacher I ever had would be shocked to hear me say.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The King of Kings Demonstrates Power in Weakness

For the weekend of November 21 and 22, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King at Mass. It is the last week of the official Church year, which means next week a new Church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. (Advent?! So soon? How can it be the Christmas season again? Wasn’t it just Christmas, like, three months ago?!! Man, time is flying by WAY too fast these days.)

The theme this week is that Jesus the Christ is indeed the King of kings and the Lord of lords. In the first reading, the prophet Daniel described a vision he had: “I saw one like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven….[he] received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.”

In the Responsorial Psalm this week, from Psalm 93, we proclaim, “The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.”

In the second reading, from Revelation, St. John wrote, “Jesus Christ is…ruler of the kings of the earth….he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him.”

Now that’s my idea of a king: power, majesty, glory, everyone bowing down to Him. So, after these three different sections of Scripture, we’re ready for the ultimate kingly passage, the reading from the gospel of John.

In this reading, our King of kings, our Lord of lords, is splendidly robed in…a simple, dusty tunic. He stands majestically with…chains on His wrists and a rope around His neck. His glory is displayed by the…blood trickling down His forehead and the bruises on His face. His power and dominion are evident by the fact that…all His followers abandoned Him.

To top it all off, our King of kings and Lord of lords, the ruler of the universe, who reigns over kings of the earth forever and ever, demonstrates His omnipotence by standing before a two-bit politician who sneers at Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

How odd is this? We celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King by reading about the time when Jesus was weak and powerless, scorned and humiliated, mocked by a bunch of self-serving religious leaders and spineless politicians? That’s being a king? What gives?

The key to this puzzle is the statement Jesus made to Pontius Pilate in the middle of the gospel reading. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

If you think this earthly life is the only realm of existence we will experience, well, as my mother used to say, “Sonny, you’ve got another think coming.” Our natural life here on earth—with all its selfishness, materialism, lust, and frantic quests for power and prestige—is really just a brief shadow of our true, eternal existence: life in the spiritual world.

In Jesus’ eternal spiritual kingdom, the dominate attitudes are humility, not ambition; sacrificial giving, not greed; love, not lust; and serene joy, not the nagging, unfulfilled emptiness that defines our current secular culture.

In Jesus’ kingdom, the almighty ruler Himself willingly lays down His life for His subjects. This is true kingship. This is the ruler being more concerned about the wellbeing of His subjects rather than His own wellbeing. This is the exact opposite of earthly rulers.

Jesus clearly tells us throughout the gospels how we can enter into the eternal joy of His kingdom. If we focus all our time and effort on worldly pursuits, we not only will endure nagging, unfulfilled emptiness right here and now, we also will forfeit our chance at peace and joy forever. 

Don’t make that fatal mistake. Embrace the King of kings and Lord of lords and His counter-culture values. You’ll never regret it.