13 November 2009

Five Hard Truths

Msgr. Charles Pope has a post up on his blog titled, "5 Hard Truths That Will Set You Free."

I thought I would provide my own commentary on these five truths.

Truth One:  Life is Hard.  Life can be difficult, true.  But let's think of "hard" here in a slightly different way.  Concrete is hard.  Wood is hard.  Sometimes your head might be hard!  How is life hard in the way that concrete and wood are hard?  We live, move, and have our being in a physical world of objects and processes.  Things move around us.  Real things, hard things.  We have to make instantaneously decisions about how we--also hard things--will navigate these other things.  Failure to properly navigate the things of the world can result in injury or death.  We can't ignore the hardness of the world, but we can give it meaning and purpose beyond being merely hard.  The German poet, R.M. Rilke, urges us to praise the things of this world to the angel.  Why?  ". . .the Things,/which live by perishing, know you are praising them; transient,/they look to us for deliverance: us, the most transient of all. . .Whoever we may be at last."  God gave the world being.  Adam gave the things of the world identity.  He named them.  We cannot make the things of the world softer, less dangerous by simply pretending that they do not matter.  Even as we left up the hard things, to the angel, God reveals Himself to us through them.  That's the sacramental imagination of the Catholic faith.

Truth Two:  Your life is not about you.  Can there be a more basic Christian teaching than this?  If Jesus showed us anything on the cross, he showed us that sacrificing oneself for love of another is the ultimate form of worship.  When Christians sacrifice, we fashion holiness from surrender.  Your life in the aftermath of baptism is one sacrifice after another.  Sometimes we sacrifice superficial happiness for the Real Deal.  Sometimes we sacrifice basic needs to provide for the wants of children or parents or friends.  Though these sacrifices are no doubt difficult, the most telling sacrifice of all is the one we make for the perfect stranger, someone we love simply for no other reason than that God loved him first.  This is what Jesus did on the cross.  He died for generations he never knew or would ever know while he roamed the earth.  Sacrifice is made even more profound when you consider that you are a divine gift to all of us in the time and place when and where you are.  You are Right Here, Right Now so that you might sacrifice for those who are here/now with you.  Imagine the world if we took this seriously!

Truth Three:  You are not in control.  Too often this truth leads to quietism, a laxity contrived to relief oneself of the responsibility to act justly in the face of Fate.  There is no such thing as Fate.  Your choices are not determined before you make them.  Saints are the ones among us who always make the right choice even when those choices mean ridicule and persecution.  Martyrdom is how we express the ultimate truth of surrender:  "I cannot deny the Truth.  That would be a Lie."  Many times this surrender to Truth means death.  Not being in control is frightening.  It is also freeing.  Not in the sense of being relieved from one's duty to justice, but rather in the sense of being free to do one's duty regardless of the consequences.  True, there is a temptation here to behave recklessly, but all virtues are properly exercised with prudence.  Perhaps the best way to think about letting go of control is to grasp onto hope.  No matter how bad it gets, no matter how hard we are opposed, we know that God's promises to us have already been fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  That's hope.  We play this game knowing that we have already won.

Truth Four:  You are not that important.  When cell phones first came on the market back in the mid-90's, it was an all too common sight to see people bouncing about with phones stuck to their heads.  We were supposed to believe that they were Terribly Important People b/c they couldn't risk being too far from a phone.  Maybe they were important is some secular sense, but in the Great Plan--no, not so much.  Measuring importance by one's overall impact on history is a truly worldly way to plumb the depths of one's ego.  It's the emo adolescent who whinges and cries when he/she realizes that the world will be just fine without them.  This is either a moment of clarity or a moment of confusion.  If the moment proves to be confusing, it's usually b/c pride has taught them to believe that the world centers itself on their every whim.  If the moment proves to be clarifying, it's b/c humility has taught them to believe that the world needs their gifts and love of others will help them perfect those gifts.  To believe that we are indispensable is a delusion bred in contempt for the gifts of others.  Yes, we need you.  But you--none of us--is so essential that the world ceases to turn simply b/c you are no longer with us.  This is a hard lesson to learn for an animal created to survive.

Truth Five:  You are going to die.  Death is what makes this life possible; knowing that death awaits us all adds weight to everything we do. Imagine if we never died.  How moved would we be to accomplish the little things of life much less the big things? How much energy would we invest in being just, faithful, loving?  The Greek gods were immortal and the imaginations of the ancient poets lamented their existence b/c they were capricious in their eternal boredom.   With no end in sight, no goal to reach, they meddled in human affairs; languished in their never-ending disputes; and grew more and more corrupt b/c there were no lasting consequences to their bad behavior.  How do you punish a god?  A Christian should give God thanks that she will die one day! Not b/c our lives here on earth are so horrible, but b/c the life we will share with God is so wondrous.  If there's a truth that makes it plain the truth of the other four truths, it is that we will all die one day.  Deo gratis!  We will die to live forever, knowing our Lord face-to-face.


  1. Anonymous10:59 AM


    Regarding the "You are not in control" section:
    How does this stack up with the current idea that you "Manifest your reality"? In other words, if things aren't going well, it is because of your THOUGHTS.

    I think this has a hint of truth but is not the whole picture. Could you elucidate?

    Btw, I know your piece had a different tenor, but it brought this New Age idea to mind...


  2. Anon., forgive me for being a philosopher here, but I'd need to know what you mean by "manifest reality." In one sense this can be true. More often than we know we control our emotional responses to events. If you always choose to see the bright side of every event, then you can "manifest the reality" of being positive and probably save yourself a lot of anxiety.

    However, if "manifest reality" means "making stuff inside my head happen outside my head," then I think that's New Age garbage.

    Thoughts do matter. We can easily talk ourselves into worry, and we can usually talk ourselves out of it. It's a matter of being rational.

  3. Father,

    How do you square our being "not that important" with Jesus' statement, "You are the light of the world," and God's assertion that we were created in his image?

    Of course we must be humble. But I believe telling people they are not "important" to God's plan gives them an excuse not to seek out and do what God intended for them. How can every life be sacred, yet not important?

    As for the idea that our minds alone can improve our reality, it is not new. From Milton's Paradise Lost:

    The mind is its own place, and in it self
    Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

    The lines are spoken by Satan, suggesting we might think ourselves to happiness. In contrast, the Archangel Michael states that if we do good deeds and live virtuously and lovingly, happiness will follow from that:

    Only add
    Deeds to thy knowledge answerable; add faith,
    Add virtue, patience, temperance; add love,
    By name to come called charity, the soul
    Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loth
    To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
    A Paradise within thee, happier far.


  4. Mark, if we are important in any way it is in the fact that we are the light of the world...that Light however is not us as we are in ourselves, but how we are in Christ.

    Once we are "in Christ" we are part of the Body...not as individuals striving for holiness, but as members working together for the whole.

    Both Msgr and I are playing on the idea that being individuals entire makes us important. Not so.