The challenge we present to God has nothing to do with getting the gift of paradise into our hands. The challenge is getting us to keep it without having to turn paradise into a prison, God into our warden and us into prisoners. God's creatures have an irrational, self-destructive, suicidal tendency of "fumbling the ball" after the gift of paradise has been delivered to them. Butterfingers. The gift of paradise too often slips through their hands. Lucifer fumbled the ball. So did the gaggle of angels who followed Lucifer. Eve fumbled the ball. Adam fumbled the ball as well. When God gives his creatures the gift of paradise, God wants us to keep it. This is God's goal. God devised his "plan" around this goal.
If you were God and you saw Lucifer abdicate the gift of paradise after the gift of paradise had been delivered to him, the gaggle of angels who follow Lucifer do the same, Eve as well and Adam too, would you conclude that the problem is getting the ball into their hands or stopping them from fumbling the ball after it has been delivered to them? If you were an observer and saw this, would you not conclude that God was very generous with his creatures in that all of them received the gift of paradise without exception. If you were a scientist studying this, would you not conclude that the gift of existence and the gift of paradise go hand-in-hand?
Do you consider yourself a rational person? Does the evidence matter to you? Are you willing to let the evidence grasp you by the hand and take you to the conclusion? Let us consider the evidence. Lucifer opted out after the gift of paradise had been delivered to him. So did the gaggle of angels who followed Lucifer. So did Eve. So did Adam. The theory of the beatific vision - the gilded cage - is contradicted by the evidence. The evidence tells us that we can "escape" from paradise if that is our foolish desire. Our free will is the key that enables us to opt out of paradise. God will put the gift of paradise into our hands but we can "fumble the ball".
Here is the creature God wants to build. God wants us to have the freedom to shoot ourselves in the foot and the unwillingness to do something so foolish. To build such creatures, God endows them with the gift of rationality and exposes their rationality to the truth. The truth steers rational creatures in the right direction. The truth instructs their rationality to engage in behavior that furthers their self-interest. Rational creatures behave in accordance with their self-interest. It is irrational to do otherwise. The truth sets us free from foolishness. All truth? No, only a subset of the truth. Many things are true but not all truth is relevant. The truth that is relevant is the truth that exposes us to the sweetness of paradise and the sourness of godlessness. When exposed to the truth, rational creatures seek the sweetness of paradise and flee the sourness of godlessness. It is contrary to our self-interest to do otherwise.
When the boulder of suffering rolls on top of us and tries to crush us beneath its unbearable weight, what is the secret by which we can pick it up and carry it (Matthew 16:24) like superman?
Jesus let us in on a secret. What is more amazing is that he did not just tell us the secret. He demonstrated it. He showed his children how to tie their shoelaces by tying his own and asking them to imitate him. When the boulder of suffering rolls on top of us and tries to crush us beneath its unbearable weight, we are not powerless. We can resist. We can fight back. We can push against the crush. Like superman, we can pick it up and carry it.
What is the secret?
As we baptized him in the boiling cauldron of suffering, He clung to his love for us, held tight and refused to let go. He clung with the iron grip of the drowning man who clings to a life preserver in the stormy sea after his ship has sunk. Love is the life preserver. Love is our sanctuary in the midst of suffering. Love is our strength. When we cling to love, the Cross does not crush us. It does not bury us. We can pick it up. We can carry it. Love makes the weight of the Cross light. Love gives our crosses wings (Pope Benedict XVI). Therefore, cling as Jesus clung. Hold tight and refuse to let go.
Suffering tends to extinguish love. It snuffs it out as a wet blanket snuffs out a blazing fire. The tendency is powerful. However, the loss of love is more destructive to you than the Cross you are carrying. Therefore, do not heed your natural inclination. Deny yourself. With the help of God, fight the powerful tendency. Refuse its urgings. Like the serpent, it is trying to steer you in the wrong direction. It is giving you instructions that contradict your self-interest. Your natural inclination is lying to you. It is trying to deceive you. You are worse off, not better off, when you yield to it. Keep the fire of love burning at all times. Do not let suffering extinguish it. Keep suffering away from the love that fills your heart. Maintain a buffering firewall between your love and your suffering. The dial that controls our love is in our hands. Do not surrender it to suffering. Your welfare depends on clinging to love and refusing to let go.
When Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan steps out of St. Patrick's Cathedral onto its front steps and gazes across Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center, he sees the 45 feet tall, bronze statue of Atlas. In the mythology of the Greeks, Atlas was a Titan who waged war against the Olympian gods and lost. Zeus punished the defeated Atlas by making him bear the weight of the world on his shoulders forever. What a cross Atlas had to bear! Yet, Atlas picked up his cross up and carried it. Atlas had the strength of a Titan. We do not. Do we need the strength of a mythological Titan to pick up our crosses and carry them? No. Jesus taught us that love is a substitute for physical strength. In his Crucifixion, Jesus taught us that the frailest of us can transform ourselves into supermen and superwomen - that we can find the strength to pick up and carry our crosses - simply by clinging to love, holding tight and not letting go. Love lightens our load. Love makes our Crosses buoyant. This is the secret hanging in plain sight from the Cross (Matthew 11:30).
Rolling boulders of suffering intent on crushing us are the chief characteristic of godlessness. In godlessness, they are unavoidable. But God does not want us to be crushed under them during our temporary exile in godlessness. Therefore, is it surprising that the Son of God would reveal to us the sanctuary in which we can take refuge in times of suffering? Is it surprising that he revealed the secret of how we can pick up our crosses and carry them?
Some misunderstand the point that Jesus tried to make when he told us to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross and to follow him (Matthew 16:24). They look at the Crucifixion from a negative rather than a positive point of view. They preach the gospel of irrationality. They think that God is recommending suffering to us. 'Jesus suffered, therefore, you must suffer' is their perverse logic. What an awful recommendation that they attribute to God! Run away from them - fast and far - run away from anyone who tries to tell you that suffering is good and that we must embrace it. He does not know what he is talking about. Such preachers are sadistic idiots. God is not sadistic. God is philanthropic. A recommendation of suffering is inconsistent with a philanthropic God. The Son of God is not recommending that we suffer or die. He is not exalting suffering or death. He is not sealing suffering or death with his imprimatur. He is not doing doublespeak - calling evil good. Suffering sucks. No matter how you slice it and dice it, the truth is that suffering sucks. Suffering is the hallmark of godlessness. Suffering is the engine that drives us to the exit of godlessness.
The Son of God is doing something much more positive - much more rational - much more practical when he tells us to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross and to follow him (Matthew 16:24). He is giving us practical advice to help us pass through suffering. There is a track that takes us through suffering and Jesus wants to put us on this track. The track that takes us through suffering is love. Only love makes suffering bearable. The Son of God is recommending that we love not that we suffer. Fill your heart to the brim with love as you are passing through suffering. The right logic is 'Jesus loved, therefore, you must love."
Don't you think that the Son of God is giving us good advice?
If you are going to tell the story of the Crucifixion, make sure you tell it right
St. Francis kissing the bloody wound in the right foot of Christ. From a panel of a Processional Crucifix attributed to Maestro di San Francesco
The story of the Crucifixion unfolds on two layers of reality and on the connection between the two.
Let me explain.
Reality has depth. It does not consist of a single layer. It derives its depth from multiple layers. Different stories unfold on the different layers of reality. Moreover, some layers of reality are connected to each other and some are not. Meaning is derived not just from the story unfolding on a layer of reality. Meaning is also derived from the connections and lack of connections between layers.
Furthermore, a one gallon tank cannot handle two gallons of information. A one dimensional thinker cannot handle two dimensions of reality let alone the connection between the two. Therefore, to handle the two layers of reality and the connection that constitute the Crucifixion, you need make sure your tank is big enough. If it is not, you need to make it bigger so it can handle the full story of the Crucifixion.On the near side of the bloody wounds we opened in the body of Christ during the Crucifixion is the first layer of reality. The story that unfolded here took place on the skin of reality. Here we tortured and killed him. Here he suffered and died. Here is all of the wickedness we did to him. Here is his ignominious defeat .
On the far side of the bloody wounds we opened in the body of Christ during the Crucifixion is the second layer of reality. The story that unfolded here took place on the subcutaneous layer of reality. Here he did not stay dead and he did not stop loving us. Here he emerged from the black hole of his death still alive and still in love with us. Here is his glorious victory. His survival and the survival of his love for us is the glorious victory we celebrate at Mass.
Moreover, there is a connection between the layer of reality on the near side of the bloody wounds and the layer of reality on the far side of the bloody wounds. The near side, the far side and the connection carry the meaning of the Crucifixion. The story of the Crucifixion cannot be told without reference to the two layers of reality and the connection. Leaving a part out distorts the meaning of the Crucifixion. In truth, God himself knitted these two layers of reality together in the Crucifixion .
To what did God want to call our attention by knitting together these two layers of reality?
God pointed our attention to the impregnable firewall - the profound abyss - the great gulf - the buffering disconnect - that keeps our wickedness and his love for sinners separate and apart. The will of God isolates our wickedness from his love for us. Because of the impregnable firewall, our wickedness cannot reach his love for sinners. It pulls up short. It never reaches its goal. Our wickedness only goes as far as his bloody wounds but no farther. It stops there. It stops at the skin of reality and does not penetrate reality's depth. The Son of God refused to let it reach his most sacred heart to extinguish the bonfire of love that burns for us therein. His most sacred heart stayed filled to the brim with love for sinners. Not a drop of his love for us spilled through his bloody wounds. The Son of God refused to put the dial that controls his love for sinners into our hands. He kept it in his hands. Moreover, it is set to the highest degree and is locked in place.
That he did not stay dead is the proof that Jesus is God. That he did not stop loving sinners, however, is the proof of so much more than omnipotence. It is the proof that Divinity is love - a love so profligate that it extends even to sinners - to the imperfect - to the unworthy - to the broken - to we who are damaged goods.
Always keep in mind that the outcome could have been different. The sin of sins we committed against him ought to have, at the least, pissed him off. It ought to have put us on his shit list. It ought to have provoked his natural instinct for justice. It ought to have triggered his reflex for revenge, retaliation and retribution. It ought to have transformed him into our enemy - into a misanthropic monster - into the God who hates us. When the fuse is lit, the bomb ordinarily explodes. But, remarkably, it did not. We lit the fuse, the fuse worked but the bomb was a dud . The evil we did to him did not extinguish his love for us or reduce it by even the slightest degree. He clung to his love for us, held tight and refused to let go. God let us get away with murder - with deicide. Such is the nature of God. Wow! This is the good news of great joy - very good news for us indeed. Our fate is in the hands of the God who loves us despite our wickedness! Rejoice! How lucky we are! What a break we caught! Wow! Indeed, this is good news of great joy! Where do I sign up? How do I join? How do I become a citizen the kingdom of this God who loves even sinners like me?
At Bethlehem, God sent sinners a love note. At Calvary, God verified that the love note is genuine. If the love note were counterfeit, his love for sinners would have faded as we tortured him and died when we killed him. But it did not. It survived. Its survival is the proof that the love note is genuine.
The closest that we can come to enjoying here on earth is by looking through - not at - the bloody wounds we opened in the body of Christ during his Crucifixion. By looking through the bloody wounds as we would look through a telescope, we catch a glimpse of heaven from here on earth. The bloody wounds pierce the veil. By looking at them, we see who we are - wicked creatures who are hostile to our God. By looking through them, however, the identity of Jesus is revealed.
He does not withhold his love from us until we achieve a minimal level of holiness. There is no threshold between sinner and saint that we must cross to become a beneficiary of his love. [The direction of the mind is more important than its progress - Joseph Joubert] He will deliver the gift of paradise to us. Its arrival is ineluctable. It is ours if we want it. The only requirement he imposes on us is that we accept the gift. When we hear the knock on the door, we must open it and let him in . So listen. Listen for the knock on the door. He is not just approaching. He is at the door. Already, he is knocking. His kingdom is at hand . Are you listening ? Do you hear his knock? Are you opening the door? Or does something you deem more important than listening for the knocking of our Savior distract you?
The ship of godlessness is sinking. Abandon ship! Abandon ship! Save yourself. To the lifeboats! Our time on earth is the crossroads between life and death. It is the time to transfer from the ship to the train. The train to paradise is leaving the station. All aboard! All aboard! It is the last train. There is no next train. Our God is not the God of tomorrow. Our God is the God of today. I am who am. Our God is now.
Therefore, tell the story of his bloody wounds. Proclaim his bloody wounds to the world . Celebrate the bloody wounds in the victory party that is the Mass . When you tell the story, however, make sure you do not tell just half the tale . Do not leave parts out. Include in your tale both the near side of the bloody wounds and the far side and the connection between the two sides. If you are going to tell the tale, make sure you tell it right.
Let us fill the earth with the knowledge of God!
God is not dead. Indeed, God is very much alive. However, the conversation about God is dead. Killing the conversation about God is tantamount to killing God. The enemies of the Church know this. The Church does not.
Please follow the logic of the next paragraph. Pay close attention to its undulation. Watch it fall and watch it rise. The fall and rise of the Church are linked at the hip with the fall and rise of the knowledge of God. Like a sine wave, the health of the Church plunges as the knowledge of God wanes and rises as the knowledge of God waxes. In the logic of the next paragraph is the problem that the Church faces and its solution.
When we exclude God from the conversation, we empty the earth of the knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9). God becomes a stranger to us. And nobody follows a stranger. Fewer and fewer go to Mass. Nobody goes to Confession. Vocations dry up. Churches wither and die. The trend is downward. Only when God stops being a stranger to us - when we establish and develop a relationship with him - when we get to know him - when he becomes a member of our family - when the Son of God becomes our brother, does the trend get reversed (The Three Stages of the Escape).
Why does the dervish whirl? What inspires him? Why do Christians whirl from Mass, to Confession, and to the other holy places? What inspires a Christian to pick up the roots he has sunk into the hostile desert of godlessness, end his sessility and start to move from holy place to holy place as he makes his escape from godlessness to paradise? What turns a settler into a pilgrim?
What is the inspiration of a Christian?
The Church has a problem. Fewer and fewer of Christians are whirling these days (Only 25% of Us Go to Mass - Cardinal Dolan 3/10/2016). Why? The Church has become more interested in the nitty-gritty of Christianity than in the inspiration. The Church has become so bogged down in the nitty-gritty of Christianity that it cannot climb out of it and ascend the holy mountain (Isaiah 2:2-4) to help us to explore the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God. The Holy Spirit is tugging at our souls and the curious are following the tug back home to its source. Along the way, the curious are exploring the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God. A more than two thousand years old Church surely has learned a thing or two about the places to visit and the sights to see on the holy mountain of God. Yet, the Church prefers to reign as a petty tyrant over the nitty-gritty of Christianity than to serve as the tour guide helping us explore the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God. The Church has failed us. It has become a cheerleader for itself and for pettiness instead of a cheerleader for God and the sublime. It has allowed the nitty gritty of Christianity to dilute the inspiration. The glass of Christianity has become all water and no wine - only a dash of wine is added to the glass to give the water color - it has the color of wine but with none of wine's oomph (Matthew 5:13-16). The whirl is the byproduct of the inspiration. There is no inspiration in the nitty-gritty of Christianity. No inspiration; no whirl.
What is the inspiration of a Christian?
First, let us begin with what is not. The inspiration of a Christian is not the Church. The official rules, regulations, red tape and rigmarole of the Church are not the inspiration. The inspiration is not the escape route of the Church at whose holy places we seek God and flee godlessness. The inspiration is not the code of morality that the Church teaches. All of these things are nitty-gritty. The inspiration is elsewhere.
What is the inspiration of a Christian?
To understand the inspiration of a Christian it is necessary to go back to the beginning - back to the story of Adam and Eve (See, Godlessness). Yet, many view the story of Adam and Eve as a child’s fairy tale with little or no relevance to us today. Its lesson is judged too simple and, hence, too well-understood, to deserve any further serious contemplation. It is taken for granted. Few sermons are preached about it. Yet, the story of Adam and Eve is the sine qua non to an understanding of what inspires Christians to whirl.
The serpent conjured up two illusions to con us into thinking that a life lived without God in godlessness is superior to a life lived with God in paradise. The first illusion camouflages the sweetness of paradise. The second illusion sugarcoats the sourness of godlessness. The inspiration of a Christian is discovered after the sledgehammer of truth shatters the two illusions as the blow of a hammer shatters glass (See, The Sledgehammer of Truth - Stage 1 of God's Rescue Plan). When the illusions are shattered and the truth becomes visible to us, Christians seek the sweetness of paradise and flee the sourness of godlessness. It is contrary to their self-interest to do otherwise. The truth sets them free.
The illusion that sugarcoats the sourness of godlessness is easy to shatter because the sourness of godlessness is auto-didactic. We taste for ourselves its sourness. We taste death, illness, injury, injustice, oppression, etc. Our own experience in the sourness of godlessness convinces us that godlessness sucks. The sourness of godlessness is harsh but effective medicine. It persuades us that the serpent was a liar and that God was telling the truth. Moreover, when the gift of paradise is delivered to us, we will not abdicate it as did Eve, as did Adam, as did Lucifer and as did the gaggle of angels who followed Lucifer. The prodigal son is never going back to the pig sty and neither are we. We have tasted the sourness of the pig sty and we know better than to return there. The sourness of godlessness is the engine that pushes us to the exit of godlessness.
The illusion that camouflages the sweetness of paradise is harder to shatter. We are strangers to paradise. Therefore, for us to know the sweetness of paradise, it must be revealed to us. The sweetness of paradise is the engine that pulls us to the entrance of paradise. Here is one formulation of the sweetness of paradise. There are other formulations (See, the Treasure Chest of Christianity for other formulations). Here is one.
God sent a love note to sinners at Bethlehem. Imagine. A love note from God to us. It was the most unusual of love notes. It was not just cold ink written on dead paper. It was the word of God written large on life itself. It lived and breath and had a heartbeat. The love note took the form of a baby born in the most humble of circumstances. The love note descended from the penthouse of heaven to the basement of earth to pay us a visit. The love note paid us a visit not on a level above us as befits a god but on the same level as us - an equal to us in our humanity - a partner with us in our suffering. He wanted to make sure there was no misunderstanding of his message. So he did not communicate with us in the language of the angels. He spoke to us in the language of suffering. Creatures who suffer understand the language of suffering. It is our native tongue. At Calvary, God demonstrated that the love note was genuine. If the love note were counterfeit, God's love for sinners would have faded as we tortured him and died when we killed him. However, it did not. It survived. Its survival is the guarantee that the love note is genuine. Wow! What type of literature is the word of God? Is it a comedy? Is it a tragedy? No. The word of God is a love note. Imagine that! The context in which our relationship with God develops is a love story. We are the protagonists in a love story with our God.
Wow! Where do I sign up? How do I enlist? How do I join the kingdom of the God who loves sinners like me so much (See, the Interview)?
What is the inspiration of a Christian?
When the illusions are shattered and the truth becomes visible, our rationality instructs us to seek the sweetness of paradise and flee the sourness of godlessness. It is against our self-interest to do otherwise. The sourness of godlessess pushes us to its exit. The sweetness of paradise pulls us to its entrance. But there is a gap between the exit of godlessness and the entrance of paradise - an abyss. At the gap, "a great leap must be made from time to eternity". This great leap is made through the bloody wounds we opened in the body of Christ (See, the Telescope). Jesus is the escape route. He is the bridge between the world of godlessness and the world of paradise. He is the way, etc. He is the conductor through which runs the current of salvation that arises from the potential difference between the sourness of godlessness and the sweetness of paradise. On the near side of his bloody wounds is the sourness of godlessness. The sourness of godlessness is the engine that pushes us to its exit. On the far side of his bloody wounds is the sweetness of paradise. The sweetness of paradise is the engine that pulls us to its entrance. We make the great leap through his bloody wounds. Through his bloody wounds goes the escape. The escape starts in godlessness, passes through his bloody wounds, and finishes in paradise. We whirl from godlessness to paradise through his bloody wounds.
Christianity is a religion done feet first not head first. A Christian does not read about going on safari. A Christian goes on safari - hopefully with the Church as the tour guide. Christianity is the religion whose central thesis is that we can experience close encounters with the living God - I am who am (Exodus 3:14) - right now, right here on earth. Our God is not the God of tomorrow. Our God is the God of today. The close encounters take place at the landmarks - the holy places - that define the escape route through the hostile desert of godlessness. Nobody walks away from a close encounter with the living God empty handed. Nobody walks away from a close encounter with the living God unchanged. A close encounter with the living God is the treasure buried in the field. It is the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46). Christians are treasure hunters. However, we do not prospect for diamonds or gold. We prospect for close encounters with the living God - the most valuable treasure in this world and the next (Matthew 6:19-21).
After Adam and Eve opted out of paradise and took us with them into godlessness, God did not wave goodbye and say good riddance. He did not slam the door shut between paradise and godlessness and lock it to prevent our return (See, Godlessness). He kept the door open. Moreover, he dove in after us to rescue us. He did not delegate the job to his subordinates. He did not send his flunkies. He did the job himself. He built an escape route from godlessness to paradise, defined it with holy places, made a map of them, established a Church, entrusted the map to the Church and gave the Church the mission of facilitating the escape - not frustrating it, not filtering it and not fouling it up. God, not the Church, is the lord of the escape. Subsidiarity at the level of the individual is the governing philosophy of the escape. The role of the Church in the escape is limited and specific. Godlessness is a sinking ship. The job of the Church is not to save the ship. The job of the Church is to save the passengers. Abandon ship! Abandon ship! The Church shouts to the passengers. To the life boats! To the life boats! The Church yells. If the exigency is not felt, the Church is not doing its job. God put the Church in charge of the logistics of the escape. The only mission God gave the Church is to get the escapees from here to there - from godlessness to paradise - into the lifeboats, on their way and out of danger. God invites and welcomes sinners and saints alike to make their escape. Any judgment of the escapees, God reserved to himself. The Church is the new Moses. The Church is the servant / leader of the escape. The Church is the escape. The Church is supposed to be the grease for the wheels of the escape and not an obstacle in its way. If the Church gets in the way of the escape, we go around it, over it, under it and through it. Only by passing from holy place to holy place that define the escape route can we be sure that we are heading in the right direction. The escape is the needle of the compass that always points in the direction of paradise. The escape from godlessness to paradise is primary. Nothing else matters. Everything else is secondary. Anything that interferes is suspect.
Therefore, to prime the pump of the escape, the sledgehammer of truth must be taken in hand and wielded against the two illusions conjured up by the serpent. The illusions must be shattered and the truth exposed. We must see with our own eyes the sweetness of paradise and the sourness of godlessness. The sweetness of paradise and the sourness of godlessness are the inspiration for Christians to whirl. They are the engines that drive us along the escape route. They supply the motive force. They unleash the current of salvation. When the illusions are shattered and we step out of the darkness and into the light, we are disoriented. We ask ourselves, how do we get from here to there - from godlessness to paradise. At that very moment, it is time for the Church to announce that it has the map and knows the way. To reinvigorate the whirl, the Church must assume the role of servant who helps us as our tour guide to explore the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God and relinquish its role as petty tyrant reigning over the nitty-gritty of Christianity. More of the pizzazz of Christianity and less of the nitty-gritty. More of the Big Picture; less of the pettiness. More revelation; less regulation. More exploration; less indoctrination. More Mary; less Martha No change in doctrine. Just a change in emphasis - a shift in the paradigm - nothing more.
Let us end the introduction to this website with the following reminder:
Jesus is the king. His palace is the Mass. His throne is the most Holy Eucharist. He is not the typical king and his kingdom is not the typical kingdom. He broke the mold for kingship. He is not the king who rules us. He is the king who loves us. In place of rules, regulations, red tape and rigmarole, the means by which he governs us is love. In the kingdom of the king who loves us, the citizens govern themselves (Third Stage of the Escape). We desire to please him. We trip all over ourselves in our eagerness to please him.