One of the things that getting rid of all social media has done for me is to open up some time in my schedule. I was looking forward to a bit more time because I had not been reading much in the recent past.
I’m a reader. I love to read. Mostly I read a lot of theological type stuff, but I also really enjoy classical type literature and almost anything historical. I love a good story.
So, when this time opened up in my schedule, I knew I wanted to do some reading that was non theological. One of the books I wanted to read again was JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I read these stories for the first time in early high school and was just absolutely captivated by Tolkien’s storytelling. His stories have layers to them. I mean, dude invented the languages spoken by his characters in the books.
So, I’ve begun reading Tolkien’s massive work again. I have the three books all in one edition so it’s monstrous. My 7-year-old was looking at it the other day and said, “Whoa. That’s a big book.”
Love me some Tolkien.
Anyways, I’ve been reflecting a bit on the art of storytelling recently. I’ve noticed something that I think we don’t really want to think about too much these days. I heard a priest say this the other day on a podcast and it’s so true.
Not all stories have a happy ending.
How did you react to that statement just now? Do you agree or disagree? Does that make you feel sad or do you have a visceral kind of negative reaction?
Our society is obsessed with happy endings. Here’s what I mean. Our kids play in some type of sports thing and everybody gets a trophy (at least in the early years). We so desperately go out of our way in all parts of our lives to make sure that everyone feels “included” and “happy,” whatever those two words mean anymore. We insist that everyone be “equal.” We are obsessed with happy endings.
But this is simply not reality. In sports, everyone can’t win. Not everyone feels included and happy and not everyone is treated equally. This is the reality of life. Whether we like it or not, it just is. People get sick. Old age comes. Cancer happens. Car crashes happen. People lose their jobs. The media tells us that, if we’ll all just wear masks and socially distance ourselves or take this vaccine, we can all have a happy ending to the Covid-19 story.
But it’s just not reality.
I mean, if masks worked so well, why did the CDC tell us (via their website which they promptly took down) that 70% of the people who contracted Covid-19 were wearing masks when they contracted it? Why is it that a virus that has over a 99% survivability rate (without underlying co-morbidities) requires a vaccine?
Happy endings. We must have them. Even if we have to sacrifice our souls (as in being told we can only go to Mass in certain numbers thus prohibiting people from receiving the sacraments) or our well-being (like our jobs because the government decides who is “essential”) or the mental and social stability of our children (by closing down their schools).
We are so afraid of suffering and death that we will do anything to avoid it.
How very un-Christian. How very unlike our forefathers and fore-mothers in the Faith. How very unlike Christ.
He was unafraid of suffering and death. In fact, He welcomed it. He welcomed it because He knew the only way to save us was suffering and death.
And now, we who follow the Christ get to follow in His footsteps. He has blazed the trail before us. He has shown us how to embrace suffering and even death, knowing that on the other side of it is a happy ending. Stop running from suffering and trying to avoid death. Embrace it, knowing that you and I can participate in the suffering and death of Christ!
The truth is that we are obsessed with happy endings because, if we are in Christ by faith, the end of our story is happy. In fact, if we believe the Bible, it is unbelievably happy. There will be no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow, no more death. Only peace in the presence of the One who suffered and died so that we can have the happy ending our soul craves and cries out for!
Tolkien reminds us what awaits us,
““PIPPIN: I didn't think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so bad.
GANDALF: No. No, it isn't.”"
White shores and a far green country under a swift sunrise of joy that never ends…
St. John’s Apocalypse tells us,
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me: Write, for these words are most faithful and true. And he said to me: It is done. I am Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. To him that thirsteth, I will give of the fountain of the water of life, freely.” (Rev. 21:1-6, DR)
A new heaven and a new earth. God will dwell with us and us with Him. He will wipe away every tear and death shall be no more.
He is making all things new.
Happy endings, brothers and sisters!
There have been a couple of distinct times in my life that I can remember having to “go back.” Let me explain.
Once was in college. I was in the Army ROTC program and a part of the Ranger battalion. As such, one of the things we had to learn was “land nav.” That’s land navigation if you didn’t pick that up. Basically, what that means is we had to learn how, given nothing but a map and an objective, how to get ourselves and our unit from where we were to where we needed to go to accomplish our mission. You had to learn how to read a map and the “lay of the land” in order to do so. Getting lost could have, literally, fatal consequences.
Well, I got lost. I was unsure on how to read a compass at the time and how to plot routes to travel from point A to point B. So, rather than ask, I just sucked it up and tried to get it done. And I got lost. My platoon sergeant found me wandering around and said, “Go back to the beginning and start over.” I wasn’t happy about it but I knew I was lost and so I did.
The second time was putting that concept of land navigation into practical use during my time as a trainee police officer. I had to learn how to read street maps in order to get from where I was in the city to where I needed to go. Yes, it was long enough ago that we needed physical maps and didn’t have fancy computers or GPS to tell us where to go. Anyways…
I got lost more than once. My training officers were not amused with lack of attention and inability to do my job. I remember getting lost once and not knowing where I was. My training officer said, “Then go back to the last place you know and start over.”
Sound familiar, right?
Sometimes we just have to go back to the beginning and start over.
I think this is really apropos for the Church today. I feel like, in many ways, the Church has lost her way. She has become confused and is wandering around lost, trying to find her way from point A to point B, not really sure how to get to where she needs to go to accomplish her mission. I think there are a lot of reasons for this and I really don’t have the time or space to discuss them all. But I do want to touch on one that I believe is really important: Tradition. Specifically, tradition in worship.
Some of you reading this were instantly triggered just now when I said tradition and worship. It’s okay, you’ll be fine. Some of you are probably thinking that I talk about this too much and some of you probably don’t care.
We should care because our abandonment of tradition is killing the Church. I know that sounds very dramatic, but I want us to consider some things. I base most of this on anecdotal evidence and personal experience. There are some hard facts that I can and probably will quote but, nevertheless. We look around us and lament about how the secular world is so corrupt and lost and blah blah blah. And it is. The secular world is so corrupt and lost and sick that it’s dizzying to watch the pace at which things seem to be disintegrating.
But the Church is no different. I mean, if we’re being honest.
Ok, so some hard facts first. You can find some of these in Kenneth C. Jones’ work Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II.
In 1958, 74 percent of Catholics attended Sunday Mass. By 2000, that number dropped to 25 percent. In 1965, there were 126,000 adult baptisms. In 2002, there were 80,000 (keep in mind that the population of the world has increased in these years also). In 1965, there were 58,000 priests. In 2002, there were only 45,000 priests. In 1965, there were 1,575 ordinations to the priesthood and in 2002, there were 450 ordinations to the priesthood. In 1965, 1 percent of parishes were without a priest. By 2002, 15 percent of parishes were without a resident priest.
These numbers could go on and on. One of the most shocking is found in a 2019 study published by the Pew Research Center that found that only 31 percent of Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Read that again slowly and let it sink in. 69 percent of our brothers and sisters do not believe when Jesus said, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood,” He meant it. The overwhelming majority of Catholic Christians in the world today do not believe what Jesus Himself taught about the Eucharist.
And we wonder what has happened to the Church.
To be fair, we are the ones who have allowed this. We, the faithful, are the ones who have not only stood by and quietly went along with the slow decline of the Church, but we have actively participated in it. We are to blame. Jesus hasn’t changed His mind about the Church. The Bible hasn’t changed. God the Father hasn’t changed His mind about how things are to be done, how He is to be worshipped.
We have done this.
So, what are we to do?
To be honest, I think some of this is inevitable. Some of this, I believe, is a purgation of the Church. Some of this God has and is allowing to see who will be faithful. But, other than some of this being God’s doing, most of it is our doing.
So, what are we to do?
I think the answer going forward is to go back. With all my heart, I believe the way forward in the Church is to go back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We need to return to the traditional beliefs and practices of the Church as she has been and done from the beginning. And this is not a mystery. We know how to do this, and we know what must be done.
Let’s be honest, we don’t want to. We don’t want to because it will be uncomfortable for us and, truth is, we’re really more about our comfort than we are our holiness. We’re more about the status quo and less about obedience to what Jesus has told us we are to do. We would rather be friends with the world than brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus.
And we wonder what has happened to the Church.
Let us return, with humble hearts, to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Let us return to the worship of Christ’s Church as the saints before us worshipped. Let us jettison our concerns and insecurities about how the world views us and prostrate ourselves before the throne of our Lord and Saviour. Let us beg His mercy. Let us bring our sacrifice of praise in a proper and holy way befitting His majesty. Let us sing and pray along with our forefathers in the faith. Demand it of ourselves and our priests and bishops. Make no mistake; this will not be easy and demands great courage of us. Cry out to those who will listen that we want to be part of the Church as she has always been, not as the world has tried to make her.
Sometimes the only way forward is to go back to the beginning.