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!
When I first began to wander into the historic Church, one of the things I had to get used to was a lectionary. For my self sufficient, individualistic Protestant mindset, I was sure I didn’t need anyone to tell me what I should be reading from the Bible and when. But then I began to pay attention to the readings and I saw something amazing.
I began to see the Bible as a whole. Now yes, I had known that for awhile but we get lost sometimes I think in our “Bible reading plan.” We forget that the Old Testament and the New Testament are two sides to the same coin. I believe it was St. Augustine who said,
“The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”
If we view this from a Christological standpoint (as we should when we come to ALL of Holy Scripture), then one could say that, in the OT we see Christ concealed or foreshadowed and in the NT we see Christ revealed.
I find such great richness in reading Holy Scripture this way, seeing it all as one organic whole.
Today’s readings for Mass illustrated this perfectly. The Old Testament lesson (reading) is from 1 Kings 19:9-13. I want us to consider verses 9 through the end of the chapter. You can go and read that now before proceeding. Elijah has just hiked for 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.
The place is super important in the Bible. This is the mountain where the law was given to the people of God who had just left slavery in Egypt. This is the mountain where God had revealed Himself to both Moses and the people of Israel. This is where Elijah has come. And why has he come?
He came to complain.
Look at the text. God asks Elijah what he’s doing there. Elijah replies by complaining. He basically says, “Look, I’ve been faithful. I’ve done what you asked me to do. But everyone else has abandoned you, no one worships you anymore. I’m the only one left and they want to kill me.”
And what does God say? He says, “Go out and stand on the mountain.” So Elijah does. The Scripture tells that a strong wind tore the mountain, breaking rocks before the Lord. An earthquake shook the mountain and fire scorched everything in sight. But the Lord was not in the wind or the quake or the fire. Then Elijah hears a whisper, a still small voice and he recognizes that Voice. He wraps his face in his cloak and goes out to hear what God will say.
Now, let’s skip to the gospel reading for the day. St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 14, verses 22-33. Go and read that before proceeding.
Jesus was also on a mountain, but praying, not complaining. When He comes down, the boat that His disciples took is a long way from shore and a wind has come up. Sound familiar?
So Jesus saunters up the boat…on the water. And, rightly so, the disciples are terrified. But, Jesus speaks. He speaks over the wind, telling them not to be afraid and assuring them that it is He. Then something really crazy happens. Peter says, in essence, “Jesus, I want you to prove that it’s you and I’m not seeing things. If it’s you, command me to come out to you on the water.”
In my mind, when I close my eyes and put myself there, I believe Jesus whispered. I believe His voice was so soft, so quiet in the chaos of the moment, with the wind howling and waves crashing. But Peter heard Him. Peter heard the whisper and he knew that voice.
That was the voice of God-in-the-flesh. That was the voice of One who walked on water, that was the voice of the One who had healed the sick and cleansed the lepers. That was the voice that Peter would follow forever.
So Peter steps out and walks on water. But it didn’t take long for Peter to fear. It didn’t take long for what was going on around Peter to distract him, to cause his faith to waver.
Elijah had the same problem. Elijah was discouraged and afraid. Elijah was distracted by the faithlessness of the people around him and it caused his faith to waver.
But here’s where we have hope.
That voice still speaks. That still, small whisper that spoke to Eiljah still speaks. If you read the rest of the chapter, God tells Elijah that there are thousands more like him, thousands more who are faithful.
That voice still speaks. That calm, still voice still beckons Peter from the boat and tells him not to be afraid. ‘Don’t be distracted. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t be faithless.’
All of Holy Scripture, all of life is about Jesus, the Christ of God. God-in-the-flesh has come. He still speaks to us, even when our faith is weak. He still speaks amidst the chaos of our world; not in the crashing of the wind and rocks tearing up around us, nor in the fire that seems to burn our very world away, nor in the crashing waves or rushing winds of the storm. He still speaks in that still, small voice, beckoning us to follow, be faithful, step out and fear not. When we are faithless, He is faithful.
He is faithful.
He is faithful.
Amen and amen!