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!
Anyone else feel like we’re living in some kind of weird time suspended state or something right now? It’s like this strange, world-wide Orwellian dystopia in which the world as we knew it seems turned inside out. Right is wrong, up is down. We’re all being put under house arrest and forced to cover our faces, prohibited from gathering with family or friends for fun and laughter and even holidays, even prohibited in gathering for worship. Our so-called leaders tell us that it’s our “patriotic duty” to submit to these oppressive tactics of our government.
Things are weird right now.
And, do you know what is wonderful?
The timing of Advent could not be more perfect right now. Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. It is a time of hope and anticipation, but not just any hope and anticipation; it is the hope and anticipation of One who will come and set right the things that are wrong. Justice will prevail, the final reign of the Christ will conquer all evil, hope and promise and goodness will rain down from His being soaking everything in holiness and wholeness.
Man, don’t we need that right now?! I’m reminded of what Legolas says in The Lord of the Rings, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”
It feels like we’re living in a time when all is forlorn. There is trouble in the world and our human society. There is trouble in the Church with corruption inundating and apparent capitulation to the world from some of our bishops.
It feels forlorn.
What a perfect time for hope!
Advent has traditionally been a time marked by the Church to celebrate the anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ but also to mark the anticipation of the second coming of the Christ. The emotions expressed in our texts this week help us to feel this way as well; a longing, a yearning for something outside ourselves to come and save us.
Consider our Old Testament text, Isaiah 63:16-17, 19, 64:2-7.
We see here the longing for the return of “our father, our redeemer.” We get a sense that we don’t want to go back to the way it was in “the beginning, when thou didst not rule over us, and when we were not called by thy name.” There was a time when things didn’t make sense, the prophet says, when God didn’t rule over us and we had no identity and that was a dark time. But if we wait for our father and redeemer we, like the people of Israel can say with the prophet, “From the beginning of the world they have not heard, nor perceived with the ears: the eye hath not seen, O God, besides thee, what things thou has prepared for them that wait for thee.”
Wait for Him.
The Psalmist reminds us that our waiting is not for some vague esoteric reality. Rather, the reward of our waiting is our very salvation. Look at Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19.
“Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”
We read this twice. It is repeated so that we may notice it, pay attention to it, meditate upon it. Turn us again. Return to us again, the Psalmist cries, and let us see your face. And the result of His return? We shall be saved. Our waiting is not in vain. Our waiting, our hope is for the salvation of our souls. It is more than just peace or no more sickness and no more death. It is so much more than we can even imagine. It is the very salvation we so desperately need. It is the antidote to forlorn. “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine: and we shall be saved.”
Wait for salvation.
In our gospel text, Jesus, the very One we’ve been waiting for, reminds us to “take heed, watch and pray.” We see this in St. Mark’s gospel 13:33-37. Like the parable, Jesus has gone into a far country and has given his authority to his servants over every work of the Church and commanded us to watch and pray. He may come at any moment or he may tarry long in that far country. It is our responsibility to wait faithfully.
Wait in prayer.
Finally, St. Paul reminds us, in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, that we are to wait in the grace of Christ for the day of his coming. In Him we are made rich, through the confirmation of the life of Christ in us as we await His return. And how can we be sure? I mean, it’s been a long time and things aren’t going so well so how can we be sure? St. Paul tells us, “God is faithful: by whom you are called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” We can be sure because God is faithful.
Wait in assurance.
Two of the greatest writers and thinkers in the English language, I believe, are JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. Their story telling has been profoundly impactful for me and many others. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a masterful telling of the salvation of the world. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, was also good friends with Lewis. Lewis’ telling of the story of salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia is wonderful. I grew up reading those books, not really understanding the story I was reading. As an adult, I have come to love the mythical beauty of both these writers.
The major figure in all the Narnia chronicles is the mysterious lion Aslan, who is a clear personification in mythical form of the Christ. He always comes and goes and disappears for apparently centuries at a time…much like Jesus. He has come and gone in one form or another (theophanies of the OT come to mind) until He was incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And He’s been gone now for a long time.
Like Narnia, Advent reminds us that Good will come again. We read, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
The King will return and when He does, there will be no more winter in our souls. Only the sunlight and warmth of His love and the strength of His embrace.
Come quickly Lord Jesus!
Thy people await thee.