Take a step back from your reality today, look at the world around you. Look at the news, which runs now constantly. Look at entertainment, focused on filling up every nook and cranny of your time. Look at art, hardly any of it focused on an ethereal and transcendental elevation of our reality, but instead a deluge of abstract figures and paintings, of nature and a pantheistic pursuit designed to make us feel comfortable, and above all celebrations of mediocrity. Stories seem unoriginal now more than ever, movies are remakes of once celebrated ground-breaking forms of art sometimes once and twice over. The criticism each person faces by exposing their art has more to do with an inability to have perfected an art form which required decades to master, and the public’s immediate expectation let down (any Star Wars movie after Return of The Jedi as a perfect example). This constant criticism of an audience which no more has an ability to critique because of their own deficiencies in the education of art have led studios and executives to pursue the benefits as a means rather than the goal of entertainment. The inexplicable problem which inherently comes forth is, the quality is poor, and in our deepest recesses we all know it, but since we paid so much for what we are seeing we feel personally obligated and willing to sit through and endure this nightmare simply by personal duress of this obligation. We’ve all allowed our standards to take a back seat, this includes the executive to the teenager willing to pay. This is just one facet of our society willing to degrade a standard to have instant satisfaction, and for what? Jesus, in his words to the disciples said, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”
Cardinal Sarah, wrote in his book “Power of Silence” about listening to the voice of God, within the silence of our hearts, indicating the rightly ordered understanding of God, ipsum esse subsistens (the very nature of being), as residing in the quietness of our hearts and we must intently and lovingly listen if we want to hear what he is saying. At the same time, St. Thomas Aquinas points out this imprint of God in all of us, is what causes us to inexplicably drive towards him in all we do, even if we fail to recognize what it is we do. So, when we choose sin or rather sinful paths to walk down, we understand more fully, the free will to sin is our choice to hear and not heed the loving words spoken to us.
Have you ever been in a situation where you friend, spouse, children, or boss has stated “I told you this would happen” and for whatever reason, you still chose the path which led to failure, or sometimes victory? Often times, the plight of a parent is seeing a more developed picture of the world than their children, because of poor decisions and failing to listen, and we seek to instruct the child in right behavior and appropriate responses with a picture of failure as a deterrent for poor choice. Just to have the child fail to do what was advised, and an “I told you so” situation arises, where in hopes by the parent the child will learn from this failure. Failure, such a negative word, many papers and books have been written about the context of failure as it relates to great catastrophes an then even when it helped to build the character of a person as they ascended the ladder of their career. However, failure is by definition, “lack of success”, according to Google. Placed into the simple context of life, we then have to ask ourselves, what is success? Is success obtainable in a world with such lofty goals in criticism, and yet such mediocre goals in performance? Are we only as successful as the world says, or is there a more objective standard in which to hold our actions and effects as we run through this life of never-ending pitfalls and slippery slopes?
The answer to any question, as simple as it may sound to anyone, is God! God is always the answer, and placed into proper context of any situation, the answer is most appropriate. For instance, your pregnant wife looks at you, eight and a half months in, uncomfortable and ready for this ordeal to be over soon, and she stares at you and asks the ever mindful question “do I look fat to you?” Red lights start going off in your brain, images of people sliding down poles to man stations as sirens are going off whirls the imagination of your mind, and as you being to speak images of “Jaws” biting you in half suddenly take the forefront of your mind’s eye. When you stop for a split second and think about God, and then all makes sense, the waters have calmed, it was just a flounder and not a man-eating shark, and you say “sweetie, you have a baby growing inside of you, you are so beautiful because of God’s gift to you”. Before anyone thinks, this is mush and sounds cheesy, they would be so right, if you didn’t mean it. However, your focus on God’s Graces in your life, center your responses and create in you a clean heart willing to example his light in a reflective manner towards everything you do. Do be afraid to sound silly when speaking from the heart, this is where God is in all of us, and to speak from the heart, lovingly and humbly, is listening to God’s voice and echoing what is being said.
Over the vast expanses of time, we have all read and seen examples of God’s light shining from those who would place their hearts in a position for complete destruction and still were unafraid. Those people who pushed to show what they heard, no matter what people criticized them for, because deep down they knew the truth, they knew the voice, and it contained within themselves a solidarity of purpose reliant on an unmitigated sense of veracity. However, when people can listen to God and the works of art which are delivered in such a beautiful manner, it gives us all a glimpse at the potential we all hold as a matter of hearing what is required of us as we live our lives. From the person we see standing on the corner with a sign that says, “Will work for food” to the relative who insists on telling you about a “great opportunity you would be stupid not to get in on”. All goodness has an ability to stare in the face of difficulty and be unflinching as a result.
We never seem to heed the advice given by those who love us the most. I am as guilty of this as anyone, and although I am better than I once was, at times my hubris gets the better of me, and my belief in my own ability indicates my lack of trust in others. Which is to say, I feel as if I know better than a person who has given advice based on years of experience, especially when I have no experience at all. The very arrogance I have displayed among friends and family over the years is astounding, because at its very worst, I attempted to disguise my arrogance under a vale of duplicity. All the while, thinking no one can possibly know, but finding out years later, although people never said a word to me, they always knew and in my self-reflection I surmised, I must have looked completely foolish to them. This is all as a result of listening by not heeding the advice Jesus gave us on down to the friend who only ever desired to see my happiness. Just like when you watch a person and for some inexplicable reason, you can tell they are being untruthful, or at the very least they are not telling the entire truth, I was exposed even if they didn’t know what was being exposed. Trust was cleaved in two, and it would take me years of hard work, pressure, and a fervent desire to meld the two halves back together.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples about the impending fate he would suffer at the very hands of one of his own, the Apostles failed to heed his warning. So after his crucifixion, they for fear of their own lives, sought refuge in hiding. They huddled together, minus Judas and Thomas (Thomas not yet there and Judas hung from a tree himself by his own hands), and lamented what their lives meant at this point and what they must do from this point forward. Then all of a sudden, as if always there, Jesus sits among them. They are astounded, they know all too well, he died upon that cross in a place known as “the skull”, Golgotha (Gospel of Mark), where he would spend the remaining hours of his earthly life in agony. In Luke’s Gospel, we see two other men who will meet the same fate, and although one of them rebuked Jesus, the other who knew of him, listened to God’s voice and spoke true as his exclamation of Jesus’s innocence and what’s most important his truthful words “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” indicate, although he failed to listen to God’s voice in his sin, he listened finally and heeded what was being said. His reward, “paradise”, but for those Apostles who remained a fire would need to be lit, literally, and as the Holy Spirit descended upon them like a flame, they were eternally given the words of God to listen and heed. They walked to the ends of the earth and spoke of the good news, which was Jesus. To this end, they would all die but John, and they would all do so surrounded by darkness but as the brightest reflections of light possible.
At the end of our lives, we may not all have a chance to reflectively look back on what we did right and especially what we did wrong, in the hopes of rectifying those mistakes of sin we embraced as a matter of selfish pursuit of success. Instead, death may come quick, death may come as an unfair guest to a game which we thought we were winning, while all along, we never had control of for one instance. Death may be the sweet release of a life which sought to hamper every effort we had at making a better life for ourselves, it may even be (like JOB) a systematic disintegration of everything we’ve known and loved. However, this isn’t the end, and listening to advice (morally and principally sound advice) has never and will never be a means to prevent a person from enjoying life, instead it is a means of direction for a path filled with joy, even in times of struggle. Often times, when we see pictures of natural disasters or inexplicable events, testing the very nature of our faith. We still see victims who have chosen to listen to the voice of God, and heed what they know to be true. A life built in pursuance of love of God, is a life where no matter the struggle, a pure focus on what is true, always carries the day.
As we are in this Advent season, a time of waiting, and time of listening for the sound of Christ’s birth, we should be reminded of the lessons we seek to teach our own children. To seek God in all we do, to seek love in every action performed, and in order to recognize, we must listen as much as anyone if we want to live a life in heeding of the words Jesus spoke. So, when you go out and purchase a gift for your spouse or your kids, think about the implications of what you give them. Of course, people want the latest or newest gadget, especially if makes their life easier (I know my wife would always like something that sparkles and she isn’t satisfied with the sparkle in my eyes apparently), but is this really the gift they need in their lives? Don’t give the gift they want, at least not always, but give the gift they need, as a parent you are their protector and guardian, they need guidance from you every day of the year and especially during those occasions where their own inability to listen creates tension. For your spouse, they are your other half, a union created in a covenant with God. To be one with one another, it is always best to put your spouse’s needs above your own, but with it, you create a bond to strengthen love day-by-day. I am reminded of the story of the Gift of the Magi, a wife with hardly any money seeks to buy her husband a gift, her only option, to sell her hair to acquire enough money for the purchase of a chain for his gold watch. When he arrives home, he can see her hair is gone, he sits her gift upon a table, and she begins to open it when she realizes, it was a set of brushes for her beautiful hair. Unshaken by all of this, she proceeds to hand him his gift. A beautiful silver chain for his gold watch, but he looked at her with love in his eyes and set down the box while saying, “I sold my watch to purchase those brushes for your beautiful hair”. The lesson from this simple story being, both were willing to give what was precious to them for the benefit of the other. Although it amounted to very little in the material sense of the transaction, their love deepened by the acts of unselfish desire to unconditionally love one another. The story is called Gift of the Magi because, the Magi were wise men who desired to give what they had to the King of Kings, and in doing so, and this made them wise beyond measure. The story is similar in a vein of wisdom, the loving couple wisely gave gifts for the pursuit of happiness in the other. Unselfishly they put the other before their own desires, willing the good of the other in life, especially when it is our spouse, is the very essence of love in action. Every great saint, every great disciple, and every great apostle embodied the very nature of listening and heeding the words Christ spoke. Remember, you are loved greatly, God is in your heart, listen to what is spoken to you, and heed it in every possible way. I pray God blesses you and your family!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!