Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
It would be better if there were nothing. Since there is more pain than pleasure on earth, every satisfaction is only transitory, creating new desires and new distresses, and the agony of the devoured animal is always far greater than the pleasure of the devourer.
I feel much grief these days as I read about Christians and others persecuted in Iraq by ISIS. This is added on top of a war in Ukraine, a war in Israel, a war in Syria, ebola in Africa, and the general economic malaise back here in the USA that makes the future dim for millions of Americans. Right now, life is bad for a lot of people. The reality is that it has always been this way, and it will remain this way until the end of time. This life is a valley of tears.
There are churches here in America that preach a new heresy. This heresy is known as the Prosperity Gospel. It is an insidious message because it teaches a Christianized version of the positive thinking message where faith and positivity are commingled. If you believe, the good life of material blessings are yours to have. This is the reason you hear certain religious people say, "Have a blessed day." It seems like a nice sentiment unless you happen to be dying from cancer or just lost your job. But it comes from a perverted place. Salvation is not a spiritual matter but a material matter. And, if your life isn't blessed, you must be lacking in faith.
The Catholic faith rejects this false gospel of prosperity. When a Protestant steps into a Catholic place of worship, he or she is struck by imagery that is unsettling. There are stations of the cross on the wall. There is the Sacred Heart of Jesus pierced, surrounded by thorns, and burning. There is the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced by seven daggers of sorrow. There may be a statue of a martyred saint holding the means of their death such as the grill that cooked St. Lawrence. Then, there is the Crucifix which is a scandal to all Protestants who prefer an empty cross that keeps the nature of it as an abstraction.
The Prosperity Heresy is antithetical to Christianity. I don't see how anyone can read from the Scriptures each day or preach from them each week and draw the conclusion that Christ died, so you can have a McMansion and a Mercedes-Benz. Many on the Protestant side also find this sham gospel to be repugnant to the spirit and teachings of Christ. But itching ears are plentiful, so people wanting the good life in the here and now instead of the hereafter lap this stuff up propelling megachurch pastors and televangelists to their own prosperity. Beyond the churches, this heresy goes under the label of The Law of Attraction. It is identical to the heresies of the prosperity preachers except it has less religious ornamentation.
The danger of this heresy is twofold. It tells those that are materially affluent that they are "blessed." God favors them. Conversely, those who are not well off but are poor and suffering begin to think of themselves as cursed. Because they endure suffering, God must hate them. This is a terrible thing to tell someone. When I mentioned starving kids in Africa to a prosperity believer, he replied that they lacked faith and must have deserved the torment they got. This callousness is damnable and repugnant.
God loves the poor. Not only does He love them, He says they are are blessed in the Beatitudes. Poverty and suffering are hard to endure, but it would be better to be poor and suffering than to be one of the rich and the cursed. The New Testament is replete with praise for those who suffer and endure while it condemns those beguiled by the comforts of this life. The economy of prosperity does not match the economy of God.
The good life of this world does not bring happiness. The regular self-destruction of celebrities who find wealth and fame to be unbearable should show that riches and comfort are no comfort at all. As Oscar Wilde put it so well, "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."
What matters most in the world is your soul. Gaining the world and losing your soul is a horrible bargain. You can have everything in the world and have nothing. You can have nothing in this world and have everything. There comes a point in every person's life when they have to decide what matters more. Is it better to be good or to be rich? Is it better to be the rich man or Lazarus?
What everyone wants is to be rich in both body and spirit. This is the reason for the prosperity preaching. The wish is understandable since this is the wish of all Christians. But the difference between a Christian and a heretic is that the Christian understands and accepts that this cannot and will not happen in this life. This world is fallen and not yet redeemed. The few pleasures we have in this life are merely respites and rest from the sufferings that we endure. As St. Paul writes in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service." Christians are living sacrifices offered up in union with the Lord Himself. Jesus tells us to take up our crosses and follow Him. I don't think people fully grasp what that means. It means to actively choose a life of suffering and to endure in that suffering until the end for His sake. To be blessed by God is to suffer.
If your religion rejects this teaching on suffering, do everyone a favor and stop calling it Christianity. Call it something else, but don't call it the Christian religion. If you insist on calling yourself a Christian, then read the Bible you claim to follow and not just the parts that you like. Then, tell me how you can reconcile a suffering Messiah and martyred saints with this prosperity teaching.
It is no coincidence that this prosperity heresy would find a home among the Protestants. The One True Faith has been plagued by heretics from the beginning resulting in schism and divisions that existed long before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door at Wittenberg. But these heresies came and went, and it was thought that Luther would fade out like the Gnostics, Arians, and Albigensians before him. But as Hilaire Belloc points out, Protestantism with its thousands of denominations prospered precisely because it was wedded to property and commerce. The German princes supported Luther because they saw a way to loot and pillage without the Catholic Church to keep them in check. John Calvin removed the prohibitions on usury which made the Dutch and all those who held to his teachings massively prosperous in the centuries to come. And Henry VIII looted monasteries in jolly old England and gave the stolen property to the lords that would be allied with him and his new Church of England. The god of mammon is a tenacious force to reckon with, and the fruit of the Protestant Revolution lives on today. The Gospel of Prosperity takes the Protestant worldview one step further which is why it always gains new adherents even as the old adherents end up in disgrace and misery.
To be truly Christian is to reject the big hair, the cosmetic surgery, and the theme parks. You find these things abhorrent, and you count yourself fortunate that you were not beguiled by lies. There is no end to this lie. When the prosperity preachers of today also come to disgrace and ruination, another generation of liars will take their place. You are truly Christian when you not only despise the poison these vipers pump out, but you also feel sad and sorry for them. You pray for them. You hope they see the errors of their ways before it is too late.
So, who are the truly blessed? Here they are:
These women weep as they are forced from their homes in Iraq by the barbaric forces of ISIS. They suffer because they are Christians. They are tormented by hunger and thirst and pain and fear. Many like them have been murdered, raped, and forced to watch their children killed. It is difficult to see images like this and conclude that Islam is a religion of peace and mercy. Let us put this thought from our heads. The followers of Muhammad have always been murderers just like their prophet. To be a moderate Muslim is merely to be silent as your brethren slaughter the innocent. But mark my words, it will be a blessed day for these poor women, and it will be a day of doom for their tormentors on the Day of Judgment. These women will find comfort. Their unrepentant tormentors will never know comfort ever again.
I know people who suffer considerably less than the refugees in Iraq. Their pain is more mundane. This would be the pain of a terminal illness, a dying relative, a lost job, a special needs child, a divorce, and on and on. People without Christ try to cope, but all of their strategies turn out to be mechanisms for numbing the pain. They abuse drugs and alcohol. They throw themselves into work and projects. They turn to crazy cults, pop philosophies, and sham religions. Or, they spend their days in cynicism and despair trying to puncture the balloons of joy that anyone might feel on the cactus thorns of their disappointment. If you can't be happy, you can take pleasure in bringing misery to others. And when that fails, there is the self-inflicted mercy killing known as suicide. God is never chosen. Anything but God.
It doesn't matter if you are a Christian or an atheist. You must come to one inescapable conclusion. Life is misery. It is suffering. If all you can hope for in life are a few pleasant moments derived from food and drink and fornication, then you are a fool. I don't see how this is any different from being a cow waiting for the trip to the slaughterhouse. This is what the atheist life amounts to. The only answer the atheist can offer in reponse to the meaningful suffering of Christianity is the meaningless suffering of nihilism. Without God, life has no meaning, no purpose, and is not worth living.
The atheist and pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer wrote,
There is one thing you can admire about Arthur Schopenhauer. The man was brutally honest. This does not mean that he was correct. It means that he was truthful about the condition of life without God. In this quotation, he sums up what life in a fallen world is all about. We are endlessly dissatisfied. Our pursuits for pleasures are futile. We become monsters to avoid becoming victims. This is the human condition. But is it better to be the devourer rather than the devoured? Is it better to be evil rather than good?
Christians endure their torments far better than the world endures its pleasures. The world eats until its insides burst out, and its appetite persists even in its self-destruction. All of it is for naught. Shakespeare captures this beautifully in Macbeth,
Out, out, brief candle!Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor playerThat struts and frets his hour upon the stageAnd then is heard no more. It is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.
We all know of at least one successful fool who has gained the world and lost his soul. Macbeth gave in to the way of the world and became a devourer. He took what he wanted by illicit means, and he was left with misery and an ignominious end. It doesn't matter whether you have a pleasant life or a painful life. What matters is your soul. Nothing matters more than your soul. That is the part of you that lives on forever.
Life will never be anything other than what it is. It is a valley of tears. This may seem depressing at first, but it will bring you comfort as you accept it. Once you accept life for what it is, you are freed from its cares and concerns. You hope in a better life to come as you journey patiently through this one. This is what it means to be blessed. You are freed from the illusion that you will ever make a heaven of this hell. You accept the cross, and you offer it all up to the Lord. You are in the world, but you have turned your back on it in your soul. You accept that you don't belong here, and you work and wait for what is to come. May you be truly blessed in this valley of tears.