Charlie's Blog: Love of This Life


Love of This Life

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
JOHN 12:24-26 NASB

. . .Demas has deserted me for love of this life. . .
2 TIMOTHY 4:10

Television is a strange thing. On one channel, we have home shopping while on another channel men brave the frigid and churning waters of the Bering Sea in peril to their lives, so they can put crab on the tables of diners and food on their families' tables. We have the evening news reporting ebola epidemics, wars, police corruption, and other terrible things interspersed with commercials for hemorrhoid ointment and prescription remedies for restless leg syndrome. But perhaps the biggest irony of television is the one channel where some prosperity gospel evangelist preaches about victorious Christian living with the sincerest smile that cosmetic surgery and dentistry can create while on EWTN and CNN we see Christians in Iraq crucified by ISIS for the faith. One group of believers is captured in a heretical fantasy world of big houses and buffet dinners while the other group of believers literally die on the cross.

The world is not a good place. Even when you have the good life, it is not so good as we see even rich and famous people opting for divorce, drug abuse, and suicide. True Christians and suicidal people have one thing in common. They have both given up on finding happiness in this life. The difference is that the suicidal have no hope at all while the true Christian has the hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus and perseveres in that hope with the patience of Christ. The fool is the one who seeks the good life in this present world thinking this will bring happiness. The sad thing is that many of these foolish people claim to read the Bible and believe a false gospel that is not contained in that Bible. They believe that Jesus died on the cross to give them a big house and a fancy car and gaudy rings for their fingers. Where do they get this idea?

Life is suffering. You can either lie to yourself and try to pretend it away. Or, you can accept it and despair and slit your wrists. Or, you can find the meaning and purpose in that suffering which will lead you inevitably to Christ and His cross. The simple fact is that people have an insatiable appetite for a thing that does not exist in this world. Happiness is not possible in this world. If it were, no one would ever want Heaven.

The Bible is replete with this message. Page after page from Old Testament to New Testament, the message is given again and again in various ways. We are pilgrims on a journey to a promised land that is not a piece of real estate but Heaven. We have Job suffering but not knowing why. We have the writer of Ecclesiastes living the good life of this world and despairing of the emptiness it cannot fill. We have Abraham given a promise that he did not live to see. We have Moses who dies before ever entering the Promised Land of Israel. And every single person in the Bible is a failure and a sinner except Jesus and His mother. No one is really hopeful until after the Resurrection. Then, life gets really bad for those who believe in God. But they don't care. They hate this life anyway.

I like to contemplate St. Bartholomew who was one of the twelve apostles. Tradition states that he was martyred for his faith. They skinned the man alive. He is now honored with statues showing him holding his own skin. I am reminded of that line from Flannery O'Connor when she wrote,  "She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." St. Bartholomew didn't get a quick death. Neither did the other martyrs who were crucified, fed to wild animals, disemboweled, roasted alive, and on and on. St. Paul probably had it the easiest because as a Roman citizen he was given the privilege of just being beheaded though it probably took a couple of whacks to separate his head from his body. Yet, his life was pretty rough up to that point.
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
 2 Corintians 11:24-27 NASB

Paul did not have a Rolex or a McMansion or a BMW. Yet, somehow he suffered all of these things, so some TV evangelist can live in a $10 million mansion.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is not that you can have a leopard skin rug for your marble floor. Such things make a mockery of Our Lord and Savior who lacked even a simple home during His life. Jesus could have come as anyone in this world, but he came as a humble carpenter. And does Jesus expect us to live the same way as He did? Yes!

If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.
JOHN 15:19-20 NASB
The Prosperity Gospel is a false gospel. Its evil is twofold. The first is that it encourages people to put their focus on the things of this world and the love of this life instead of on Christ and His kingdom. The second is that it makes believers who are suffering despair because they can't understand why God hasn't blessed them with material comforts. Christ does not give His followers an easy life. He gives them a cross, and He expects us to carry it. But we can take comfort in the fact that He suffered as we suffer, and He will never abandon us in our trials and tribulations.

What about the material comforts of this world? Is it wrong to enjoy the good things in this world? The answer to this question is found in the Gospels. Jesus drank wine, ate food, stayed in the homes of His followers, and obviously enjoyed comforts during His time. But He held them in their proper place as we should as well. These comforts are refreshment and relief on the journey. I liken them to the cups of water they hand out at road races.

No one enters a marathon for the cups of water and the bananas and bagels at the aid stations. One enters a race to run hard towards the finish line. This involves suffering and endurance and a trial of one's fitness. Likewise, the Christian life is the same way. Our lives should be lived as service and penance. Our sufferings are offered up along with our joys. When seen in the proper light, you see that the poor and the suffering of this world are more blessed than the rich and the prosperous. Those with easy lives are averse to suffering, so it is a greater sacrifice to give those things up. This is why the disciples felt despair and sorrow for the rich young man who turned away fom following Jesus when Jesus told him to sell all he had. It is easy to sell all you have when you don't own anything.

Material things are just rest and refreshment for the race of this life. We are material beings, so we will need material things to keep body and soul together in this life. But we are also spiritual beings needing what really matters in life. In the choice between body and soul, the soul should always take precedence. Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Your body will die. Your soul is the only eternal thing you have. Focusing on the body to the exclusion of the soul is like paying for nice rims and a custom paint job on a rented car.

The life lived in the acquisition of material things is a wasted life. Jesus says this in His parable of the rich fool,

The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, "What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?" Then he said, "This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.'  But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?"  So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
LUKE 12:16-20 NASB
Your soul is more important than your possessions. You don't have to die and go to Heaven to realize this. I don't know of any rich people who are happy. The closest is Warren Buffett who seems to derive more pleasure from his work than from his wealth and directs his philanthropic giving towards Planned Parenthood in the belief that it would be better if children were not born into this miserable world. Naturally, he's an agnostic, and every quote I have read from him indicates his belief that he was just a lucky man born into a world where most people are unlucky. His wealth has been generated almost entirely as a consequence of pessimism and frugality. I wouldn't call that happiness.

I would envy the rich if they were truly happy. But they aren't happy, so I don't care. Someone asked John D. Rockerfeller how much money was enough. Rockerfeller replied, "Just a little bit more." Evil is never satisfied, so it always wants more. Happiness is having everything you want. Since people are always wanting, they are never happy. The Buddhists recognize this which is why they seek to extinguish all desire, but this, too, is a desire which is why happiness eludes them as well. Happiness is found only in Heaven. The only people you should envy are the saints who enjoy the Beatific Vision forever.

To become a saint is to carry that cross. This is not a popular message. The crucifix is the symbol most associated with Catholic Christianity. It is stark, real, confrontational, and uncomforting.

Protestant Christianity jettisoned the crucifix in favor of the empty cross. Some Protestants will make the argument that the empty cross is meant to symbolize the Resurrection and the victory of Jesus over death. But this is nonsense. The real reason Protestantism embraced the empty cross was to soften the message of Jesus and make it less confrontational and demanding in accordance with Protestant theology. The empty cross makes it abstract and removed from our lives. The result is that the cross of Christ now has the same impact as a mathematical symbol on a calculator.

Prosperity gospel Christians take it one step further by removing the cross entirely and substituting something even more banal like an upward pointing arrow or other geometric object. This is more the cult of Pythagoras than Christianity.

The Bible is atomized and reduced to a collection of platitudes to adorn porcelain figurines and posters. The Christian religion is turned into a philosophy of positive thinking and materialism. This is heresy. Here's a quotation that would make a great poster:

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.  For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:3-10 NASB

I still cannot understand how anyone could derive the prosperity gospel from the words of Jesus or any of the apostles. There is ignorance, and then there is gymnastic ignorance which turns flips and somersaults over the truth in order to embrace error. If you read the Bible looking merely for the nuggets that tickle your itching ears, you are one of those people who can turn off the entire front portion of your brain and ignore the blatantly obvious. In short, you are brain damaged.

Prosperity gospel people should not call themselves Christians. I predict that day will come. I like to call them "Prospetarians." The fact that one of these Prospetarians could write and publish an entire book without even mentioning God shows that the trend in the godless direction is underway.

How does one hate this life? The answer is obvious. Be content with what is necessary and give the rest to those who have nothing. As Proverbs 19:17, "One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed." We should pursue eternal rewards in opposition to mere temporal rewards. This is what it means for a grain of wheat to die and go into the earth bearing much fruit. This is simply a metaphor for not being selfish but being selfless. The fruit that is born from this death is the fruit of the Spirit and the impact we make on others with our lives. Here are the things we can do to die to ourselves:

1. Be content with having what you need.

You shouldn't want anything more than the things you need to live and function in this life. You will immediately realize how little is really necessary, and it also cures covetousness and envy. If you are alive and reading this, God has already provided for you. You can complain that God has not provided when you are dead.

2. Practice corporal mortification.

These are the practices you do to voluntarily learn to do without. For instance, you can skip lunch, and then give the money you would have spent on steak and martinis to a homeless shelter or Food for the Poor. While your stomach is growling, offer it up to God as a sacrifice. Anytime you suffer some discomfort even voluntary discomfort, it can be offered up to the Lord. It also has the added benefit of helping us to be more self-disciplined. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:27, "I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway." Corporal mortification is exercise for the soul.

3. Pray for others.

Intercessory prayer always has one great benefit to ourselves. It makes us forget ourselves and think about others. Even the most incapable person can pray for others. Those who are poor and handicapped think they have nothing to give, yet they can give their suffering and prayers on behalf of others. Anyone can be a saint and that includes those confined to wheelchairs and hospital beds.

4. Give alms.

If you are rich, give it to those who have nothing. It is my personal belief that God blesses the wealthy to see what they will do with the wealth, and it saddens me when they just give it to Planned Parenthood or to build an administrative building at a university with their name plastered on the side. But no matter how much you give, give with joy and give it anonymously if you can. Let it be your gift to the Lord.

5. Practice the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy.

To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.

To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.

True prosperity is prosperity of the soul. It matters less that you are rich than that you are generous of heart, gentle, forgiving, forebearing, merciful, wise, and joyful. This is the abundant life Jesus is talking about. These are the truly good things, and Jesus wants to give these things to you. When you have these things, you will feel more joy than a thousand Lamborghinis can ever give you. These things are rare because hearts are hard. But if you can break up the hard soil of your soul, God can put these seeds in the ground of your being and produce an abundant harvest of goodness. He can make a saint of you, and this should be our truest and highest ambition.

I have been blessed in my life. Some of the greatest blessings I have ever received in life are the things that God never gave me. I was not born rich, and I have never been rich. This means I have never been spoiled. I see things differently now. What I considered a curse I now consider a blessing. It is easy to be humble when you were born in the dirt. From my youngest age, I had an emptiness that God allowed in me so that one day He could fill it with Himself. And I am fond of saying, "It doesn't matter where you start but where you finish." My hope for myself and for all of you is that the finish will be Heaven.