Playing the Part 

I remember back when I lived in Virginia I used to go to Blackfriar’s Playhouse pretty frequently because of the amazingly talented actors and authentic rendition of Shakespeare’s many plays. (If that makes me hopelessly nerdy in your eyes so be it!)

One night during a production of the comedy “The Merchant of Venice” I remember being struck by one specific actor. He was not the lead of the play. In fact, he was the opposite. He drew my attention because I realized during the course of the show that he played at least 6 different minor roles each with a different costume and having only a few sentences of lines.

I was especially impressed with his ability to keep up with that many characters because I knew that in his shoes I would have made colossal mistakes. Being a very dramatic adolescent with a lot of insignificant child acting under my belt, I imagine I would have walked on stage in the wrong costume or forgotten when I needed to be on stage or said the wrong line…  In short, I realized that a mistake in that role could have dramatically influenced the flow of the play and the overall quality of the show itself, even though the parts he played we’re deemed so insignificant that they only cast one actor to play them all.

Yet in a moment of theater magic, I was touched by the realization that without every single role in that show, without each minor character to offer a line of transition or deliver a message or provide a moment of comic relief the show would not have been everything it was that night.

We live in a world that has the terrible habit of trying to elevate the best of humanity to Divine heights. We “worship” leading men and leading ladies, the most athletic, the smartest, the richest, most influential, or the best looking. We place them on pedestals and endeavor to be like them, holding them as our models of achievement with our purpose in life tied to the degree of what we attain of that “glory.”

Yet, as often as the pride of humanity is flaunted as the satisfaction of our desires and a vindication of our existence I can’t help but stumble once more over my minor character actor and the nagging truth he pointed me towards. A truth that convicts me that this towering pride blinds to the humble reality of life, that in the quest to exalt the individual self we are blinded to our part in the whole story. Just like the minor characters each had a part to play in order for the show to go on, so too do we.

You and I are absolutely unique. Not only were we made by God we we’re made for a purpose and a glory that we cannot yet know as the story is still unfolding in time.  And I think a lot of joy gets lost in a quest for mere worldly glory for two reasons. First, because worldly glory does not satisfy and leaves one ever restless. Second, because it steals the dignity we inherently have from being made in the image and likeness of God by making that dignity conditional.

But I propose that this set of actors are wiser than our media pundits, celebrities, athletes and other influencers because when the show was over they each came out and took their bow with a smile on their face. While I’m sure they were content in their hard work and dedication to their craft which made the overall performance excellent, I think their true joy was not in being perfect but in knowing that they had been part of something amazing together, something that would not have been possible without each and every person on that stage playing their part exactly as they were meant to.

I think the joy of heaven, and the joy of life on earth, is not in finding ourselves but in finding God and realizing that not only is He perfect love, but He makes each and every one of us a part of that love. That our glory will be not a monument like a towering tombstone but a reflection like a mirror of the love we’ve chased after and at last embraced, the love we became by being loved first by God.

And I’m sure that whether we were a lead or held the door for them, whether we were noted for our poetic musings or for sheepishly cracking a joke, we will be perfectly content with our part once we see it in the light of that final vision and behold the majesty of Heaven, because “eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

 

Advertisements

Wait for it?

So my brother and I fell into an interesting conversation this morning as we were commuting into the city of Pittsburgh. The song “Wait for It” from Hamilton came on his Itunes shuffle and my brother asked me, seeing as were both young adult professionals at the start of our respective careers, whether it’s better to be more like the relentlessly ambitious Alexander Hamilton who seizes every opportunity or more like the soloist of the song, the character Aaron Burr, who wonders “if there is a reason [he’s] still alive when so many have died” and is willing to wait to find out what that reason might be.

The answer to that question is tricky.

It’s tricky because it hinges on what you believe to be truth. As a Christian, I believe not only that God “formed my inmost being… [and] knit me in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139: 13-14) but also that when He made me He had a specific and eternal plan for my existence that He reveals to me little by little in time and will be revealed in full in Heaven.

It can be hard to cling to that truth in what Fr. Michael Gaitley aptly calls the “darkness of the ordinary” or those days that feel so average they seem insignificant as you go to and from work, interact with your family, run errands etc. Nevertheless, in spite of the easy temptations to doubt that spring up in the midst of ordinary living, I still believe in God’s plan for my life and for yours.    

So, with this truth in mind, I see no problem in waiting to discover what you were born for but it does beg the question what does that look like for the every day?

Our more worldly counterparts usually chime in that this view is the enemy to “progress” and that the only catalyst to change is ACTION, championing causes, writing the congressman, running 5ks, getting lots of followers on social media, etc. The might throw a lot of secular quotes in your face from successful (read: wealthy) people encouraging you to become more like them.

However, I have always had a problem with the “utopia now” set because even if they achieved every social and political cause they took upon themselves to champion, even if the world was overrun with the wealthy, science-minded, culturally-elite, atheistic, innovative collaborators public schools seem to be aimed at creating, even if poverty was eliminated, wars ended, and perfect knowledge achieved still everyone in this dreamy existence would cease to exist. Every single person in utopia would eventually die simply because no one lives forever.

So all these attempts at creating heaven on earth rather than pursuing eternal life in heaven to me seem short-sighted at best. The Hamiltonian idea that greatness consists only in great actions that result in an impressive earthly legacy is one which I reject. I’ve never thought that Alexander Hamilton or George Washington gain any eternal happiness by knowing that they are featured in many statues, town names, and American currency and (as much as I admittedly studied a lot of history and really like George Washington). I believe that as time passes even they will fade into obscurity like the Roman emperors of old who sat on the thrones of empires and were likened to Gods but who myself or the majority of people living today probably couldn’t name.

Living with an eternal perspective lends not only a patience and calm to thinks that might seem otherwise devastating but as a Christian my hope stems from not just a vague idea of paradise or idealistic reflections of justice, but a firm belief that a life of union with God will satisfy my every desire for justice, peace, happiness, love, and mercy. It takes the anxiety, the “now or never,” out of the equation because I do believe I will see this in my lifetime it’s just that I don’t confine that lifetime to include only my temporal life on earth. So until that day, I found my ultimate answer to my brother’s question is that I too am willing to wait for it.

 

 

The Triumph

Not only do I love Mother Angelica, I really really like her too. She passed away semi-recently and how I wish I could have met her, it will have to wait until heaven now.

Mother Angelica is the foundress of EWTN, a Catholic TV network but more importantly (to me) she was the first spiritual mother/guide I ever had. I found her as a questioning 19-year-old by reading a book that is the first on my “Top Ten Life Changing Reads” List, Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality. 

I recently picked up this classic yet again (I have reread it too many times to count) and it is still as great as it ever was. That is my personal test of a great book. If you pick it up and like reading it again even better than you did the first time, then it’s a keeper and deserves the coveted spot on the shelf (never enough shelf space in my room so I mean coveted in a fairly literal sense).

The reason I say it is great is because it is short, easy to read, but packs a punch to the point where a paragraph can turn your whole world and mind inside out. Mother Angelica was a holy lady who dedicated her life to helping others grow in holiness too and one of the best things she does is make it seem so possible for absolutely everyone. It’s enough to give hope even to a sinner like me and that’s how you know it’s deeply rooted in the gospel and not just the empty sayings and “feel-good” euphemisms that plague our age.

And it was reading one of her gems that inspired me to write this particular blog post because it hit me in an especially profound way and I hoped that maybe someone else would find it useful.

She was talking about discouragement and in the context discussing Christ’s crucifixion she wrote the following:

He died with no valleys in his soul, no crevices where resentment, and hatred, or anger, or self-pity could hide and warp and disfigure the soul.

This impressed me because, first of all, doesn’t contemplating that just make you want to love Jesus?

Second of all, each of those temptations she listed I find easy.  I wish I didn’t but being a person who struggles against a proud nature I find that those crevices come to me rather naturally.

However, I confess I often forget that each vice has a corresponding virtue. For example, resentment and hatred can be defeated by forgiveness. Anger can be overcome by mercy. Self-pity can be conquered by humility and trust in God.

This knowledge is important because it is this truth that reminds me that I see the world the wrong way. Whenever I am put through trials I tend to see it first as a trial and sometimes (particularly when there are many trials at once) I want a respite from the myriad imperfections that I notice the trials are bringing out in me.

And while it would be easy to sit back and throw my fist at the heavens and ask “why God?” the answer struck me very clearly. It’s because I want to be holy which is just another way of saying I want to love not as humans do but as God does. I don’t want those valleys and crevices to remain in my soul. And so God in His love and His sense of humor gives me lots of opportunities not just to avoid sin by managing to hold my temper or not judge, but also to put into practice it’s opposite virtues like kindness and compassion.

But it’s funny to think that up in Heaven we won’t be glorified for the things on earth we were good at and did well, but instead glorifying God through the things we did poorly and asked Him to do for us in His love. And it makes me sad that those who aren’t “religious” or who feel stuck in a rut sometimes have that fear of approaching God because I’m convinced that in His eyes the greater the struggle the greater the triumph of merciful love.