There is so much more.
I cry pretty much every day now. I remember hearing that famous quote from Jimmy V…
“To me, there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think—spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”Jimmy Valvano
And thinking how in the world does someone cry every day. I definitely did not have the emotional capacity and probably still don’t. I’m not sure I can say it is my emotions that move me to tears. I am moved to tears by the wounds of Jesus. And His mercy for us. Truly (the last thing I want is to feign some sort of false piety. It is not me but the Holy Spirit). Receiving our Lord in the Eucharist at communion during Mass overwhelms me. My heart bursts into a fountain of tears. I cry for those who don’t know Him. I cry for those who think religion is some sort of therapy. I cry for people who have been hurt by the Church. I cry for those who think they don’t need God or a Savior. I cry for those who think they are “good” on their own (I was there and often still am). I cry for mothers aborting their babies. I cry for the loss of parents. I cry for those struggling with same sex attraction or gender discordance or identity confusion (I was/am there). I cry for those who think “love is love,” who haven’t known or received a greater Love. I cry for those who encourage or think the solution to gender dysphoria is to transition, cutting off breasts or using chemicals to change the body God has gifted them. I cry for relativism, for being caught up in the lie that we all have our own truth, leaving no one accountable for anything, but more devastatingly, leaving people on islands by themselves. Unattached and distant. I cry for the mandate of vaccination, not out of unconcern for the health and well-being of human beings but precisely for the health and well-being of human persons. We let ourselves down by seeking comfort, disguised as “acceptance and tolerance,” in not confronting each other or most tragically, ourselves, about what is actually right and wrong. What is actually true and real and good and what is not. I don’t mean to be callous, but I wonder if we need to hear it this way, for fear we may not hear at all.
“Simulation, I think, is a kind of deceptive agreement, opposed to the judgment of reason, which Terence… rather excellently expressed: “Does some one say ‘no’? I say ‘no’. Does one say, ‘yes’? I say, ‘yes’ too. In fine, I have ordered myself to give assent in everything.”[Spiritual Friendship]
There is so much more.
There is so much more to our lives than simulation.
At my high school soccer club, Eclipse, when we were playing a game more like zombies than a team of eleven human beings sweating and running and passing and talking and competing in a sport we all loved, we would say, “there is nothing to us.”
Honestly, I think we are getting more comfortable living in a simulated world. Or maybe the desire for comfort and the fear of death and suffering is tending towards a simulated existence. Where there is nothing to us. Where we just float around. One where we give assent to everything. Is this not what we are saying when an individual has his or her own truth? When we say it is a social responsibility to mandate a vaccine to save life, while simultaneously sending drugs through the mail to kill life in the womb?
“The challenges of the pandemic have resulted in new ways of providing care that reach beyond Covid- 19 treatments and vaccines. One area of medicine that could see changes is abortion care. A growing number of people seeking abortions in the U.S… take F.D.A.-approved pills. The regimen includes one drug to stop the pregnancy, and another that causes cramping and bleeding, like a miscarriage.
…telemedicine-only abortions are available only temporarily in the U.S… the F.D.A said in April that mifepristone could be mailed to patients for the duration of the pandemic.” [“How the pandemic changed abortion access,” New York Times]
O clement, O loving, O sweet Mother Mary,
We, your children of every nation,
Turn to you in this pandemic.
Our troubles are numerous; our fears are great.
Grant that we might deposit them at your feet,
Take refuge in your Immaculate Heart,
And obtain peace, healing, rescue,
And timely help in all our needs.
You are our Mother.
Pray for us to your Son.
[The Catholic Company, Morning Offering]
I know it for sure is easier to allow someone to live one’s own truth rather than abide by the truth and hold others to the same standard. I find this a very strong inclination in myself not so much to make the other person feel good but mostly myself. Because if I make a person feel happy and good in a mere moment by assenting to everything about him or her, I’ll please this person and he or she will like me. No confrontation or hard feelings. Job done. On to the next.
“For the wounds inflicted by friends are more tolerable than the kisses of flatterers.”[St. Ambrose]
Or maybe we desire simulation over reality because we don’t believe we can know the truth. With so many opinions, thoughts, differences among us, how can there possibly be a truth we can all abide by that would be good for everybody. I’d argue this is most certainly the case and honestly, quite obvious, because we are all made of the same stuff.
God created man is His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them… the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. [Genesis 1:17, 2:7]
The body, however, is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?… But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body. [1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20]
The difficulty lies not in whether we can all know the truth but rather how we all put it into practice with one another charitably. This is hard. So why bother, then? Simulation, assent to everything, is easier.
But there is so much more.
“It is characteristic of friendship to admonish and to be admonished, and to do the former freely, not harshly, and to receive the latter patiently, not resentfully; so it should be understood that in friendship there is no greater pest than flattery and subserviency, which are the marks of fickle and deceitful men, who speak everything at the whim of another, but speak nothing with an eye to truth.”[Spiritual Friendship]
Fickle and deceitful men speak everything at the whim of another, nothing with an eye to the truth. The definition of “fickle” is “changing frequently, especially as regards one’s loyalties or affections.”
Is this what we’ve become? Or somewhere in the process of becoming? Fickle and deceitful with one another? With ourselves? Giving our loyalty away to the latest and greatest bidder?
The F.D.A just approved the Pfizer vaccine. Did you know the “fetal cell line HEK 293 was used during the research and development phase” of the Pfizer vaccine or “all HEK 293 cells are descended from tissue taken from a 1973 abortion that took place in the Netherlands” or “using fetal cell lines to test the effectiveness and safety of medications is common practice because they provide a consistent and well-documented standard”? [“You asked, we answered: Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain aborted fetal cells?” nebraskamed.com]
Did you know that the John Paull II Medical Research Institute “has been developing ethical cell lines to replace those longstanding aborted fetal cell lines used in vaccines, cell therapy, biologics and gene therapy”? Or “the genetics of COVID-19 is very divergent than that of the MERS strain, which indicates that the next outbreak will result in a completely new strain with unknown morbidity and mortality” and “the MERS outbreak carried a 35 percent mortality, while SARS carried a 10 percent mortality” and “we’re fortunate that the mortality rate from COVID-19 is much lower”? [“Will a vaccine end current and future coronavirus pandemics and what ethical therapies are the Institute working on?” jp2mri.org]
Did you know that the JP II Medical Research Institute is looking to create “a live attenuated vaccine that would offer broader protection against future coronavirus strains”? [same article as above]
Did you know the Novavax vaccine “has roughly the same efficacy as the two authorized mRNA vaccines, with the added benefit of being based on an older, more familiar science”? “The protein-subunit approach used by Novavax was first implemented for the hepatitis B vaccine, which has been used in the U.S. since 1986… The Novavax vaccine also has a substantially lower rate of side effects than the authorized mRNA vaccines.” [“The mRNA Vaccines Are Extraordinary, but Novavax Is Even Better,” The Atlantic]
Did you know that “moderate evidence finds that large reductions in COVID-19 deaths are possible using ivermectin (one of the WHO’s “essential drugs”)”? Or that “using ivermectin early in the clinical course may reduce numbers progressing to severe disease” and “the apparent safety and low cost suggest that ivermectin is likely to have a significant impact on the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic globally”? [“Ivermectin for Prevention and Treatment of COVID-19 Infection: A Systematic Review, Meta-analysis, and Trial Sequential Analysis to Inform Clinical Guidelines,” American Journal of Therapeutics]
Did you know the above work was inspired by a literature review of Dr. Pierre Kory, who is an ICU and lung specialist? Or that he and Bret Weinstein, an evolutionary biologist, visiting fellow at Princeton, and author, spoke on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast about the efficacy of ivermectin in helping treat COVID-19 and how there is censorship for the use of ivermectin because there is no money to be made in its distribution and widespread use?
Did you know “morally illicit cells have been around for the past half century, and the pharmaceutical industry has made billions of dollars from vaccines that used these types of cells”? Or that “over that same span of time, there has been no concerted effort by established Catholic institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, colleges, universities, private foundations and philanthropists to support the development of ethical alternative vaccines and advanced medicines”? [“What is the Vatican’s position on the use of vaccines derived from an abortion?” jp2mri.org]
As a Catholic trying to be obedient to the leadership of the Church, while also considering my personal convictions, I have sought guidance on all of the above. Because, let’s face it, it is a lot. The last thing I will mention before we take a well-deserved breather is this.
“Using these vaccines is morally licit when the ‘passive material cooperation’ with the evil of an abortion ‘from which these cell lines originate is, on the part of those making use of the resulting vaccines, remote.’
‘The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent — in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19,’ it (Vatican’s doctrinal office) said.
Therefore, in such a case, ‘all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion,’ it said.
However, the doctrinal congregation emphasized that “the morally licit use of these types of vaccines, in the particular conditions that make it so, does not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion, and necessarily assumes the opposition to this practice by those who make use of these vaccines.”
The congregation repeated the Vatican’s call on pharmaceutical companies and governmental agencies to produce, approve and distribute ethically acceptable vaccines, that is, without using morally compromised cell lines at all.
The doctrinal office also said that ‘vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.’” [“Vatican: Without alternatives, current COVID-19 vaccines are morally acceptable,” Catholic News Service]
We are on the same team. I am not trying to condescend or vilify or divide. Or shame those who have gotten the vaccine. Or dismiss those nurses, doctors, and healthcare workers helping people during the worst of the outbreaks. You helped save so many lives and witnessed far too much loss. Something I could not bear. Thank you.
I believe all of the above applies to us as human beings, in this moment, all caught in the battle between self-preservation and self-donation. Deep down, we all desire to give of ourselves. Because love is first and foremost laying down one’s life for others [John 15:13]. And we all desire to be loved and to love. Of course, it is difficult, but I think the worst choice is to avoid the struggle altogether, avoid the questions and avoid the tough decisions on how to love each other. The worst choice is simulation, assenting to a mandate without thinking, assenting to abortion because of fear, assenting to a sex transition because of confusion, assenting to a relative truth because it is easier, assenting to lack of accountability because it is easier if there isn’t a universal standard, a natural law, a God who created us and calls us home to Himself, where we belong.
The worst choice is simulation because there is so much more.
“He (St. Aelred) believed that creation was rife with symbols that reflected the identity of a loving and compassionate creator. Love, in his mind, was both the way of God and the way to God. It offered knowledge of God that came not through intellectual concepts, but through a connatural union of wills. Friendship, he believed, was a way in which this love could be expressed.”[Spiritual Friendship]
“Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.”[St. Therese of Lisieux]
“Let all nations know that Thou art God alone, and that Jesus Christ is Thy Son, and that we are Thy people and she sheep of Thy pasture.”[St. Clement]
I went to a new church in Copenhagen recently. St. Anne’s. I wanted to find a Mass in English, if possible, on Saturday evening for the weekends we play and travel on Sunday. Praise God for St. Anne’s, for real. I lost my way once and didn’t recognize the area at all really. The church was just off the main street of shops and restaurants. A hidden treasure in the fields of the city. I walked in through the worn doors. The sounds of the choir preparing for the celebration were sweet to my ears, but more than this, when my eyes met the crucifix, a sense of home welled up inside of me. Here was my Man. My Savior. I felt like a small child in the safety and warmth of her father’s embrace.
I knelt down in the pew to pray before the Mass started. All was quiet besides the practicing choir. Then, the bells started to ring, signaling the hour. I imagined these bells like those Quasimodo rings in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Massive and powerful. Heard from miles and miles away. He named the bells in the movie. I considered what the names of the bells at St. Anne’s would be. They literally shook the building. Boanerges. Sons of thunder like the brothers John and James, apostles of Jesus. The bells took on their own life; for a minute or two, they drowned every other noise in the busy city. The St. Anne’s bells told a story in those couple minutes. A story that can be easily forgotten or get tucked away or morphed into something totally different in our minds. This is THE story. The story of Creation and purpose and meaning. It is the St. Anne’s bells keeping time, not time keeping the St. Anne’s bells. In some years, places and hearts, people recognized the story of God told every other story. Your story. My story. God kept time in their lives. By Him, they saw everything.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”[C.S. Lewis]
The St. Anne’s bells reminded me of something else. The funeral of a good friend’s parents. Her mom and stepdad were tragically and suddenly killed in a car accident. At the funeral, my friend and her siblings performed the song, “Ring Them Bells,” by Bob Dylan, as it was a favorite of their dad’s. I have listened to the song many times since then. I can’t really explain it, but it brings me comfort. Comfort in my own mourning of your loss, dad, though the song has nothing to do with you, really. Maybe it is a way of sharing the pain of the death of parents. Maybe it is a sober reminder of death in general. Not solely in a somber way but also in a full and peaceful way. Maybe it can be hinted at in the words of JP II, which he spoke before he died.
“Let me go to the house of the Father.” [Pope John Paul II]
“Let me go.” How do you explain this? Not a plea. Not a wish. Not an exclamation. Maybe the moment can’t really be described, but I’d like to think of it as if swimming. For me, at least, when I am floating on the surface of the water, gently stroking backwards or forwards, and the water glides over me, I could get lost forever in that moment. The coolness and life of the water washing over me, just like a breath moving over my whole body.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. [Genesis 1:1-2]
Maybe this was what JP II was experiencing. I learned from Father Dave Pivonka in the Wild Goose series that there is a point in the Eucharistic Liturgy when the priest says from Scripture, take this bread and eat of it, for this is my body, which is given up for you [Matthew 26:26], and simultaneously, he leans over and breathes on the host. He then does the same thing with the cup. Learning this, I immediately thought of The Chronicles of Narnia when Aslan breathes on the creatures who have been turned to stone by the evil witch, and they are brought back to life. He breathes life into them.
Maybe death can be like this. Like a breath of new life washing over you. I suppose, though, it can only be like this if one has lived his life seeking the house of the Father. If one has pursued his life in the context of eternity. Eternal meaning and purpose. If one has sought meaning and purpose from his Creator, not the world. If one has lived by the ringing of the bells. The one Story. In friendship with God.
“The essence of Christianity is Christ, not a doctrine, but a person.”[Pope Benedict XVI]
Jesus is so much more than a doctrine. He is a person. Our lives are so much more than simulation. There is so much more for us beyond death and suffering. Eternal life.
“You’re about to become a very wealthy man…we’re going to live like kings.” [Judas’s Business Partner]
“Kings of what? There is only one true King in heaven and everyone else, even Caesar, is enjoying illusions of power and wealth. Sooner or later we all become dust.” [Judas]
“Hey, I’m not oblivious. I know that’s right. But we have so few opportunities to get ahead…” [Business Partner]
“An opportunity? It was a calculated deception! And it didn’t, it didn’t feel good.” [Judas]
“We used what God gave us and now we’ll have greater choices, we’ll live better lives, more devotion. Finish your drink.” [Business Partner]
“Man was formed from earth and eventually he returns to it. The time in between. There has to be more to life than that…” [Judas]
“He’s an orphan and a poet.” [Business Partner]
“I told you not to call me that!” [Judas]
“Hey ok, I’m sorry. It’s been a long week. Let’s take some time off to rest.” [Business Partner]
“What I need, is a life I can be proud of! Don’t you want to do something that would really matter, that will be remembered throughout history?!” [Judas]
“I appreciate your ambition, I really do, and I see potential in you. I see it every day. Here’s an advance (money). Let’s take weeks off, rest, go for walks, do something new.” [Business Partner]
“Why not? You’re the one who said there’s more to life than making money.” [Business Partner]
“Thank you. I don’t know what to say.” [Judas]
“Finish your drink.” [Business Partner]
“Life is a negotiation…I don’t want to be in business forever. I just want to make enough money to make my own choices. I’m like you. I believe there is more to life than deals and titles.” [Business Partner]
This scene in the last episode of Season 2 of “The Chosen” captures the desire for eternal life we all harbor deep in our hearts. Judas, though not yet a disciple of Jesus in this scene, is the disciple who will ultimately betray Jesus. We get a glimpse of why that may be in this dialogue. Judas reveals a longing within him for something great. To be something great. The desire for something more than what the world can give. Yet, the conversation also reveals how easily seduced and swayed we are by the things of the world. Judas expresses his desire for a life “he can be proud of,” one that is meaningful and fulfilling. But in the next breath, he seems to be “cooled off” by receiving his wage (“advance”) early.
Money, power, luxury, choices, getting ahead. None of these things last, and we know it but how seductive they are to gain our devotion and affection. I believe we all have inklings within us that there is so much more to life than making money or even taking time off to do new things, but maybe we don’t want to believe these inklings are real because the disappointment, if they’re not real, will be too great. I prefer to think of it the other way though. Say you live your whole life not believing there is anything more than what you can see with your eyes or perceive in your thoughts. The potential for you to be wrong and miss out on something much greater is significant. But say you live your whole life believing in things beyond what you can see with your eyes and perceive in your thoughts. Believing the things you see are real themselves but also doors to the invisible. To the things of faith and hope and eternal happiness. How can you be disappointed, truly? Even if it is not true, you have lived a life so much fuller and with abundant promise. You can go about your way solely in dreary and dull London or you can live expectantly for the vibrant and radiant country of Narnia (no offense to London, it just happens to be the place the Pevensie kids are from).
“I just want to make sure I’ve done everything I can for Him.” [Thomas]
“You always do.” [Ramah]
In another scene in the same episode of “The Chosen,” Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, is anxious over performing his role as best as he can for Jesus. Ramah, one of the women following Jesus, assures him he always gives himself for Jesus. Let us contrast.
“I just want to make enough money to make my own choices… take weeks off, rest, go for walks, do something new.”
“I just want to make sure I’ve done everything I can for Him.”
There is so much more in giving to the Lover of our souls than gathering money, time off, fame, or material goods in this temporal life. So much more in thinking, crying, and laughing than living a life of simulation and assent and fickle truth.
“The most beautiful and stirring adventure that can happen to you is the personal meeting with Jesus, who is the only one who gives real meaning to our lives.”[St. John Paul the Great]
For it is easy with the LORD suddenly, in an instant, to make a poor man rich. God’s blessing is the lot of the just man, and in due time his hopes bear fruit. Say not: “What do I need? What further pleasure can be mine?” Say not: “I am independent. What harm can come to me now?” The day of prosperity makes one forget adversity; the day of adversity makes one forget prosperity. For it is easy with the LORD on the day of death to repay man according to his deeds.” [Sirach 11:21-26]
When there is famine in the land, when there is pestilence, or blight, or mildew, or locusts, or caterpillars; when their enemies besiege them at any of their gates; whenever there is a plague or sickness of any kind; when any Israelite of all your people offers a prayer or petition of any kind, and in awareness of his affliction and pain, stretches out his hands toward this temple (temple King Solomon built for God to unite Israelite people in worship of their one LORD God), listen from your heavenly dwelling place, and forgive. Knowing his heart, render to everyone according to his conduct, for you alone know the hearts of men. So may they fear you and walk in your ways as long as they live on the land you gave our fathers (Promised Land). [2 Chronicles 6: 28-31]
The LORD appeared to Solomon during the night and said to him… “If I close heaven so that there is no rain, if I command the locust to devour the land, if I send pestilence among my people, and if my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land. [2 Chronicles 7:13-15]
Did God send COVID? No. Is He allowing it as a severe mercy for us to wake up from simulation? I think it could be so. Because it isn’t a pandemic that will destroy our lives but sin. Separation from God. Rejection of His love. Rejection of His Son. Hear the longing of a Father for the return of His children. He alone knows our hearts, and He cannot give us what we do not pursue. He doesn’t force Himself on us. If we do not pursue life and truth and goodness, we cannot be in communion with Him who is Life and Truth and Goodness. His fiery love will just burn us.
“What are you talkin’ about a vaccine? Go get communion!”[Andrew Mitchell]
Let this be an encouragement, not a condemnation. Let this be an opportunity to consider there is so much more than simulation and assent in this life. Consider the story the bells of St. Anne’s tell and the “bells” in the song played at the funeral of my friend’s parents. Let hidden joys be sought and untimely death be a reminder of the eternal life meant for each of us. Of the reality there is so much more.
Let Jimmy V’s “think, laugh and cry” also be “pray, rejoice and commune.”
I love you dad,