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Lesson 10- End of the World or a New Start

  This is the eleventh program on my analysis of our present economic crisis. In recent programs I have been exploring the roots of Capitalism and Communism so that we might understand the difference between the two economic theories in order to evaluate the pro’s and con’s for each of them. Both systems are the Antithesis to the other in that they point to what is deficient in their opponent. Thus, it is profitable for those who are seeking a third system which synthesizes what is best in both to pay attention to what they have to say about each other. I have suggested that the Church, which is neither exclusively Capitalistic nor Communistic might hold a clue to how the best in both can be combined into a better system. And that is the ultimate purpose of these talks.

 

We are now at a critical point in our history where many wonder whether we will ever recover from the mistakes of the past. Each day another crisis is reported and, like a string of dominoes, one crisis seems to initiate another. Prophets of doom are warning that this is the “end of the world” and that we should all start to pack our bags and get ready for the worst. St. Francis, while hoeing his garden, was once asked by one of his religious brothers what he would do if he knew that the world was going to end in hour. He calmly replied, “Keep on hoeing my garden.” His point was that if you have to suddenly change what you were doing, then you weren’t doing what you were suppose to be doing. Scripture makes the same point when it advises that we should be working in the field when the lord of the vineyard returns. And since the vineyard is simply a symbol for the Kingdom of God, it means that, as Christians, it was always our job to be working towards the transformation of the world so that God’s Kingdom will come and God’s Will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Our job is, and always has been, to be “the salt of the earth”, preserving what is good from corruption, and the “light on the hill”, showing others the way out of Gehenna, the Kingdom of Darkness and “empty thought.”

 

Let me emphasize the word “showing” since too often we have been better at “telling the way ” rather than “showing the way” as though we were suppose to be a megaphone on a hill rather than a light shining in the darkness. The world needs an example more than a lecture. So, if we want the “world to end”, and as Christians we should,  let’s unpack our bags, roll up our sleeves, and start working to correct the mistakes that brought us to this point in history. Don’t be concerned with whether the “Prophets of Doom” are correct or not. The “ending of the world” always has been the goal of Christianity, if by that we mean the “ending of the world system” that has created all the conflicts, wars, injustices, poverty, and degradation that has dominated human history. When our Master returns, he should find us working in the vineyard, not packing our bags and waiting for the Glory Train to arrive to take us to heaven.

 

So whether these prophets are correct in predicting the end of the physical world and human history or the end of the “world system”, which is the source of human misery, our attitude should be the same as the one expressed in one of my favorite songs from the Broadway play “Pearlie Victorious”: “The World Ain’t Coming To An End, My Friend, The World Is Coming To A Start.” I’ll spare you the agony of listening to me singing it. Instead I’ll recite the words that I hope that you will ponder. They are:

           

Did you ever get the feeling when you read the paper the world is caving in?

That the animal part of the human heart is finally gonna win?

Well, it just may be that what you see is the growing pains of liberty

And the world ain’t coming to an end, my friend

The world is coming to a start… I feel it in my heart.

The world is coming to a start!

 

Everyone says when you look about you the world has gone insane

That the heavenly goal of the human soul will perish in the flames

Well, it just may be that what you see is the storm before tranquility

 And the world ain’t coming to an end, my friend

The world is coming to a start… I feel it in my heart.

The world is coming to a start!

 

A commentator makes a grim prediction “The world ain’t gonna work”

That the rational line of the human mind has really gone beserk

Well, it just may be that what you see are the dying throes of apathy

And the world ain’t coming to an end, my friend

The world is coming to a start… I feel it in my heart.

The world is coming to… The world is coming to… the world is coming to a start!

 

Pope John Paul II, was fond of saying “Don’t be afraid” because he knew that no matter how bad things might appears, God is in control of history and what to us might look like a disaster is really a moment of opportunity for us to take one more step towards the Kingdom that He has planned for us since the beginning of time.

 

 Another great man, Albert Einstein expressed similar sentiments when he wrote:

 “Do not pretend that things will change (of themselves). We always do the same (unless there is a crisis). (A) crisis is the best blessing that can happen to people and countries, because the crisis brings progress. Creativity is born of anxiety as the day is born of the dark night. It is during the crisis that inventive discoveries and major strategies flourish. Whoever overcomes the crisis, overcomes himself without being overwhelmed'. Whoever attributed their failures to the crisis and hardship, is "violating" (his) own talent and respects more the problems than (the) solutions. The real crisis is the crisis of incompetence. The disadvantage of … people and countries is the laziness to find the solutions (to the problems). There is no crisis without challenges, (and) without challenges life is a routine, slow death. There is no crisis without merit. In the crisis the best of each comes out. To talk of crisis is to promote it and to (remain silent) in the crisis is to (ignore it and ) exalt conformism. Instead, we should work hard. Let's finish once and forever with the only looming crisis, the tragedy of not wanting to fight to overcome it.”

 

What both men are telling us is that we should not despair and think that all is lost. Jesus is the Truth and the Truth is Reality and at this moment Jesus, the Truth who is Reality Itself is giving us an opportunity to rethink the false premises that have led us to this point and is ready to put us back on the path to salvation. Let me tell you about a time in the ‘70’s when I had reached a time of despair and how the Lord rescued me from it.

 

I was teaching economics as part of my senior Social Studies class and I was becoming depressed because I saw then what is happening now. I saw that the premises upon which our economy was based eventually had to lead to collapse as great, if not worst, than the Great Depression of 1929. The only thing that surprised me now is that it took so long. At that time, my wife and I had two young children and I feared that we might face a situation where people would be fighting in the streets over a can of peas. I became so depressed that I considered quitting teaching since I couldn’t see that I was accomplishing much trying to teach high school students about economics and everything seemed so hopeless. As often happens in times of personal crisis, I turned fervently to the Lord and asked for guidance and it seemed to come from an incident involving my department head.

 

I also was teaching a Logic/Psychology elective in addition to my Social Studies class and she approached me with a Psychology book that she wanted me to review to see if we should purchase any. I reluctantly took it, all the while thinking that I probably would not return the next year to teach anything. Mechanically, I opened it up in the middle and began to read a little story that introduced the chapter. It was about two frogs that fell into a pitcher of cream that went something like this: 

“Two frogs fell into a pitcher of cream. The cream was too deep for them to touch the bottom and they were too far from the top to climb out. Their situation seemed hopeless. The first frog turn to the second one and said, “This is hopeless… We’re as good as dead!” The second frog agreed. Then the first frog said, “Well, I’m going to get this over as quickly as possible. I’m going to stick my head in the cream, take a deep breath and drown myself.” And that is exactly what he did. The second frog said to himself, “I know that he is right, but I can’t do that. I have to swim.” So he began to swim around and around in the cream. Hour after hour he swam, until, with utter exhaustion, he took one last stroke and found himself sitting on a pile of butter.” His aimless swimming in a circle had churned the cream into butter. 

 

This story was a message from God that changed my entire attitude. What it said to me was that my job was to struggle and let God take care of the results. It didn’t matter whether my struggling saved the world because that was not my responsibility. My job was to save myself by struggling to deal with whatever life had set before me. And who knows? If I decided to struggle and you decided to struggle, and we influenced others to struggle we might end up making butter. Too often when we concentrate on the magnitude of the problems, it immobilizes us into inactivity and that is the worst thing we can do. By focusing on what we can do, we become part of the solution rather than an addition to the problem.

 

Jesus was once asked by His disciples where the Kingdom of God was and His answer was one of those inscrutable statements that left you wondering what He meant. He said, “the Kingdom of God is already here and is yet to come.” I suspect that what He meant was that He had already planted it, like a mustard seed, as a vision in each of their hearts and they were to go out and plant it in the hearts of others until the whole world had heard and accepted the Good News or Gospel that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, His Wisdom, to show us the way so that whoever believed and followed Him would have life eternal. The Kingdom of God begins in each of our hearts and causes us to start to live out the Gospel in our everyday actions. And when everybody has heard and accepted it, then as we begin to live it “God’s Kingdom will come and His Will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

Since the time of the Apostle, we Christians have been waiting for the “world to end” and for Jesus to return and establish His Kingdom. I suspect that while we were waiting for God to “end the world”, He has been waiting for us to do it by ushering in the return of Jesus, the Wisdom of God, through the application of Wisdom to our human affairs. The Church says that Mary is the model for all Christians and that we should model our behavior after her. Well, what exactly did Mary do that we should copy? By opening up her heart through humility she allowed the Holy Spirit of Truth to impregnate her and she gave birth to Jesus, the Wisdom of God. In like manner, every time that we humble ourselves before Truth, we too become impregnated and give birth to Wisdom. And, as more and more of us follow her example, Jesus, the Wisdom of God, returns to our world and establishes the Kingdom of His Father. In fact, this Kingdom consists of two aspects of God: Wisdom and Love.  Wisdom is the path that leads us to it, and Love is the force that binds it together. And as these two qualities increase among us, the “world system” comes to an end and God’s Kingdom is manifested on earth as it is in heaven. With this in mind, my parting advice to all my students at the end of my course was, “Let you motives be loving and your methods be wise.”

 

Too often we misunderstand God and what is meant by Love and Wisdom. People are fond of saying that “God loves us” or that He is Unconditional Love without really understanding who God is and what is unconditional about His love. As a result, we often misunderstand His actions towards us because we interpret them in terms of our own understanding based on human experience. Thus, we project on to Him motives based on our own experience.

 

 The Bible is an evolutionary book based on the ancient Hebrew’s attempt to understand the nature of their God. For example, the name for God changes a number of times in the Old Testament and each time it does it represents a newer and deeper understanding of God. Then, in the New Testament,  St. John and St. Paul gives the definitive name that reveal His true nature. St. John says, “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in Him.” And St. Paul gives a detailed description of Him when he writes,

 

“Love, or God,  is patient and kind. It is not envious. It not proud but gentle and meek and it never seeks its own way. It rejoices when truth prevails. It believes and endures all things. It hopes and it bears every wrong. And it will never fail you.”

 

We read this but does it really sink in? Or do we constantly return to our faulty impression of God based on our own projections? For example, we habitually think of heaven and hell as reward and punishment rather than consequences that flow from our own behavior. God rewards us for being good and punishes us for being bad and, if we are too bad , He will, in vengencful wrath, throw us into eternal fires where there will be the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

 

This is what psychologist call “cognitive dissonance.” In other words, if God is patient and kind and never seeks His own way then it does not fit that He will throw us into eternal fires because we didn’t do what He said. Some people try to resolve this conflict by concluding there is no hell, yet the scriptures are clear that there is and that serious sinners will go there. Others conclude that there is no conflict because God’s justice requires that sin be punished. However, a third and more reasonable interpretation is that heaven and hell are merely the consequences that flow from our decisions and instead of God throwing us into hell, we willingly choose it because acting in hellish ways has become part of our heart.

 

Recently I had an experience that deepened my insight into this issue. I was working with a group of young people who had begun an organization known as Hands of Truth dedicated to Catholic evangelization. We were in LovePark, across from City Hall in Philadelphia, where we offered to answer questions concerning our religion to passerbys. A young man and woman stopped who, at one time, had been active as Muslims. The young lady asked,

 

“How can I believe in a God that I can’t see or in places like heaven and hell? My young companion responded by repeatedly assuring them that God loved them. Suddenly, it popped into my mind that this wasn’t true. God didn’t love them. God didn’t love me. In fact, God didn’t love anybody because love is not something that God chooses to do. Love is who God is. God could not “not love” without ceasing to be who He is and that is why He is Unconditional Love. To say that we have never seen Him is equivalent to saying that we have never seen love. When we see parents love their children, we see God. When we see their love for each other, we see God. When we see firemen running up the steps of the TwinTowers to save lives while everyone else is running down, we see God. In fact, every time we see anybody sacrificing themselves out of concern for another, we see God. And when we look at Jesus hanging on the Cross out of love for Mankind, we are looking at the “visible image of the invisible God” who is Sacrificial Love. And, as far as heaven and hell go, it is the teaching of the Catholic Church that heaven is to be in the presence of God, who is Love, and hell is where people have rejected His presence by rejecting love. So heaven is Divine Love, which must be freely accepted, and hell is its absence because those who are there refuse to accept it. Every time we experience love, we experience God and get a glimpse of heaven and every time we experience the lack of love, we get a glimpse of hell.

 

As I conveyed these thoughts to the couple the young lady responded by saying, “I can relate to that!” So heaven and hell are consequence that flow from our own choices. In other words, we will all reap what we have sown. And this happens because God, who is Love, is a great respecter of our right to choose.

 

But, you might be thinking, no one would refuse heaven by rejecting Love and thereby choose hell, but such is not the case. When my son was somewhere between five and seven he told me of a dream that he had. He started by saying, “Dad, I saw God!” Now Joey was all boy and certainly was not a candidate for heavenly visions. Nevertheless, I replied, “You did, Joe. When?” He said, I had a dream about God creating a New Earth. It came down from out of the clouds and it was beautiful.” I was shocked because I knew that Joey had never read of heard of the Book of Revelation’s description of this so I began to question him about his dream. “Where was the Old Earth?” I asked in amazement. “It was still there but the people on it were out in the street screaming, fighting, and killing each other”, he said. “Where were you? I asked. “I was up in heaven with some of my friends and I was waiting to be born again to you and Mom” “Well, where were we?” I asked anxiously. “You were on the New Earth” “What were we doing there” I said with a sense of relief. “You had to stay on the New Earth as long as you had stayed on the Old Earth so that you could get rid of your sins.”  “Well, what happened to the people on the Old Earth?” He said, “they went to hell. God went to them one last time and asked them if they wanted to go to the New Earth but they said “No!” because they wanted to get even with the people who had hurt them.” There a little more to this story that I have to leave out because of time but this is enough to make my point.

 

Because of their unwillingness to forgive, they actually chose to go to hell. And Jesus said, if you wanted to be forgiven yourself, forgive others; if you want mercy, you have to give mercy. So hell is where those with selfish and unforgiving hearts reside because they have rejected the path to Love.

 

Years before , while attending the funeral of my cousin’s husband, a fireman who had been killed while fighting a fire, a young priest, who presided at the funeral Mass, made the same point in his sermon. He said:

 

 “Hell is a large banquet hall full of starving people in which there were numerous tables filled with the most luscious food. Each person had one hand tied behind his back and a six foot long fork in the other hand. Everyone was pushing, shoving, and cursing trying to get to one of the tables filled with food. When one finally broke through, he would stab a luscious steak with his six foot long fork only to discover the length of the fork prevented him from placing it in his mouth. As he struggled to find a way to eat it, other people pushed and jostled him until it fell to the floor. Then he and the others would begin to curse God and each other for their predicament.”

 

Then the priest said:

“On the other hand, heaven is a large banquet hall full of hungry people in which there were numerous tables filled with the most luscious food. Each person had one hand tied behind his back and a six foot long fork in the other hand. When one of them wanted to reach a table filled with luscious food he said, ‘Excuse me friends, but could I reach that table?’ They smiled, parted, and said, ‘ Of course, we would be happy to make a path for you.’ When he reached the table, he stabbed a luscious steak with his six foot long fork and, reaching across the table with it, he fed another person standing on the other side, who, reciprocated by stabbing another steak and feeding him.” Moral of the story is that heaven and hell are the same place. The only difference is the attitude of the people.

 

Do you get it? It isn’t the wrath of God that throws us into hell because “wrath” is a human projection on God’s motives which always have to be Love.  It is the consequences that flow from our failure to follow Wisdom, which is Jesus, the Logos or Logic of God, down the path to Love. And, unlike our Protestant brothers and sister who believe that we can be saved by “faith alone”, Catholics believe that “good works” are also necessary. The scriptures put it this way in Ezekiel 18:21-28

 

“Thus saith the Lord, if the wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed, if he keeps all My statues and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him. He shall live because of the virtue he practiced. ‘Do I derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked?’ says the Lord. “Do I not rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?’ And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live? None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered because he has broken faith and committed sin. Because of this he shall die. You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, House of Israel. Is it My way that is unfair, or rather are not your ways unfair? When someone who is virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity that he committed that he must die. But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life…”

 

Virtue is Wisdom and knowledge Vice is stupidity and ignorance and they each bring their own consequences. It wasn’t the wrath of God that caused us to be in our present economic state. It was the Truth of Reality, who is Jesus, that, by reflecting back to us the consequences of our behavior, is lovingly seeking to turn us away from the stupidity that was taking us to an even greater disaster. God’s love, even in its harshest form, is always corrective, never destructive. It is only when we totally ignore it, that it leads to destruction. If we have the “eyes to see and the ears to hear” then we, like the second frog, can begin to struggle by “choosing life”, which is Wisdom and Love rather than “death”, which is Ignorance and Selfishness.

 

It should be obvious to all of us that the surest way to remain in our sins is to be deprived of their logical consequences since this allows us to keep on repeating the same behavior while expecting different results. And that is what happens when we allow our leaders to place the total blame on others rather than challenging us to face the role that we have played in our own crisis. He who accepts the constructive criticism that flows from an Antithesis grows, while he who avoids it remains the same or regresses. We, the people, have played a major part in the current crisis and nothing will change or be resolved until we face up to our own responsibility.

This is not the death of Capitalism no more than the collapse of the Soviet Union was the death of Communism or Socialism. It is merely the restructuring of both systems so that the best in both can be preserved while what is worse is removed. According to the Principle of Subsidiarity there are problems that the lower levels of society should handle and others which rightly belong to the top levels. The problem arises when those on the lower levels surrender responsibilities that should rightly have been assumed by them to the higher levels. The only way that we can have the “government that governs best by governing less” is for us to learn to govern ourselves. If we don’t take care of the problems that rightly belong to us, we have no one to blame but ourselves if they are assumed by those above us. Government controls often result when the people have failed to control themselves.

For example, there never would have been any need for a Civil Rights Act if we the people had respected the civil rights of our fellow citizens.  When “Black men” are lynched in the “Bible Belt” of the South; found guilty by all-white juries when they are really innocent; see white men found innocent when they are really guilty;  and see their children and wives denied their basic human dignity, then where can they go for justice if Bible reading Christians are the problem rather than the solution? There never would have been a need for labor unions if Christian employers had paid their workers a fair wage. There never would have been a need for the government to bail out the banks and other financial institutions if we had refused their enticements to live beyond our means by borrowing at exorbitant interest rates. The cost of housing could never have reach the astronomical levels that it did unless we had cooperated in bidding the price up so that our own children were force into exorbitant debt. So, like Pogo in the comic strip, we should be willing to admit that “we have met the enemies and they is us.” Once we get that straight then we will be in a position to address these problems creatively.  So let’s remember, “The world ain’t coming to an end, my friend, the world is coming to a start” if we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear and a willingness to act.

          The ball is in our court now since God has already performed His part by allowing the consequences of our stupidity to be reflected back to us. So let’s not fail by looking for others on whom we can place the blame. The philosopher Hegel, whose philosophy was related to his Christian beliefs, said that the best time to be alive is when great issues and conflicts were being resolved because it presented to all of us an opportunity to be part of the historical struggle that God is using to take history to its ultimate conclusion.

We must look for new answers, based on Wisdom, to old questions and this will require a restructuring of many of our attitudes. Jesus said that we cannot put new wine in old wine skins because the new wine will burst the old skins. Yet, as Christians who, either knowingly or unknowingly, believe in the Judeo/Christian/Linear/Utopian/Concept of History, we know that human history is the story of repentance and reform as the Holy Spirit of Truth guides us towards the Kingdom of God. So let me end by repeating the words to the song that should be our guiding light in this crisis:

Did you ever get the feeling when you read the paper the world is caving in?

That the animal part of the human heart is finally gonna win?

Well, it just may be that what you see is the growing pains of liberty

And the world ain’t coming to an end, my friend

The world is coming to a start… I feel it in my heart.

The world is coming to a start!

 

Everyone says when you look about you the world has gone insane

That the heavenly goal of the human soul will perish in the flames

Well, it just may be that what you see is the storm before tranquility

 And the world ain’t coming to an end, my friend

The world is coming to a start… I feel it in my heart.

The world is coming to a start!

 

A commentator makes a grim prediction “The world ain’t gonna work”

That the rational line of the human mind has really gone beserk

Well, it just may be that what you see are the dying throes of apathy

And the world ain’t coming to an end, my friend

The world is coming to a start… I feel it in my heart.

The world is coming to… The world is coming to… the world is coming to a start!

Well, I see that my time is up.