Nothing’s worse than getting used to the magnificent.
Years ago while living in the first house I’d ever bought by myself, I had a Ziggy calendar. And this was one of the cartoons for the month. Only in that version, Ziggy was shouting,
I loved that cartoon.
On many a morning while driving into the glory of a new sunrise to my job at Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, I’d shout, “Yeah God!!” And pretend not to see the horrified stares of other drivers undoubtedly wondering if there was a crazy person beside them.
I was thrilled to find it again for this article. And found the close to sixty-minute aggravation of finding it, then getting permission to use it and finally converting it from PDF to JPG worthwhile.
Because all those mornings, I was praising, joyfully proclaiming a God I claimed I didn’t believe in. Right, I was a card-carrying atheist.
Sound wholly, completely nuts?
Think about it for a moment or five. Maybe back to a time when you weren’t so sure of God…or the priest or minister did/said something that you decided to put on God…or any of the numerous justifications supporting the walls of our unbelief.
Or maybe you’re where I was, confident that zealous Christians like me are—off. But when looking at that cartoon, it’s super hard to wipe off the smile. Tamp down the surge of joy. Beauty—magnificence—slices through our defensive rhetoric, reducing our arguments to empty patter.
This cartoon perfectly symbolizes God’s work in each of us. Including those, like me back then, who are not yet believers.
This title isn’t mine but is taken from
the book, Rescued: Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel. But author Father John Riccardo isn’t talking about God’s creation, when writing “nothing’s worse than getting used to the magnificent.” He’s speaking about God Himself. He who holds everything in being.
- If Catholic, He who miraculously condescends to fill us with His Body and Blood at each Mass.
- Do we truly understand and appreciate what Jesus did?
- Do we take sin seriously enough?
- For me, no. At least not consistently.
The priest-author states unequivocally that everything begins with Genesis. The first three chapters.
Fr. Riccardo doesn’t mention Saint Pope John Paul ll’s first book, but I’m guessing that his theories derive from a series of meditations prepared at the request of the then Pope Paul VI for the 1976 Lenten Retreat of the Pope and his staff. The then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla called his book, The Sign of Contradiction.
It’s a remarkable book. Like all of St. John Paul ll’s writings, it warrants a very careful read. And reread. I’ve bought and given away the book at least three times. And am confident that even if I read it ten more times, I’d not begin to plumb the depths of the wisdom contained there.
A few years ago, I wrote this in The Contradictions of Sin and Mercy:
“Having read and pondered these writings, the level of insight and inspiration which is evident, I believe with our newest Saint, that the serpent is no allegory but an entity committed to the destruction of you, me and of our world. Saint John Paul speaks of the serpent as the “Anti-Word” and of “Anti-Love” of waging eternal war against the “Great Heart”, the tender and beautiful phrase he uses to describe God, the first person of the Trinity.
….The world…is a terrain for struggle between man and God, for the created being’s defiance of his Creator. This is the great drama of history, myth and civilization…might not the… temptation of man lie in precisely this, that man should believe himself alone?”
Evil can only exist where there is no God.
I wrote those words last year while listening to Fr. Skip Thompson on the first of his three-day Advent Retreat at St. Patrck’s Church in Arroyo Grande, California with Genesis. They’re worth repeating. “Evil can only exist where there is no God.”
We know from St. Thomas of Aquinas that evil is a privation: the absence of being, of Good—of God. For all that was created was Good. But there are days, with evil’s suffocating presence so horrifically evident, Satan and his forces can seem all powerful. we forget this world is his. Hence, all too often, I blame and judge the man or woman taking no notice of the source as the evil spirit(s) within him or her. Seduction becomes irresistible just as it did to the mother of all the living:
“You shall not die,” says the serpent to Eve, “for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
St. Paul’s 2000 year-old-words to the Ephesians apply today.
“For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.”
But there’s our sins too. Again, we can turn to St. Pope John Paul ll to smash our “enlightened” claim that “We can do anything so long as it doesn’t harm another.”
“As a rupture with God, sin is an act of disobedience by a creature who rejects, at least implicitly, the very one from whom he came and who sustains him in life. It is therefore a suicidal act [italics mine]…Sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person and not properly of a group or community. This individual may be conditioned, incited and influenced by numerous and powerful external factors… Hence there is nothing so personal and untransferable in each individual as merit for virtue or responsibility for sin.”
What did Jesus do?
As we read of the things that were done to Jesus between his arrest at Gethsemane and his sentencing to crucifixion, we get the feeling that in some way he stood outside them. As prisoner on trial for his life he was the central figure; but he seemed not to belong to the circle in which these other men moved around him. The Sanhedrin passed him on to Pilate, Pilate to Herod, Herod back to Pilate. They mocked him and scourged him. He gives an effect of almost total passivity, furiously acted upon, hardly reacting at all. The truth is that he was the central figure, but of a far wider action than his tormentors knew. For he was redeeming the whole human race, his tormentors included. He was active as no man has ever been, wholly given to the greatest thing that has been done upon earth.
To become the “ambush predator.”
The being that deceived Eve, the mother of the living is Lucifer-literally the “angel of light.” We have no conception of the malevolence Satan holds for humanity. Nor can we grasp how vast is his intelligence and his knowledge of all things. But Jesus did—does.
Fr. Riccardo explains.
“God became a man to fight, to rescue us, to get his creation—you—back. He landed on earth in order to vanquish the enemy, but here’s the challenge: the enemy won’t fight God. Satan isn’t stupid. Satan knew he couldn’t beat God and wouldn’t try, so God designed a plan: a plan he knew would involve piercing, nails, and a cross. Then he hid himself as a man. And he waited…
Jesus on the cross is not the poor, helpless victim, and he is not the hunted. Jesus on the cross is the aggressor and the hunter.”
And us? What’s our response?
That’s the question, isn’t it?
How can we warrant love like that?
“I thirst,” He said as He hung there.
Thirsting for water?
For you and me and the close to 8 billions souls on this earth.
“Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man. Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strongroom and scattered all its treasure.”
Nothing’s worse than getting used to the magnificent.