I have been completely absorbed in the the space trilogy by C.S. Lewis of late. Actually, I read the first of the three, Out of the Silent Planet last summer, but I recently purchase the last two, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. They are books that I will be re-reading again in the future because there is so much there.
It was as I was reading That Hideous Strength that I came upon a passage that really impressed me. It is a quote by a character named Dr. Dimble who is speaking to his wife as the final battle of the book is beginning. He is on the side of good, but there are mysteries that he is grappling with that are hard for him to fully understand and his leader, the Director, has commanded him to accept. As he is discussing these things over with his wife he says:
Have you ever noticed,.....that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?....I mean this,....If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family- anything you like- at a given point in its history you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp; and that there's going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and codices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing." pg.280-281That captured my attention. We are, for a time, gathered in and then - as with the Biblical image of a winnowing fan - we are separated out. And there are examples of situations that, for a time, are accepted as morally neutral or tolerated as a necessity of an era in the Bible, but that eventually are revealed as unacceptable, such as Old Testament polygamy. Polygamy is certainly presented in the Bible as something that is accepted, but it is definitely a falling from the original Biblical example of marriage. And if you read your Bible carefully you see that though it is not wrong for Jacob or David to have multiple wives and concubines, it costs them something. Look at the jealousies and rivalries that come of it. The eventual splitting of the Davidic Kingdom has it's beginnings in the corrosive effect of polygamy. And the cost is sent on down through the generations, until it is time to see and understand; until it is time to make a choice. As we progress through salvation history, or even our own lives it will eventually come down to a choice, a terrible choice that requires clarity of vision and tenacious clinging to the Word of God. Our eternal destiny will rest on it.
"They rejected his statutes, the covenant which he had made with their fathers. The vanity they pursued, they themselves became; they followed the surrounding nations whom the Lord commanded them not to imitate." 2 Kings:17These thoughts have been turning over in my head for a while now, the passage in That Hideous Strength just brought new clarity for me, especially in the wake of some acrimonious discussions, with fellow Catholics, over the issue of so called "gay-marriage". But it is not that issue that primarily bothers me, that is one of many moral issues that are confronting us in our time. It is the confluence of these moral issues, the "culture wars", and the increasing ferocity of the battles over them between fellow Catholics, that signal to me that we are coming to a point in our society. Choices will have to be made, and I wonder how clear we, as Catholics, see what is at stake.
The reading of the day I was writing this post (Saturday, April 28) makes this even more urgent in my mind:
"Many disciples of Jesus who were listening said, 'This saying is hard; who can accept it?' Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, 'Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life, But there are some of you who do not believe.' Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." John 6 60-69
This is at the end of the Bread of Life discourse. Jesus is telling his followers to believe that they must "feed on me" or they will have no life in them. These disciples are shocked; they are confronted with something hard to believe, something that seems foolish and not rational (verse 42: and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?"). Many of the Lord's disciples no longer walked with Jesus from that point on. They left Him, they made a choice based on vain worldly wisdom and they departed from Wisdom in person. But Peter, shows us that he has clung to and believed in the words of the Lord, and when confronted with the choice - though he is not yet perfected in his belief, nor does he fully understand what the Lord is saying- his love for the Lord clears the way for his courageous words: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Peter sees what is at stake! And it is this choice that prepares Peter to humbly trust in Jesus, even after Peter betrays Him. Peter does not despair in his failure but receives with trust and faith the abundant mercy of the Lord.
I wonder if we have been given just enough of Jesus in our religious instruction to make us think that we know what His love means, but in reality we have inoculated ourselves from being truly transformed by His radical love. His radical love is not tepid "acceptance" or "tolerance", it is a purifying fire which will make you fit for eternal life. Unless you have ordered your life on His Commandments, putting His will in the forefront of all that you think, do, and say, and humbly repenting when you fail, it will be difficult to understand what a shallow sham our culture has made of Jesus, love and religion. It will be difficult to discern the True God and his will from the culture's gods, which will send you off in vain pursuits of worldly acclaim and worldly wisdom. From this stand point a degenerative blindness seems to set in, and in the end, even when the choice is presented point blank, it becomes too difficult to perceive what is at stake. You will become the vanity you pursue and defend!
So how can we discern the will and love of God in a time when love is perverted, materialistic, and when our lack of knowledge of our Savior Himself is used to blind and divert ourselves from Him? Do you see a hardening and narrowing happening as I do? Does it seem that we are on the edge of momentous choices, where everything we need to make the right choice is given to us, but many cannot or will not seek it? I fear that the longer we try to straddle between the two paths: the one of Jesus and eternal life and the path of worldly vanity, the less we will be able to make the courageous decisions that will be required of us when confronted with a final opportunity to choose eternal life. "the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing."
To whom shall you go? To whom shall you cling to? A terrible choice is beginning to emerge for all of us, can you see what is at stake?-choose life, not death.
Peace and Grace,