Back in the Fall, I shared a post with you about fallen Hollywood heroes asking for mercy. Does Hollywood matter? Does anything, given the finiteness of our earthly existence? I’m reminded of a title of an album by John Cougar Mellencamp: Nothing Matters, And What If It Did?
What about politics? Should Catholics be involved in that sphere? Over at the USCCB Blog, Don Clemmor answers in the affirmative with a post you will want to read. Here’s a taste,
But there’s still something to be said for people being wary of a Church that seems too wrapped up in secular matters and power.
The bishops recognize this and draw several key distinctions. To name a couple, the Church’s focus is on moral principles and how they should influence policy positions. The Church stakes out strong positions on issues, but does not endorse parties or candidates. It recognizes that lay people play a complementary role of more direct involvement in politics that the hierarchy cannot and should not play.
…Catholics aren’t called to be hyper-partisans waging a scorched Earth campaign for permanent political dominance. In fact the bishops offer the admonition that Catholic shouldn’t let their parties lead them to “neglect or deny fundamental moral truths.”
Instead, Catholics are called to be leaven. The duty of the politically-engaged Catholic isn’t just to take sides in the political debate, but to transform it.
Because, everything does matter, see? But forget politics, Hollywood, school work, home work, our careers, our relationships, entertainment, our involvement in society, our intelligence, our physical gifts or impediments for a minute. None of that matters unless our love for Christ is the center of our existence. For as Qoheleth says in Ecclesiastes, all is vanity. However, when we are Christ centered people, then everything matters.
You may remember from an earlier post that I hinted that I am a gearhead. See the Mustang, up yonder in the banner? On this first day of Spring, the urge to drive her with the top down beckons mightily. That car and I go back a long way. Let me tell you a little story about her that ties in with the theme of this post.
Once upon a time, I willfully dismantled a perfectly good engine in my Mustang in an effort to make it better, stronger, faster. I did this before I became a Catholic. I have always had an interest in motors, engines, airplanes, trucks, etc. I was just born with this attraction and with mechanical ability. So, exhaust manifold, intake manifold, cylinder heads, fuel injectors, camshaft—all were removed and replaced in my driveway with hand tools and moxie back in 1999.
Just to see if I still could, I swapped the cylinder heads on the motor again in 2002 (after my near brush with death). And actually, I had blown a head gasket and took that incident as an opportunity to add ported and polished heads. That right there is an example of clear, focused, gearhead thinking for you. In 2005, I drove this car 2100 miles across the country from California to our new home. She is a runner and one spirited pony. And none of this matters for my salvation. That is, until it did.
A few months after our move, she (cars are feminine) broke down and I couldn’t figure out the problem. I started her up one day and she was running really rough. I opened the hood, checked the spark-plug wires, fuel injectors, sensors, etc. All was fine. But still, the motor had a wicked shimmy and was seemingly trying to tear herself off the motor mounts. Have I lost you with all the gearhead jargon? Sorry. Long story short, I put the pony to pasture for a while because I was busy with other chores, like building a stair-case and contemplating swimming the Tiber.
Eventually (over a year later) I finished the home improvement projects and decided to tackle the engine problem again. Knowing my limitations though, I took it to a professional. I learned early on that throwing money and personal labor at problems a professional can diagnose quicker and cheaper is silly. The problem? The harmonic balancer was slipping off the crankshaft key.
The balancer is a big counterweight that dampens the vibrations in the mechanical workings of an internal combustion engine. It probably went a little off kilter when I swapped the camshaft, and eventually it manifested itself as a wicked shimmy. See this photograph? The balancer is that thingy that looks like a wheel on the end of the crankshaft. Without the balancer, centered perfectly on the crankshaft, the engine will tear itself apart. With the balancer in place, the engine will run smoothly.
At the time my car’s motor broke, I was wrestling with my practice of Christianity. I knew that up to this time in my life, Christ definitely had not been the center of my existence. I had pushed him way out on the periphery. Of course, by doing that, the big counterweight that should have been my center was removed. Thus all the other moving parts in my life were vying for the central position. As a result, I was running as rough as my Mustang motor had been with the broken balancer. So this idea popped into my gearhead–Joe Six-Pack mind: Christ is our harmonic balancer.
The idea of having Christ at our center isn’t mine, it is God’s. And this handy little diagram isn’t my idea either. But until the motor in my Mustang broke, I didn’t really “get” the ramifications of not having Christ as the center. This incident with the harmonic balancer was when theory and practical application came together for me. It is why I understand that putting sports, or anything else for that matter, at the center of your life instead of Christ will lead to oblivion.
Is this the shortest parable on record? I don’t really know, and truthfully, I haven’t checked. If it isn’t, though, it’s close. Don Clemmor mentioned it in his post on political involvement, remember?
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is recorded as having said this in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 13). And this statement of truth identifies our role as Catholics and Christians—yeast to be mixed in with the flour of the rest of the world so that the mixture is leavened and the loaf can rise. In the same Gospel, while giving His Sermon on the Mount He also says,
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
The Desert Fathers chucked everything and headed into the desert to pray and wait. I don’t have that option because I was called to be a father and a husband. And I understand that I am called to put Christ first in my life. I have found the Catholic Church to be the place where I can do this most effectively. And all of my God-given talents and abilities are to be put to good use and for His greater glory. The same is true for my wife and our children.
So be it politics, Hollywood, sports, school work, home work, careers, relationships, involvement as citizens, using our intellectual gifts, or our physical gifts or impediments, et cetera, et cetera, with Christ in his rightful and central place in our lives, everything we do, or think, or say, matters for our salvation.
Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War was not a Catholic or a Christian. Heck, he couldn’t have been because he lived in China around 500 BC. But I think he would have made a good Catholic Christian because he would understand where his loyalties must lie as a disciple of the True King. Note this saying of his,
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
The same is true for us privates and gearheads too.