There are two stories from the ancient world I would like to compare. The first is that of Alcibiades, a figure from a war fought between Athens and Sparta in the 400s BC known as the Peloponnesian War. A brilliant Athenian statesman and general, Alcibiades brought great success to Athens in the early part of the war. While away on a naval campaign, however, he was accused by his political opponents of treason. Placed under arrest by subordinates, he managed to escape, jumping ship (literally and figuratively).
God is in everything, be it sports or music or history or business or wine-making or church or whatever. Everywhere we look there is a spiritual metaphor to be found. Some metaphors may be hidden, some overt. I will attempt to point them out to you. That is the purpose of these laconic reflections. They are mostly intended to be fun and interesting. Perhaps, though, the reflections will provide you some guidance. Perhaps they will lead you to see everything through a spiritual lens, thus appreciating Catholicism all the more. When Jay Cutler throws a Hail Mary at the end of the half, might you move beyond your frustration with the Bears' offensive ineptitude and think of the Blessed Mother? Just an example.
These reflections will only be an introduction to deeper spiritual and theological truths. Hence the title, The Tassel of the Cloak. When David cuts off the tassel of Saul's cloak and shows it to him (cf. 1 Sam 24), Saul realizes that David is not his enemy. That moves them into a new relationship. Likewise, the hemorrhaging woman's grasping of the tassel on Christ's cloak in Luke 8:44 opens the door to her healing and conversion. The tassel was merely an entryway. The mundane anecdotes and simple spiritual lessons I provide are, in my opinion, the tassel. There's much more to Christ's Cloak. I hope you will experience it. So, please, go ahead and "Touch the Hem of His Garment." That is, by the way, the title of a Sam Cooke song.
Someone asked me recently how he could not be sure he was not currently living in Purgatory. (I think he was a White Sox fan.) The lament made me think, upon later reflection, of the classic piece of medieval literature, The Divine Comedy. (Pope Francis, by the way, has encouraged Catholics to read this during the year.)
The Road to Emmaus was filled with trickery, bravery, blood, and victory. No, I am not talking about that Road to Emmaus. I am talking about the encounter of Judas Maccabeus and the Gentile army from the Old Testament (cf. 1 Maccabees 3-4). It occurred about 175 years prior to the risen Christ meeting the two disciples on the same road (cf. Luke 24:13-25).
In the crypt of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome are the tombs of many popes, including the first and greatest pope himself. There is one tomb, however, that is unique. Just to the right of St. Peter is a marble sarcophagus with the name etched in: Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val. Yes, cardinals are important, but why this cardinal, among all the thousands in the history of the Church, in this preeminent spot? Because Cardinal Merry del Val possessed the preeminent virtue: humility.
Merry del Val was born of Spanish nobility and became a priest, seeking to serve and not be served. For his reception after being named a bishop he hosted 200 poor and homeless people of Rome. In fact, he shunned parties and banquets throughout his career, instead going to the neighborhood of Trastevere to serve the poor and minister to the young people. He was made Secretary of State at the incredibly young age of 38 by Pope Saint Pius X, who desired him for his greatest skill: humility.
With the virtue of humility, we understand that we do not have all the answers or the solutions to all life's challenges. We let God do the work. If we possess humility, we see ourselves as the last, which means, paradoxically, we will be the first. So, if you want to enjoy life to the fullest, another way of saying you are "the first," then pray for humility. You could even recite the Litany of Humility, which was composed by, you guessed it, Merry Del Val.
Here is a fictional story that illustrates the redemption:
A man was hiking and fell into a crevasse. Deep in the pit, he noticed there were other trails and caverns that appeared to lead further into the earth. Fearing to leave the light he could see above him, he remained and yelled out for help. A banker walked by the crevasse and threw down money. That did not help. A doctor likewise passed by and dropped in some medicine, which did not help either. Finally a man jumped down into the pit. Seeing the helper was empty-handed, the hiker said to him, "Why did you do that? Now we're both stuck." The man replied, "We're not stuck. I know the way."
Nothing outside of Christ is capable of saving us. Jesus ‘jumped into the pit’ with us. That is, he became man, entered the human condition, and remains with us in the Eucharist. Not only does this save us, it gives us comfort.
Let us continue the story:
The helper does not lift the man straight up out of the hole, but rather leads him deep into the earth down the trails. There are times the fallen hiker doubts the path and suggests another route. The helper patiently acquiesces to the hiker. When they hit a dead end, the hiker hands control back to the helper, who reroutes them and ultimately leads them to the summit.
It is to our advantage to accept and follow Christ. “Belief is one of the indispensable preliminary conditions of the realization of its object,” writes William James, the founder of modern psychology. “Believe, and you shall be right, for you shall save yourself; doubt, and you shall again be right, for you shall perish.”