Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Copernican Shift of the Soul

The older I get, the more I find myself thinking about life.  As you can see from previous essays, I muse on the shortness and purpose of our time on this bright blue planet.

We have only a certain number of grains in our hourglass.  And once they go, there is no getting them back.

I remember seeing the movie Funny People (which was not very good), where Adam Sandler's character is dying.  In one scene he has a little breakdown because his television isn't working and he comes to the realization that with so little time left, he is wasting so much of it on something as unimportant as television.

And yet where do I spend my time?

I am not saying that television is bad or that we shouldn't do things to pass the time.  But to kill the time with meaninglessness seems wrong.  But no matter how I try to fix my will on seizing the day, I am often seized by sloth.

I think part of the problem is that I do not really understand life.

When I look at my worries, it amazes me how much of them are on temporary things.  I have spent countless hours working on extra curricular projects at school like dances or films.  And I can tell you that leading up to the main event, I get a giant knot in my stomach.  Yet in the long run, what does one dance or one film or one performance matter?

Well, that depends.

And it depends on the locus of my soul.

Too often I am at the center of my universe.  This is a common problem, but it is not end of the story.  In addition to this, the problem is that I have placed my center in the wrong place.  What do I mean by this?

I read a book a few years ago by Archbishop Chaput.  In it he told the story of a young woman named Mabel.  She was married with two sons when her husband died, leaving them destitute.  She had recently converted to the Catholic faith.  Her in-laws offered to take care of her in great wealth if she abandoned the Church.  She refused.  She could not support her sons, so she sent them to live with her parents.  She worked herself ragged and then got sick and died, leaving her children orphaned.

Is her life story sad?  To be sure there is great sadness there.  But her life is not a tragedy.  In the eyes of the world, she failed.  But that is because the world puts itself at the center.  The concerns of this life seem far too important.

Take the fictional character Jack Bauer from the show 24.  One of his hallmark traits is that he will willingly do great evil if he perceives it working out for an overall good end.  He will torture, murder, and do whatever else for "the greater good."  This "greater good" is always measured as lives saved.  And to be sure, human life is precious.  But he makes no regard for unmoving principles, unlike the real-life Mabel who worked herself to death.

She had no worldly success.  Few people know Mabel's story.  And so in terms of the world's ambitions, her life is a waste.

That is why we need a Copernican shift in the soul.

Copernicus was the Catholic priest who put forth the theory that contrary to popular belief, we are not the center of the cosmos.  Rather, we revolve around something greater: the sun.  Once this reality is put into place, we can more clearly see ourselves in the greater universe.

What Copernicus did for the world, we must do for the soul.  The center of my universe should not be this life, because it will come to an end all too quickly.  In fact, everything in this universe ends.  There is no painting, book, poem, building, nation, or technology that will not ultimately be destroyed.  The entire universe is mortal.  It is dying before our eyes.  Scientists tell us that either the universe will use up all of its energy and we will die in cold entropy or gravity will pull the remaining matter into a final crunch.  But all the things of this world will not last.  Jack Bauer saves lives that are already doomed and a country that will one day in the future be no more.  But Mabel?

Mabel did something extraordinary.  She gave faith to her sons.  And unlike everything else in this world, that faith will go on forever because the soul is immortal.  Particularly, her son John became very devoutly Catholic for his entire life.  That is very clear to anyone who read his book, you might have heard about it, The Lord of the Rings.

But an even greater legacy to that book, which will also one day turn to dust, is that he passed on the faith to his son Christopher who is a Catholic priest.  As a priest, he has experienced an ontological change, that is a change down to his very soul.  And unlike the things of this world that go away, he will be a priest forever.

John also help convert his friend Jack to Christ.  Jack went on to become one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century and brought countless people into the faith.  He also wrote children's books that made concrete the teachings of Jesus.  Of course, you might better know Jack by his given name: CS Lewis.

So Mabel's legacy lives on and will live on forever.

That is because she experience the Copernican shift in the soul.  She changed the center of her soul from this world to heaven.  When I keep my eternal home in mind, it changes how I look at this world.

The little worries of this life no longer affect me.  At my school, I am loved by some.  But I am also hated by others.  Some people go through life doing anything they can not to be hated.  But I will tell you that when I take Christ's words seriously "Blessed are you when they insult and hate you and utter every kind of slander against you all because of Me," then I am filled with a special kind of joy.  I almost understand how Peter and John rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer for the Gospels.

Does this mean that all the little things in life like dances and films are unimportant?  Certainly not.  In fact, when you shift your soul, these things take on an eternal significance.

The greatness of The Lord of the Rings is not its financial or critical success, but the affect it has on imparting wisdom and virtue and beauty to the soul.  A dance can be a place where friendship, that uniquely spiritual love, can be forged in the fires of celebration.  Working on a film can give those who participate a sense of confidence and accomplishment that they can carry with them as they discover their own self worth.

When I shift my soul I can see things in their proper light.  But when I think this earthly life as the center, all of that light is eclipsed.

If I can, I shall try to be like Copernicus and realize that life does not revolve around me but that I revolve around Life.

Let the revolution begin!

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