The Gospel According to George Costanza
”Two roads diverged in a wood, and I....I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost
Today’s Gospel (Mark 8:34-9:1) allows the faithful reader to reflect upon the great paradox of true discipleship. For it is in this passage that Jesus tells his disciples “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35). A life and love rooted in self-sacrifice and a willingness to carry one’s cross is the only way, the narrow gate if you will, to heaven. Regarding the narrow gate, need I remind you that Led Zeppelin sung of the “Stairway to Heaven“ whereas AC/DC blew out our collective eardrums in their anthem “Highway to Hell?” In life there are no coincidences.
In his morning reflection, Bishop Barron urges his readers to “Put that (Mark 8:35) over your door, on the refrigerator, on your screensaver. There is no better one-line guide to the happy life.”
Hmmm...the secular world would certainly seem to disagree, rather vehemently, with the Bishop.
“My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.” These were the gloomy words of legendary sitcom character and Seinfeld sidekick George Costanza in one of his more timeless quotes. He had many of those by the way. Fans of Seinfeld know George, for the most part, has two major character flaws. The first, as he grimly points out, lies with his instincts, or lack thereof. His second flaw, which shows up time and again, is his tendency to takes everything a step (or twelve) too far. Whether it be impulsively quitting his job and subsequently conjuring up revenge fantasies centered on his former boss, converting to Latvian Orthodox in order to get a second date with a girl, or not admitting to an infinitesimal number of lies until the truth is inevitably revealed, George is resolute if nothing else. But I digress.
But what if our instincts, like Costanza’s, are all wrong, specifically as they relate to life and how it should be lived? For whatever reason. Lord knows the culture is awful. The message, particularly the one sent to our children, is not doing any of us any favors. Hollywood and Madison Avenue are in the business of lining their pockets; there is no money in pointing souls towards heaven. As a result, we are being bombarded with things that are beneficial to them, not to us. Certainly not to our eternal fate. With Lent less than a week away, what if we were to spend the Lenten Season employing the George Costanza opposite theory over the next 45 days, placing a premium on prayer, fasting and acts of charity and giving, setting aside the fleeting and vapid pleasures of the world?
What if we were to take the words of Saint James to heart in today's 1st Reading (James 2:14-24, 26) wherein he reminds us that “faith without good works is dead” and take the focus off of ourselves, instead placing it on those in need of our prayers, our time, perhaps even our financial assistance? No, we cannot earn our Salvation but we are ultimately accountable for our response to this gift from God, Jesus his only begotten Son. We will all stand before Jesus one day, the man who died for our sins, and essentially be asked to account for our response to his death on the cross for us. Will the life you have lived reflect your gratitude?
Saint Peter Damian, whose Feast Day we celebrate today, explains that “each one of the faithful is, so to speak, the Church miniature.” May we seek to put nothing before Christ, and always be ardent in our service to his Church, during this Lenten Season and always.
.....and may I remind you all before sending you off to reflect upon this essay: A muffin can be very filling.
(Seinfeld fans will understand).