Bear with me – there is a point to all this.
In one of my favorite cartoons, Yosemite Sam finally catches Bugs Bunny after the usual chase and associated gags. After tossing some logs and a match into his oven, Sam orders Bugs in at gunpoint. Soon Bugs comes back out of the oven and convinces Sam that there’s a party in there and his presence is summoned. “The girls have been asking for you!” Sam grooms himself, jumps into the oven, and Bugs closes the oven door behind him. After a few moments, Bugs lets his conscience get the best of him, and he calls Sam back out, admitting he had tricked him. Opening the oven door, Bugs shrieks as balloons fly out to the sound of big band music and party whistles. Asking no questions about the absurdity of the situation, Bugs jumps into the oven to have some fun. There really was a party in the oven!
An astronomical star party, despite the name, is simply a gathering of people to observe the night sky. At this point in time, it had been far too long since I had been free to attend one of these, hosted by a nearby academic institution. As I lugged my telescope up the stairs to the roof of the building I hoped for a decent turnout of a few dozen people. I opened the door to the roof and was astonished at what I saw. I beheld a crowd of over 200 people enjoying the night. There was a live band, a stand for liquid-nitrogen-cooled iced cream and drinks, and even a few people “dancing”, in addition to a multitude chatting, looking down at the city lights and waiting in line to see Jupiter under the observatory dome.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the renowned cosmologist Steven Weinberg had just given a public lecture, and the event was punctuated by the star party I witnessed. As I set up my scope a line of 50 people quickly formed in front of me. With no time to assess the plausibility of the scene that surrounded me, I got down to business showing off the celestial sights to enthusiastic observers. Astounding – they have real parties on the roofs of physics buildings!
The common conception of heaven among most churchgoers is that of little more than a fitting rest and reward for having “made it” in life. Many of those depressed by the thought of death focus on the loss of the visible goods of earth while largely neglecting the gain of the invisible goods of heaven. And little wonder: isn’t it easier to focus your desires on the tangibles in front of you than on an unfulfilled promise with no basis from personal experience? It is here that faith makes all the difference.
Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a treasure buried in a field (Matthew 13:44). A person sells everything he has to buy that field. A successful career, wealth, security, popularity and fame – all these really are good in themselves, and held in highest esteem by the world. To pass some or all of this up appears a folly, because the world can fathom nothing greater than these goods. The treasure is only visible to those who have faith. Only those of us who wholeheartedly accept the Word of God into our lives take His promises to heart. We believe His message to be more true and real than the reality we behold with our senses. And yet part of His message is that we cannot comprehend the reality that awaits us, though the reality of it will make our lives and the entire history of this world appear as but a dream in comparison.
A first reading of the Book of Revelation overwhelms the mind with images and symbolism. It appears as nonsense. As Romano Guardini points out (book “The Lord”, chapter “The Book of Revelation”), this book was written for the faithful as a consolation in the midst of trials by attempting to describe the indescribable vantage point of eternity. Like all of Scripture, “it helps precisely as much as he to whom it is given lives in the reality of God and Christ and eternity.” Once again, this is faith.
How different would our lives be if we envisioned every morally charged choice we make inscribed into the Book of Life? What sort of account of our current stewardship will we render when the clock of life is stopped and the light of the divine presence burns away all illusions? The value of the grace received through the sacrifice of Christ is underscored by the gravity of the responsibility demanded of our lives. It is fitting that the buyer in the parable sacrifices everything he has to gain this field, for the last analysis will reveal how inverted are the values of the world.
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:38) Behold the generosity of the Creator! How foolish it seems to believe this in the eyes of the world, and how distant it seems to those living faithfully in the trenches. Yet we know how different our lives will look from the perspective of eternity because we have been told so. A great party in the sky with abundance beyond all measure is the reason for being of every person created. Yet the choice will remain ours until our lives come to an end. All are called, but few are chosen. Let us spare no sacrifice for the sake of this calling.
P.S. A warning to all bloggers – please choose your wording carefully. I was in Denver for career training the morning I submitted this article for publication after some final edits, one of which was the opening. That evening after work while hiking in the foothills I was approached by two men who seemed very concerned. Lucky for me I never saw it, but they both said they saw a large bear not 20 feet from the trail from which I had just emerged.
There seems to exist what Aristotle might call the “conceptual cause” where a simple conception or observation can produce an event. It was by this that Yosemite Sam was able to prestidigitate the party in the oven, and the coyote doesn’t fall until he realizes he’s in mid-air. It hadn’t occurred to me until now that the seemingly innocuous phrase “bear with me” might materialize into a meaning far different from which it was originally intended. As the trading post cashier told me after the incident, “be careful out there!”