One of the lighter sides of Barack Obama’s first presidential victory was his modest admission that he was still struggling with his “vice” of cigarette smoking. I am certain this was one trait that appealed to millions of voters who occupied seats in the same smoking section.
Sometimes I almost feel alienated from society because I have never smoked and consequently have not had to spend half my waking hours trying to break myself from such a powerful addiction like millions of other Americans. I do have memories of my grandfather letting me puff on a cigarette when I was 10 years old. That was my first and last taste of tobacco.
I did get a whiff of something more potent than just plain tobacco. It was 1975 and I had taken my wife and small son to a baseball game at old Busch Stadium. In those days seats were plentiful, even on game day. Two gangly types sat right next to us. They promptly opened a leathery bota bag filled with red wine that started to drip around us. A little later they started smoking a funny-looking cigarette that had a very sweet smell. I didn’t think anything of it until our son started to turn green. My wife complained to an usher in the back who happened to be standing right next to a plainclothes policeman.
One can only imagine my surprise when these two fellows were escorted out of our aisle. Three innings later my wife urged me to check on them. I implored her to let me see just one more pitch. The fastball from the Cardinal pitcher was fouled straight back to our right. The ball hit in the adjacent row and caromed at a 90-degree angle in my direction. Like a rocket I exploded out of my seat to snag my first foul ball. The sense of exhilaration was intense. In retelling that story I always jest that it was the sweet-smelling smoke that propelled me to make the easy catch.
Perhaps there is a lesson in all this. The foul ball incident conjured images of what Pope Paul VI had meant when he warned in 1963 that the smoke of Satan had wafted throughout the Church. This got me to thinking about how sinful and even evil things often disguise themselves into something nice and attractive so that human beings will think that they are actually seeking the good, which is germane to our human nature. Wasn’t it Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in his Poor Richard’s Almanac in the 1750’s vice knows she’s ugly! That’s why she hides her face?
Without getting too deeply into metaphysics, I believe that human beings are basically good at heart. It is just that our senses often fool us into thinking that something that smells good and or exhilarating is actually good for us. Another phrase that comes to mind is the sweet smell of success. I wonder how many people have lost wives, husbands, families, and even countries because they got a whiff of power or because they were blinded by their own ambitions. I’ll bet the phone book is filled with them.
Lucifer, the fallen angel, is really Pope Paul’s Satan, with a lot of vice’s make-up. As the Morning Star, he is always shrouded in bright light. Light is one of the most powerful and yet seductive forces on earth. It is very easy to fall for his false promises when bathed in the bright lights of wealth, power, enlightenment or sensual pleasure. As an iconoclastic figure Lucifer is the god of the modernists, who constantly war against the Bible, religion, the family and traditional morality. His unsuspecting victims are helplessly blinded by their own utopian desires to make the world anew in their own image.
Now every time I pick up Giants slugger Darrell’s Evans’ scuffed baseball, it reminds me of how deceptive and tempting the pleasant and sensory things of my life are and how easy it would be to let them lead me away from my true heavenly destiny.