The Path of Life or Death

The Path of Life or Death

Some years ago a fisherman—someone we’ll call Pete—was in a rowboat out on a bay that connected to the ocean. It was a quiet night, except for a loud-mouthed man on a yacht anchored in the bay; because of his incoherent singing and shouting, it was obvious he’d been drinking. Pete ignored him as best he could and concentrated on his fishing. However, he heard a loud splash, and turning toward the sound, he saw in the moonlight that the drunk had fallen into the water. Taking off his jacket and shoes, Pete dove into the water and swam over to the man, and with great difficulty managed to get him back onto his yacht. Pete saw that the man wasn’t breathing, and so he performed mouth to mouth resuscitation, and then carried the man into a cabin and laid him on a bed. 

The next morning Pete rowed over to the yacht and went aboard to check on the man; fortunately, he seemed all right, except for a hangover. However, the man became very angry at his presence, and when Pete reminded him he had saved his life, he cursed him and ordered him off his yacht. Stunned and hurt, Pete got into his boat and rowed away; he couldn’t believe what just happened. Looking up to Heaven with tears in his eyes, Pete prayed, “Lord, now I know how You must feel. You gave Your life to save us, but like that man on the yacht, instead of thanking You, we treated You like an enemy and demanded You leave us alone. Now I know how You feel, Lord—and it breaks my heart!” (Mark Link, S.J., Illustrated Sunday Homilies, Year C, Series II, p. 115). Every sin is wrong, but we can somewhat understand why people fall into lust or greed or anger or gluttony or laziness and the like; in our weak human nature, certain sinful behaviors or attitudes can be attractive, even when we know they offend God. Ingratitude, however, is a particularly ugly vice, a spiritually dangerous mindset that makes it impossible for God to continue blessing us and one which threatens our entire relationship with Him. No matter what other faults we may have, we must be sure never to fall short in this way—for the vice of ingratitude undermines the virtues we need to make it to Heaven.

We’ve all had the experience of someone sincerely thanking us for a gift or a favor, and we know how this pleases us, gives us kind feelings toward the person, and motivates us to continue helping others. So it is with God. If His blessings cause us to thank Him and draw closer to Him, He will bless us even more; if, however, His blessings don’t deepen our faith and help us recognize our need for Him, He may use misfortune to discipline us, in effect shaking some sense into us. As St. Paul says, if we are unfaithful, God will remain faithful—for even if we turn away from Him, He continues to desire our eternal salvation. The Samaritan leper in the Gospel, like Naaman the Syrian, understood the importance of giving thanks. A spirit of thankfulness allows us to live in harmony with God and His creation, whereas ingratitude slowly hardens our hearts and diminishes our capacity for true and lasting happiness.

St. Teresa of Avila was a great mystic, but she was also a very down-to-earth person; she once stated that if we don’t receive the answer to our prayer that we wanted, but instead are given a much greater spiritual gift, we are quite capable of angrily flinging it back in God’s face. Ingratitude is such a dangerous and ugly vice—and this is true not only for individuals, but for entire nations and societies.  America is a foremost example. The United States has been more blessed by God than any other country in history, and for over 200 years we acknowledged divine authority—but no longer. For roughly half-a-century now, our society has been in rebellion against the Almighty, and as a result, He has withdrawn His protection and many of His blessings from us—not so much as punishment, but as a warning that we need to turn back to Him or face disaster. Any nation that rejects God thereby submits to the yoke of the devil and invites a catastrophe and potential ruin—and an honest look at our deeply divided and increasingly violent and dysfunctional society today shows this tragedy is indeed occurring. 

This undeniable truth has special relevance for us in Michigan, for we are incredibly blessed in comparison to many other states. We are surrounded by great natural beauty and immense natural resources, especially unlimited amounts of fresh water; we do not suffer from the earthquakes, hurricanes, and droughts that afflict other parts of the country; and we usually avoid the extreme heat, cold, and other dangerous weather that often occur in other states. Michigan is renowned for its beauty, and has been greatly blessed by God—but if our state rebels against Him, His continued blessings and protection are very much at risk. Proposal 3 represents such a rebellion, for it would enshrine abortion in our state constitution and potentially overturn every single law attempting to limit its impact, including parental notification when young people seek an abortion, safety regulations for abortion clinics, and conscience rights protection for medical personnel refusing to commit or in any way assist with abortion. Proposal 3 would make Michigan the most radically pro-abortion state in the country, and if it passes, we will forfeit any further claim on God’s blessings. He alone is the author of human life, and He alone has authority over it—and thus, killing an innocent child in the womb is a grave offense against Him, a terrible act of ingratitude that can only end in disaster. That’s why it’s not just a moral obligation, but a safeguard of our own future, for every God-fearing citizen in Michigan to vote against Proposal 3 on November 8, while also voting only for pro-life political candidates. This election will be one of the most important opportunities we’ll ever have to express our gratitude for God’s gifts.

If it were possible to take a poll of all the souls in hell to discover what sins or faults led them to eternal damnation, I’d expect that the sin they all had in common was a failure to appreciate and give thanks for God’s blessings—and if we were to conduct that same poll in Heaven, we’d surely find that all of the saints and blessed truly possessed during their earthly lives a sense of gratitude. A spirit of ingratitude can lead to selfishness, misery, loneliness, unhappiness, and a wasted life—and that is a recipe for hell on earth followed by eternal damnation. A thankful spirit, however, can lead to inner peace, joy, spiritual freedom, trust, and a deeper appreciation of the Lord and the people in our life—and the assurance that we are on the path that leads to eternal happiness in God’s Kingdom.  

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper