The Smoking Priest

Cicero, the famous Roman senator and orator once wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” 

The virtue of gratitude is the ability to express our thankful appreciation in word or deed, to the person whose words or actions have benefited us in some way.  The truly humble and noble person will always be grateful for the benefits received.  Ingratitude is an ugly sin.

How can the virtue of gratitude be acquired?  Fundamentally, cultivating the spirit of gratitude requires us to develop humility.  We need to understand that everything that we have and everything that we are is a gift.  We might begin by taking out a pad of paper and a pen and making a list of all of the wonderful gifts that we receive each day of our entire life.

We could start with life.  We have been given the gift of life.  Consider the air that we breathe.  We take such things as air, water and even good health all for granted.  We need to consider our families, the houses that we live in, the food that we eat each day, our education, our jobs, and the fact that we live in a free country.    

Once we consider the obvious gifts that we have received, we can go deeper.  Take into consideration all that God has done for us.  He loves us unconditionally.  We have the Catholic Church, the Bible and the Sacraments.  We can all remember how a Catholic priest inspired us in a homily, gave us an encouraging word in Confession, or came to visit us while we were sick.         

We need to understand that we have received so much.  Should we not always be grateful?

The virtue of gratitude can be expressed in very simple ways.  We should always express our gratitude. The phrase “thank you” should be a common part of our daily vocabulary.

G. K. Chesterton once said: “You say grace before meals.  All right.  But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”  He also said, “When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time.  Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?” 

The French philosopher Jacques Maritain once said that “Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.”  He is correct and it is important that we acquire good manners and social graces.  The loss of morals and common decency has caused the gentleman and the lady to be something of the past. 

We all know that people can be very ungrateful for the service that is given to them.  How many people thank those who give of themselves unconditionally?  Parents, teachers, clergy, police, firefighters, doctors and nurses many times live thankless lives.  Nevertheless, the Gospel calls us to give of ourselves unconditionally and seek as our only reward eternal life in heaven.  This is true Christianity.  Any other posture is simply rooted in egotism. 

The standard of greatness for Christianity is not earthly glory, but the Cross of Jesus Christ. 

Many times we may receive appreciation and thanks from those whom we serve.  Birthday celebrations, little expressions of thankfulness and gifts from grateful people should be seen as noble manifestations of gratitude.  However, we must remember the example of Jesus.  Only one of the ten lepers returned to give thanks for having been cured.  It is important to remember, that despite the ingratitude of humanity, Jesus continued his mission until his consumatum est.  His reward was the cross and the empty tomb. 

When we serve with a spirit of detachment, we will walk among our brothers and sisters, even among those who have been ungrateful and hateful, with joy and a smile. The disappointments and adversities that others may cause, will purify our interior motives and allow us to focus on eternity.  

There is an amusing story that reminds us that we must be grateful always.  In Budapest, a man goes to the rabbi and complains, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?” 

The rabbi answers, “Take your goat into the room with you.”  The man is incredulous, but the rabbi insists. “Do as I say and come back in a week.” 

A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before.  “We cannot stand it,” he tells the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.” 

The rabbi then tells him, “Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week.” 

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat — only the nine of us.” 

This week the Centers for Disease Control revealed some alarming statistics regarding the problem of depression here in the United States. 

The use of antidepressant drugs has soared nearly 400% since 1988.

Antidepressant medication is the most commonly used form of medication for people between the ages of 18 – 44.  One in twenty-five teens regularly takes antidepressant pills.  The study also showed that nearly one in four women ages 40 to 59 are taking antidepressants.  Furthermore, more than 60% of Americans have taken antidepressant medication for two years or longer, with 14% taking the medication for 10 years or more. 

There are genetic and organic causes for depression, but most depression is being caused by the dysfunctional society that we live in. 

What is the remedy for this alarming crisis? 

First of all, we need to remedy our relationship with God.  Recently, the outdoor sign of a Christian church of another denomination was advertising their health program: yoga, Yahweh Yoga and Zumba.  Exercise is important, but what we really need is the Eucharist, Mary and Confession. 

Secondly, our family life needs to be strong.  A great place to start is for moms to stay home and take care of the kids and for families to have dinner every night as a family. 

Thirdly, we need friends, and not friends on the Internet, but real friends; friends that we talk to in person.  Friends that we can hug, shake a hand, enjoy a good laugh, a good glass of wine, and yes, even a good cigar.

If everyone were to implement these three things, I am sure that the next study from the Centers for Disease Control will show a dramatic decline in the use of antidepressant pills.     

You know the drill.  When some new gadget does not work, you just hit the reset button.  Even if the gadget does not have a reset button, there is some way to accomplish the same task.  When my Blackberry gets stuck, I just open up the back cover, take out the battery and then I put it back in within a few seconds.  It takes a few minutes for my handheld device to reboot, but it does.  

When I look at all of the daily and intense chaos that is going on here in our own country and around the world, it seems to me that God is hitting the reset button.  The entire world is going through a dramatic transformation.  

The Jesus is coming bandwagon has a lot of takers these days.  However, we need to always keep in mind the words that Jesus himself spoke about his own return: “But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father only” (Matthew 24: 36).

We should pay more attention to what Jesus’ representative here on earth said last December.  Not too many people paid attention to his prophetic words, and those who did, seem to have very short memories.  Here is what Pope Benedict XVI said in Rome last December 20th: “For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defense of such structures seem doomed to failure.”

Countries are in turmoil.  The economies of the world are in turmoil.  For the most part, morality has disappeared.  Certainly, we are engulfed in an historical moment of collapse.  But, this is certainly not the end, but only the beginning of something new that will emerge from the ash heap of false ideologies where man has turned away from God and from each other.  The narcissistic fantasy world is coming to a sudden end.

Like the tired machines that collapse in the final part of Spielberg’s The War of the Worlds, the lies and corruption of our modern times are coming to an end.  However, they must not be replaced with new political and economic systems that enslave man in different ways.  

Last December, in the same speech, Pope Benedict told us what to do: “Let us ask him, then, to wake us from the sleep of a faith grown tired, and to restore to that faith the power to move mountains – that is, to order justly the affairs of the world.”

To order justly the affairs of the world!

Yes, and we need to look to the Church because in the Catholic Church we find an unknown treasure called the social teaching of the Catholic Church.  It is here, in the social teachings of the Catholic Church that we will find the way to order justly the affairs of the world.  

“The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with communism or socialism.  She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of capitalism, individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market. Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2425).

Catholic social teaching is not republican, democrat, conservative, liberal, libertarian or European socialism.  Catholic social teaching is Catholic.  

The answer to the upheavals around us is for a new generation of thinking men and women to imbue themselves with the social teaching of the Catholic Church and to put it into practice.  

I enjoy a fine cigar after a long day of work.  For me, cigar smoking is very relaxing.  My most favorite brands are the Joya de Nicaragua Antano 1970, the Kristoff Corojo Limitada, the Padron Classics and the Partagas Black.  For those of you who know anything about great cigars, you can tell that I enjoy a heavy cigar.  

Smoking a fine cigar with a group of friends adds to the enjoyment.  Cigar smokers are very sociable people and the conversation is always engaging.  

However, cigar smoking is not a perfect remedy for the anxiety that we deal with on a daily basis.  Yes, we certainly do live in a crazy, dysfunctional and challenging world.  Besides, we would go broke if cigar smoking was the only remedy for our worries and apprehensions.  

We need to be spiritual.  Faith is the answer.  

Without a serious spiritual life, anxiety will overwhelm us. If we are a people who live truly spiritual lives, we will be filled with peace and joy no matter what may be going on around us. And this is so, because we will always be able to trust God.

Jesus gives us the antidote to all of our anxieties when he says:  “That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear.  Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing!  Look at the birds in the sky.  They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they are?  Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life?  And why worry about clothing?  Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of these.  Now if that is how God clothes the wild flowers growing in the field which are there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you who have so little faith?  So do not worry; do not say, ‘What are we to eat?  What are we to drink?  What are we to wear?’  It is the gentiles who set their hearts on all these things.  Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.  Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice and all these other things will be given you as well.  So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6: 25-34).

Cigar smoking is extremely relaxing, but being relaxed and possessing interior peace are not the same.

The inner peace that Jesus gives to us is a gift.  “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you” (John 14: 27).  

Trust and abandonment; immersing ourselves into God; burning bridges; giving up control; leaving behind our own personal agenda: these things will remedy the anxiety so prevalent in our modern culture.