George MacDonald, the Scottish Christian author of the novel Phantastes, never met C.S. Lewis, but in the words of Lewis, MacDonald was "his master." While C.S. Lewis, undoubtedly one of the greatest Christian apologists and writers of the twentieth century, was still an atheist, he picked up Phantastes and discovered there the beginnings of a worldview that would lead him from atheism to theism to Christianity. Our lives are like that. Our words and thoughts that we share travel far beyond what we expect producing fruit we never see. C.S. Lewis went on to write the second most popular Christian book behind the Bible, namely Mere Christianity; we are all thankful for it.
This is why history is a narrative. Divine Providence guides unplanned acquaintances and meetings, both in person and through the works of literature and art, which coalesce to produce treasures of prose and poetry that illumine the world and our place in it. One of these works is C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, a fictional allegory that deals with a journey from hell through purgatory to heaven. It was this work that dovetailed with the words of our Lord to provide my thoughts to our Junior class today at their Desert Day. What a blessing it was to be with them for Mass and Eucharistic Adoration at Little Flower!
What were the guiding thoughts of the day? First and foremost, that we must approach the decisions we make with the seriousness of which they are deserving. Our choices are the most important thing that we have any control over because they shape us and our destiny. As George MacDonald writes: “No, there is no escape. There is no heaven with a little of hell in it – no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or our pockets. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather.” St. Paul says so much when he writes in a rather understated way that the "wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23).
As teachers and parents, we must be aware of the value of choices. I do not mean just the apparent value of choices as we evaluate them from a worldly or pragmatic perspective, but the ultimate value of choices; the value of our choices in relation to heaven and hell. In politics compromise might at times be a virtue. In our moral lives it is toxic hemlock - deadly in its sedation of our conscience. The allure of having "heaven with a little hell in" our hearts is a recipe for forfeiting happiness and holiness for the sake of a false peace, ephemeral and passing.
Lewis' thoughts in the Great Divorce are masterful in their ability to paint a picture for us about heaven that shows us that we must be willing to make a definitive break with evil in order to ascend to the mystical heights of God's being. The problem is that as Mumford and Sons would have it, "man is a giddy thing." Holding fast to anything in life is difficult. Holding fast to heaven while we are on earth seems, at times, strange and illusive. When we set out upon the path of holiness we quickly get dizzy just staring at the heights to which Jesus desires to raise us, and almost instinctively we turn back to grasp and to hold on to things of the world for stability - as though grasping the creature is more stable than grasping the Creator.
It is here that we need a prudent way forward, which we can teach to our students: If "all that is not God is death", as MacDonald says. Also true is what Lewis writes in the Great Divorce: “There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.” As parents and educators one of the greatest virtues that we can instill in our children is the wise use of all created goods, so that instead of stumbling blocks and scandals all things will lead us to the One alone who is Good like springboards. Most certainly, this is what our Lord meant when he taught: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides" (Mt 6:33).
Let's create and sustain homes and a school that in the Fear of the Lord seek first the Kingdom.