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God repeatedly tells us what’s best but, invariably, we have a tendency to do the opposite

      I ran across this line from the Book of Sirach this morning: “Keep away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends.” (Sirach 6:13) When I read that advice during my lectio,I burst out laughing. Sirach’s advice is the very opposite of Michael Corleone’s advice in the film “The Godfather, Part II.” In that film Michael (Al Pacino) says to Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo), “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

      What is fascinating to me is how human beings always seem to turn God’s wisdom on its head. The Sirach/Godfather dynamic is a good example of that. God says to do one thing; we do another. God says it might be a good idea to go in this direction; we go the other way. God says keep away from your enemies; we do just the opposite.

      Human nature is fascinating to behold, is it not? Every time I give a test at school, I tell the students that they may write on the test sheet (their answers are recorded on a Scantron). Moments after my telling them that, I am invariablyasked, “Mr. Plaiss, can we write on the test sheet?”

      Like talking to a wall!

      God tells us over and over again what is best for us, but you and I invariably don’t listen. What is fascinating about God is that God seems to take our inattention in stride. He seems to have great patience - unlike myself, when in total frustration, I have been known to approach the wall of my classroom and say to it, “Hello wall, you can write on your test sheet.”

      God accepts the fact that when it comes to his telling us what truly gives us life. We’re not paying attention; God might as well be talking to the wall, and one of stone, at that.

      God accepts it, but he doesn’t allow it to remain that way. God keeps on jumping up and down in front of us, waving his arms, trying to get our attention. Sometimes, he gets it.

      And God can get our attention in the most mundane of places. . .like on a train.

      In the distance I hear a train whistle. And I wonder: Who is on that train? At what station will they get off? Is a loved one waiting for them when they arrive home? Does God have that person’s attention?

      When I hear that train whistle, I flash back to a time when I was riding the South Shore home from work in Chicago. It was late fall, nearly winter, and it was dark out at 5 p.m. in the afternoon. The train pulled into the Hammond station, and a boat load of people disembarked.

      From my window seat, I watched those who had disembarked. They were walking - no rushing - off the platform to get to their cars and go home. Keys were in their hands. Faces were grim and determined. And I thought to myself: “I’m so glad I have a wife and children at home, people who love me for who I am, not for what I can produce. Are these folks as lucky?”

      Why on earth would anyone want to keep enemies close? Why on earth would anyone want to take Michael Corleone’s advice?

      Yet, we do the opposite of the Lord’s commands all the time. I am convinced that we do so because we think we know better than God. God is up there, and we’re down here. And since we are down here, and since our lives are here and not there, we convince ourselves that we know what we’re talking about.

And the Lord doesn’t.

      How blest are we that the Lord is patient with us! 

      But sometimes, a mundane moment is necessary to smack some sense into our heads - a simple moment, like watching people get off a train.

      The movies aren’t real. The reality shows on TV aren’t real. Those songs you listen to aren’t real. What’s real is that train whistle you hear, and the people on that train who just want to get home and be with their spouse and children after shoveling crap in Chicago all day. They just want to be back with people who love them for who they are, not for what they can do for them.

      “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” is an English teacher’s delight; a good parallel sentence. Screenwriters pray for such lines.

      But it’s a lie. As is so many other things this world dangles in front of us.

      “Do not delight in what pleases the ungodly.” (Sirach 9:12)

      Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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