Q: What is the whole world gained at the price of a soul?
A: The whole world is always being gained at this price. If one offers his soul, then he probably will get the whole world. People are getting precisely what they want more often than they would care to admit. They are disappointed, sure, and even depressed. But this disappointment is not produced by the failure to get the goods. It is, rather, produced by the discovery of that was gotten turned out to be plastic, steroid and hormone puffed, cybernetic, gauche and philistine. The whole world, shrink-wrapped, is not enough.
But that is not the main problem. It turns out that souls, today, are not held out for the price of the world, but are offered at discount instead. Ten percent off. Twenty-five percent off. Half off. Clearance. Going-out-of-business sale. Fire sale.
Face it. Today, souls are not sold for the price of the world. We’re selling our souls for cheap.
That is hard to believe, and I readily admit it. Yet, it remains the only motive behind the following speeches. (If one truly valued his soul, he would wonder that Christ requires so little.)
“Fasting is inconvenient.”
(It would be more honest to say “Fasting is hard,” and if you said that, you and I are friends, because we enjoy conviviality and the glories of roast beef and feasting, magic stories and jokes that improve with the retelling, smoky inns where the hearth is the only light cast on stone and oak. It is hard to give up this for a while, but it is good, for the good of our souls, for the sake our Our Lord Who became failure and accepted the aggregated projection of despair of all man's time. Don't you think so? that we can close the taverna for a short while, out of respect, silence, and praise?)
“Confession, private confession, is too intimate, and I would rather transmute my confession into a pastoral counseling session, so that I will push out the silence with the static of my free associations and my complaints. Better this than approach that offensive, scandalous and frightening position statement of ‘I have sinned against heaven and against Thee.’”
(In confession we do not rationalize, justify, distribute the blame. We do not confess the sins of other people. We do not diagnose ourselves with psychobabbularity. We do not embed accusations and grudges in explanations. In America, we have confused confession with pastoral counsel and spiritual direction: all are good, but they are not the same.)
“Liturgy is too long. Vespers and Pre-Sanctified are too dark. I want something upbeat, something that boosts my self-esteem. I want to be inspired, encouraged for success. I want to be cheered up.”
(Preaching must be first dogmatic, and only secondarily expositional. We have put too much faith in exegesis alone, and the "simple reading of the text." We have put too much faith in excitement and crowds. We have allowed "motivation" to seep, like effluvia, into the precincts of the nave. "Motivation" is nothing more than the caress of pride and an appeal to self. Liturgy, given the signs of the times, is probably not nearly long enough.)
“I want to be modern, to be academically respected. I want to modify my catechism to admit a more fashionable cosmology. I want Tielhard instead of Basil. I want my MTV … no, scratch that, I want my Ph.D.”
(How many people have diminished their faith because academic culture has required this sacrifice?)
“I want mysticism, but I don’t want to work hard at doctrine. I want candles and incense, but not order. I want to wear Orthodoxy as a Rodeo Drive new suit, a boutique experience, but I don’t want an ugly cross reaving my heart.”
(Some converts are still protestant, still protesting, still reforming, still insisting.)
“Religion is what I make of it in my own unkempt house of disappointment. I don’t need the Church tell me what to do, what to believe, how to pray. I don’t need other people. Even though I’m miserable by myself, I choose my self instead."
(There is no such thing as private Orthodoxy.)
“The mirror is so pretty, such a pity it is hard as glass.”
A mirror is a only bauble, but many will gladly take it in exchange for their soul. For the Devil has made of it the whole world to them, a reverse shadow of Creation, declining into endless virtuality: this is the bait and switch game of all time. It wasn’t an apple at the Garden of Eden. It was a looking glass.
The reflecting idol, the abomination of desolation, demands a certain price to enter its glass embrace:
"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but, in the getting, lose his soul?"