In the classic 1900 children’s book and 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz”, there’s a lot of rubbish.
For example, the Wizard tells the Tin Man, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” Really? Christ was jeered all the way to his execution on Calvary by crowds of people who, only a few days earlier, were crying out how much they loved him. What an utter failure He must have been.
Or then there’s Dorothy’s “lesson”, which she learns after getting bumped on the head. “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again,” she vows, “I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” What sort of lesson is that? Enjoy suffocating in the Dust Bowl, Dorothy.
Frank L. Baum, author of the “Oz” books, abandoned Christianity in 1892 to join a sect known as the “Theosophical Society”. Originally founded for the purpose of studying the occult, it expanded to become one of those mutual admiration societies, where people with more money than sense sit around congratulating themselves on how much more enlightened they are than the rest of us. Among other things, it mixed the study of dead religions with universalism, racial theories, cosmic evolutionary potential, and so on.
I say all of this because we are at Spy Wednesday of Holy Week, when Judas strikes his bargain to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. We know this is coming, because Judas has been listening to the bad voices in his head for a while now. The next night, at the Last Supper, we learn from the Gospel of St. John that instead of changing his mind at the last minute while he still could, Judas allowed Satan to enter into his thoughts and actions, and he went off to arrange Jesus’ betrayal that evening. We also know that Satan hung around long enough to persuade Judas to commit suicide over what he had done, instead of seeking forgiveness.
In his magnificent series of panels “Four Visions of the Hereafter” in the Palazzo Grimani in Venice, the great Hieronymus Bosch depicted scenes of what happens after we die. Two of the paintings deal with Heaven, and the other two with Hell. In the latter, I’ve always thought that the demons dragging the souls of the damned to their eternal punishment are reminiscent of the Flying Monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz”. The difference of course, for Christians, is that unlike Baum’s characters, these fellows are all too real, as Judas found out. And for that matter, so is the place where they reside, which is where they want us to end up.
With the Easter Triduum beginning tomorrow, you still have time to get to confession. Many dioceses, such as here in the Nation’s Capital, will have confessions tonight through programs like The Light Is On For You. Check with your local chancery, or call your parish priest to make an appointment.
And for pity’s sake, don’t listen to those trying to tell you that Hell is just an old, scary story, like something Frank Baum might have dreamed up for one of his fairy tales. Ignore such talk, even if those doing the talking have a bunch of impressive-sounding letters after their name or – even worse – are sporting clerical garb. Such people are not going to be accountable to you, when it turns out they were wrong. Because in the end, there’s no place like Hell – and we really, REALLY don’t want to end up there.
Detail of “Hell” by Hieronymous Bosch (c. 1486)
Palazzo Grimani, Venice