The House of Cards versus the House of Gold

By Chris Sparks

So I have a slightly guilty secret to confess: I've been watching Netflix's "House of Cards."

It's the story of the Underwoods, an underhanded couple who will quite literally stop at nothing in their determined quest for ever more power. They lie, they cheat, they steal, and yes, they kill. They will stop at nothing.

So why do I watch? In part, the excellent acting. In part, the remarkable writing. And in part, because the writer of the show is very clearly writing a great tragedy, almost in the style of the great Catholic writer from the South, Flannery O'Connor. Grace waits at every turn, it seems. The Underwoods are offered innumerable moments of grace, unexpected encounters in which someone says a true thing to them, challenging their endlessly self-interested quest for infinite power, pointing out a wrong turn before it's taken, suggesting there might yet be another way. The universe of the show conspires to interrupt their destructive ascent to the top, or perhaps One higher still is reaching down, tapping them on the shoulders, saying, "You think you are pursuing what you desire, but all along, you have really been desiring Me."

For God is the Power at the source of all power, the first Cause, the Lord, the Almighty One. Francis and Claire Underwood are actually endlessly hungry for God, but they do not know it. If they brought the same willingness to bear every burden and make every sacrifice in the pursuit of power to the pursuit of sanctity, imagine what great saints they could become! Imagine the sort of true power that they could wield! Imagine how great their capacity for love could be!

And yet the Underwoods, like so many people, mistake earthly power for the true Power. They are distracted by creatures, when those creatures are mere shadows of Almighty God. They build their house of cards on sand, and so it will all come crumbling down.

These days, it feels like everyone makes the same mistake as the Underwoods. Everyone's focus turns to worldly power and who has it. Who has control of Congress? Will the Supreme Court have a conservative or liberal majority? Which party holds the White House? Which party has more governors of states? And on, and on - every race, every election, every position, every crumb of power is fought over and focused on endlessly to the tune of thousands of hours and billions of dollars.

Who has power? As House of Cards depicts so graphically, if you have power, you can count on time and attention from the news media, from websites and blogs, from cranks and kooks the world over. If you have power, says the world, the flesh, and the devil, then you matter in the "real world." Have a lot of power? Everyone knows your name. They may line up around the block to see you, to wave at you as you go by. They may take the time and energy to love you or hate you, to serve you or revile you. They may even remember your name when you are out of power, when you are just one more name in a long list of names in the history books. Perhaps you will become "immortal" with the sort of dusty notoriety that we accord to figures like Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Attila the Hun, or Alexander the Great.

Be truly great, promises the world, and we might not forget you till the end of all things.

And all of this is a mirage, an illusion, a dancing dream designed to distract us from true power, from true influence, from the greatest strength and the mightiest name of all - Jesus Christ.

He is here with us today in the flesh, but so few remember, and so few flock to sit at His feet.

Yes, the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the King of kings sits quietly, silently, waiting for company in many towns across this country and around the world. God rests under the appearance of bread in our churches and chapels in the tabernacle, the house of gold, truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He is there, the Power that sustains the cosmos, that knows if a sparrow falls, that knows every hair on our heads.

He waits quietly, so quietly that so many people don't believe He's really there. He waits humbly, so humbly that He has been forgotten by so many. He waits patiently, so patiently that He's still there, still waiting for our time and attention, still waiting for our love to return His love, just waiting for a small smattering of the sort of attention we give to the President of the United States so readily, in such great quantities. Just think:

  • God's kingdom is everlasting; any given president will hold office for a maximum of eight years.
  • God's power is infinite; the president's power is limited by the checks and balances built into the system, by human weakness and fallibility, by the machinations of his or her political enemies and the weight of public opinion, by a million and one things.
  • God is perfect, all good, all true, all loving; the president is a politician, with all the habits that come with that particular profession, and from flawed, sinful humanity.
  • God is extraordinarily available; the president is behind armed guards and within a fortified building or vehicle much of the time.

And yet we flock to see the president - heck, we flock to see a mere presidential candidate, someone who might possibly have power someday! We make our pilgrimages to Washington, D.C., for the history and proximity to the people and places that "truly matter," where the "rubber meets the road," where the "real issues" of our times are truly sorted out. We'll feel honored if our elected representatives deign to visit our towns, our schools, our civic organizations. We'll be very excited if the rich and famous ever remember our name.

By every worldly standard, then, every adoration chapel should be jam packed. If we truly care about power and wealth, if we're truly interested in getting to know the mighty and have the rich remember our names, if we're truly as focused on networking and making the right sort of connections as modernity expects us to be, then why on earth are we not all running to spend time with Jesus in the tabernacle? Why do we so rarely read the Bible, the Word of God, through which the Holy Spirit still speaks, still whispers the Way, and the Truth, and the Life into the very soul of those who listen? Why do we so easily accept becoming so very far from God, so steeped in our sins that we forget how to even make use of the Sacrament of Confession at all?

Why do we allow this if we truly care about power and wealth? We have been hoodwinked by the devil, distracted from the real thing by the shadow, offered fool's gold when real gold is available for the asking.

In a certain sense, St. Faustina was more ambitious than the Underwoods, more attracted to power, more devoted to being in the presence of the mighty, for she loved the Eucharist with all that was in her, even making that Sacrament a part of her name in religion: Sr. Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament. She knew that our true power is in self-sacrificing love lived in communion with God, who is Love. She knew that our greatest strength is in humility, in weakness, so that the strength of God may become manifest through us. She knew that our true security lies in trust in Jesus through every darkness and pain. She knew that our true wealth comes from the Source of all things, the Creator.

So let us follow St. Faustina in the path of wisdom, in the path of adoration and surrender to the true Lord of all. Let us commit to making the time to go to Eucharistic Adoration and seek to never miss Sunday Mass, arriving on time and remaining until the end of the recessional song. Let us ask the intercession of St. Faustina, as well as the prayers of the true Francis and Claire - St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare - the little poor man and the woman who followed him to the religious life. They are truly wise and powerful, truly strong and ready to aid us with their strength.

Theirs is the real and everlasting power, for they have loved and served Love, Truth, and Goodness to the end. Theirs is no house of cards resting on sand, but a house of gold, built on a rock, that will last forever.



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