By: Msgr. Charles Pope

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One of the great illusions under which we labor is that if we just get one more thing from this world, then we’ll be happy. Perhaps if we just had a little more money, or a better job, or the latest iPad, or if we were married to so-and-so, or if we just lived in a better neighborhood … then we’d be satisfied and content at last. But “at last” never comes, even if we do get some of the things on our list. As Ecclesiastes puts it, The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing (Ecc 1:8). Or again, Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income (Ecc. 5:8).

Though we know this, somehow we continue to buy into the lie again and again: that just one more thing will do it. So we lay out the money and spend the time, but the delight lasts only twenty minutes, tops. The world just can’t close the deal.

There is a little preacher’s parable that illustrates the endless treadmill the world has us on, and shows how the world endlessly seduces us to want “just one more thing.” In the end, this seduction leads us to neglect the one thing most necessary. Here is the parable, followed by some commentary:

There was a man who was lonely and thought, perhaps, that buying a pet would help his loneliness. At the pet store he looked at many animals, and found himself drawn to one in particular. The sign over the cage said, “Talking Parrot: Guaranteed to talk!” “This will surely solve my problem,” thought the man, “For here is an animal that can even talk!”

“That’ll be $250,” said the merchant.

One week later the man returned saying, “This parrot isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say,” said the merchant, “he didn’t climb the ladder and talk?”
“Ladder? You didn’t tell me about a ladder!”
“Oh, sorry,” said the merchant, “That’ll be $10.”

One week later the man returned saying, “This parrot still isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say,” said the merchant, “he didn’t climb the ladder, look in the mirror, and talk?”
“Mirror? You didn’t tell me about a mirror!”
“Oh, sorry,” said the merchant, “That’ll be $10.”

One week later the man returned saying, “This parrot still isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say,” said the merchant, “he didn’t climb the ladder, look in the mirror, peck the bell, and talk?”
“Bell? You didn’t tell me about a bell!”
“Oh, sorry,” said the merchant, “That’ll be $10.”

One week later the man returned saying, “This parrot still isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say,” said the merchant, “he didn’t climb the ladder, look in the mirror, peck the bell, jump on the swing, and talk?”
“Swing? You didn’t tell me about a swing!”
“Oh, sorry,” said the merchant, “That’ll be $10.”

One week later the man came to the shop and the merchant asked, “How’s the parrot?”
“He’s dead!” said the man.
“Dead?” said the merchant … “Did he ever talk before he died?”
“Yes, he finally talked!” said the man.
“Well, what did he say?”
“He said, ‘Don’t they sell any birdseed at that store?'”

Lesson 1: Promises, Promises - And thus this parable teaches us in a humorous way that the world and the “prince of this world” are always promising results. Yet when those results are lacking, the practice is simply to demand more of the same. First the bird, then the ladder, then the bell, then the mirror, and then the swing. There’s always something more, and then the perfect result will surely come! This is a lie. The lie comes in many forms: just one more accessory, just go from the free to the paid version, just buy the upgrade to solve the difficulty, just one more drink, one more diet, a newer car, a bigger house, a facelift, bariatric surgery, etc. It’s always just one more thing and then you’ll make it; happiness is just past the next purchase.

Jesus, in speaking to the woman at the well, said of the water of that well (which represents the world), Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again (Jn 4:13). And that is the sober truth about this world: it cannot finally quench our thirst, which is a thirst for God and Heaven. But time and time again we go back to the world and listen to the same lie, thinking, “This time it’ll be different.”

Surely it is sensible that we make use of the things of this world insofar as they aid us to accomplish our basic duties. But they are not the answer to our deeper needs. The big lie is that they are the answer. And when they fail, the lie just gets bigger by declaring that just a little more of the failed product will surely close the deal. It’s a big lie and it gets bigger.

Lesson 2: The One Thing Most Necessary - In the pursuit of the ladders, mirrors, bells, and swings, the one thing most necessary was neglected: the food. And this is true for us, too. We seek to accumulate worldly toys and trinkets that pass away, and we neglect eternal and lasting realities. There is enough time for TV, sports, gossip, shopping … you name it. But prayer, Scripture, Sacraments, Liturgy, worship, and developing any kind of relationship with the Lord are most often neglected or even wholly forgotten in our pursuit of ladders, mirrors, bells, and swings. We are staring into the mirror focused too much on ourself. The bells of this world summon us to countless things, mostly trivial in the long run, and we are climbing the ladder of success with little care as to what wall it is leaning against.

And all of these less important matters divert us from the one thing necessary: to feed our souls on the Lord. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him … the one who feeds on me will live because of me ... (Jn 6:56-58).

Ah, but no time for all that. Getting to Church, praying, receiving Communion? No time! I hear a bell summoning me to just one more diversion, one more meeting. I’m too busy climbing the ladder of success. I’m too busy looking at myself in the mirror to make sure I fit in and that everyone likes me.

Did [the parrot] ever talk before he died?”
“Yes, he finally talked!” said the man.
“Well, what did he say?”
“He said, ‘Don’t they sell any birdseed at that store?'”

Just a little parable on the lies of the devil and the false promises of this world.