When I was a boy, one of my favorite movies was The Great Escape, which included several great actors, such as Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson.
The movie is about a group of men who are being held as prisoners during World War II. The men are all sent to a new prison camp that has been constructed by the Nazi’s specifically for them. The prisoners have one thing in common – they all previously escaped from other prison camps and were recaptured. The new prison camp is “escape proof” and has the best guards in the German army.
The movie is based on a true story and is about an escape that eventually takes place from the “escape proof” prison camp. About half way through the movie, the guards discover a tunnel that the prisoners have been digging.
After the discovery, one of the prisoners who placed all of his hope in escaping through the tunnel “cracks up” and runs up to the barbed wire fence in broad daylight and starts climbing the fence in an attempt to escape. This is done in front of several guards who then shoot and kill him.
I thought about the movie recently when I read an article about Admiral James Stockdale, the man who was Ross Perot’s running mate in the 1992 U.S. general election. Admiral Stockdale died about four years ago. When he was in his prime, Stockale was the president of the Naval War College and was the highest ranking officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Viet Nam war. The “Hanoi Hilton” was the place where prisoners of war were taken and tortured. Stockdale spent eight years as a prisoner of war and was routinely tortured by his captors.
Thomas Barnett, the author of the books The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century and Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, provided these insights into Admiral Stockdale’s keen sense of reality:
“Stockdale tells the story of the optimists who never survived their time in Hanoi, simply because they clung far too much to their dreams of release and in doing so couldn’t handle the brutal realities of what it took to survive day to day.
So instead of dealing with the here and now realistically, they tended to cling to the hope that they’d be home by whatever the next holiday was, and when that day came and went, their spirit would be diminished by that measure.
Over time, they died because their spirit was extinguished by reality.”
Here was Stockdale’s conclusion:
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end (which you can never afford to lose) with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
We live in a time when a significant percentage of Americans do not have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of their current reality. Unfortunately, they cling to the hope that things will get better for them without the need for any action on their part.
What Stockdale said dealt with the physical realities of living on this earth, but he failed to address what we need to do to prepare for a much more important reality – the reality that after our physical bodies die, our souls will ultimately end up (for all eternity) in Heaven or in Hell.
Our journey to Heaven is fraught with difficulties and hardships. Even if we are physically and mentally able to confront and get through the “most brutal facts” of life, there is a war going on in the spiritual realm that we should not (and cannot) ignore or try to avoid. It is a war that is being fought for our souls – to the bitter end. If we win the war, we will spend all eternity with our Creator. If we lose, our souls will be damned and we will suffer from pain and torment for all eternity.
The same weapons that are available to help us develop the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of our current physical reality are also available (and vital) in helping us get into Heaven. The weapons I’m talking about are the Mass, the Rosary, and our ability to learn more about and grow closer to Almighty God every single day.
We need to be careful not to cling to the false hope that everything will work out and take care of itself on its own. It won’t. We have to aggressively manage our lives and our destinies through careful planning, prayer, and hard work – the most important of which is prayer.
One of the most brutal facts of life is that we are all going to die some day and at the moment of death, our souls are going to be immediately transported to one of three places: Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Now is the time to exercise the discipline to make sure we do whatever is necessary to prepare for that moment in time.
You may have 30 years before your time comes, or you may only have 30 minutes. Regardless of the time remaining, are you ready? If you’re not, now’s the time to lay out and follow through on a plan that will prepare you for that moment when your soul passes into eternity.
Unfortunately, this is a brutal reality that most people reject or conveniently choose to avoid thinking about.