A seemingly insignificant assassination of an Archduke in Sarajevo wound up triggering a catastrophic world war. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo by the Black Hand, a radical Serbian group. The ringleader, Princip, most likely supplied information from Colonel Dimitrijevic-Apis, head of Serbian intelligence, who feared the Archduke would empower the Empire and block Serbian ambition to expand into Bosnia and Croatia. Believing the Serbian government to be responsible for the assassination attempt, the Austrian council issued a 10-point ultimatum demanding the suppression of anti-Austrian newspapers, organizations, teachers and officers. Serbia, with Russian support, rejected the ultimatum.
Outraged at a personal attack against a member of the royal family, and backed by Germany, on July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia. On August 1 Germany declared war on Russia, followed by the domino effect of Russia’s ally, France, declaring war on Germany, and vice versa, on August 3. Germany’s planned invasion of Belgium on August 4, caused Britain to declare war on Germany. In a few short days most of the major powers in the Western World were involved in cataclysmic World War I. Eventually Italy and the United States of America were dragged into the fray.
One hundred years later almost to the day, the world still seems to be on the precarious brink of another world war. Russia, now the Soviet Union, recently invaded and dominated the Ukraine, and a Malayasian jet was shot down a few weeks ago over the Ukraine, with both the Soviet Union and the Ukraine claiming it was the fault of the other. Israelis and Palestinians, lead by the group known as Hamas, have been firing rockets at each other for three weeks; each claim the other broke the cease-fire. We seem on the verge of World War III.
Every day we face crossroads; some small, some huge. Recently there was a severe outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa, and the CDC decided to fly two infected Americans to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment. The CDC assures us the Ebola virus will be contained, and there won’t be any ‘significant’ outbreaks. This particular virus is especially contagious, and over 1,300 Africans have been infected; roughly half have died. Did the CDC make the right decision? Many Americans believe the patients should have been treated in Africa, rather than bringing them to the United States, as the deadly virus has the possibility of spreading rapidly in the United States. Only time will tell if the decision will have disastrous consequences.
Granted, the political scene in Europe before World War I was volatile and complex; however, the Austrians and Serbs had no idea their declaration of war would have such far reaching repercussions. Throughout history minor circumstances has affected millions. Catherine of Aragon was married to King Henry VIII, and even though they had six children, only one, Queen Mary I, survived. The King was desperate for a son to succeed him, and in 1527 Henry became enamored of Anne Boleyn, one of the ladies attending Queen Catherine. He spent the next five years petitioning the Roman Catholic Church for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine, simultaneously romancing Anne Boleyn. After resisting his overtures for years, Anne finally succumbed and became pregnant in 1532. The Roman Catholic Church continued to refuse Henry his annulment, so in January, 1533 he married Anne Boleyn.
The Archbishop of Canterbury proclaimed the marriage to Anne to be invalid, and the Church still refused to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine. Until then, Henry had been devoutly Catholic, but his lust for his mistress and desire for a son became overpowering, and eventually he broke off from the Catholic Church, declaring himself to be head of the new Church of England. One man’s lust lead to the fracturing of Christianity and the resulting division of millions of Christians.
Throughout our lives we have times when we face a ‘fork in the road’, when we have to make decisions that could be life-changing, or eve world changing. Walt Disney was fired by his editor at the Kansas City Star, because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”. If that editor had even a smidgen of vision, Disney could have had an exciting career as a journalist. Instead the inventor used his energy to create the Disney Empire. It is almost impossible to imagine a world without quirky Mickey Mouse, adorable Thumper and Bambi, mischievous Tinkerbell and Peter Pan, the irrepressible Mary Poppins and the host of other charming characters. The world would be a sad place without the beguiling Disney songs Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, or I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, or the mesmerizing new song Let it Go, from Frozen, which has touched the hearts of millions of children.
At those decisive moments in our life we have two roads to choose. Sometimes the choice should be easy, but sin rears its ugly head, making a mockery of our integrity. King Henry VIII surely knew as a devout Catholic to honor his marriage vows. Yet he chose the “broad road that leads to destruction” described in Matthew 7:13 by having an affair with Anne Boleyn. He compounded that bad decision with greed when he declared himself head of the Church of England, giving himself freedom to marry his mistress, as well as improving his coffers, since he no longer paid taxes to the Roman Catholic Church.
Sometimes the fork comes in the form of temptation and we have to decide if we will take the “narrow gate” and make good moral decisions, choosing not to cheat on our taxes, or lie to our boss. Sometimes the fork in the road is a course of action, such as taking a chance on a new job with better pay, or instead staying with your current employer and comfortable working conditions. The fork could be the decision to attend a retreat, or it could be financial, such as the decision to keep your older, high mileage vehicle that you own free and clear, or trade it in on a brand spanking new candy apple red convertible with a hefty loan!
The fork in the road may concern your faith; perhaps you have fallen away and you feel a pull to return to the faith of your childhood. It may concern your health and the decision to take time to eat more nutritiously and exercise. You may be at the crossroads with a family member or friend caught up in an addiction, trying to decide whether or not to end the destructive relationship.
You may have cancer and are facing the agonizing decision to have surgery, or radiation, or both. My mother developed lung cancer and agreed to surgery to have the lung removed. Unfortunately it was a deadly decision, as the cancer had already spread microscopically to the brain. When the primary tumor in the lung was removed, the brain tumor grew ferociously, and even with radiation she died eight months later. She probably would have lived several more years if she had chosen not to have surgery.
But it is impossible to know if your decision is the right one or not, and there is no point in fretting over it, like a dog with a bone. When faced with difficult decisions, St. Faustina would try to discern whether her pride was influencing her, and which decision gave God the most glory. Even then she would still be faced with indecision, so she would follow the strongest nudge, and ask God to change the course Himself, if she happened to be going in the wrong direction. She had peace because by surrendering, she practiced humility and allowed God to act more freely in her soul.
No decision is foolproof, and we will fail or make mistakes. But we can’t let our fear of failure cripple us by making us too cautious. Remember His promise in Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Even if we discerned badly and tragedy results, we can trust that God will bring something good out of the mess we find ourself in, knowing that He can solve any crisis or problem.
When facing tough choices I pray for the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom and guidance; I discuss the situation with my family and spiritual director, and then follow the path I believe is God’s will. But since I can never fully know if my decision is the best one, I ask God to ‘hit me over the head with a two by four’ if I happen to be going in the wrong direction!
So when you face the ‘fork in the road’, pray for discernment with Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; in all your ways be mindful of Him, and He will make straight your paths.”