Year A Ordinary 32
Sometimes I look at my calendar, see all the appointments, and have a stress reaction. I wonder how I’m going to fit everything in. Every single week (I never learn), I worry about how I’m going to find time to write my homily for Sunday. Every single week it works out and I have time, but without fail I still end up anxious about the next one every Monday morning. The jam-packed calendar is a major distraction. There are plenty of other distractions: our phones beep with text messages and emails, televisions and radios keep us company at pretty much all times, or we gossip and scroll through facebook.
In the parable Our Lord tells, distractions have actually drawn some of the guests of a wedding feast out of the party and they end up in the dark, locked out when they try to get back in. This is what distraction does to us spiritually if we aren’t careful. He says that this lack of focus is a sign of foolishness, which I take to mean an inability to sort out what’s important from what isn’t. Those who are distracted miss out on the defining moment of their lives.
“Therefore, stay awake,” says Our Lord. Every single moment is a possible revelation of God, but we must be attentive. It’s all in what we desire and where put our energy. In the book of Wisdom, it says that wisdom, “hastens to make herself known in anticipation of…desire.” In other words, wisdom is shaped by our desire and responds to it. This is why Socrates says that “wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” What he means is that the first halting step towards wisdom is a person looking up at the night sky in amazement, a child who watches a bird build a nest, or a grandfather telling a story about his experiences. We’re struck by the beautiful heights of the universe and the depths of the human soul. We want to know more, we want to discover who we are and why this whole world seems to be made just for us. These questions never arise if our desires, instead of being shaped by wonder and desire for wisdom, are instead shaped by the demands of our daily calendar.
True wisdom understands that Our Lord is the bridegroom, that our lives find meaning in him alone. He celebrates the wedding feast and every effort must be made to stay at the altar with him. We light our lamps, we stock up on oil to burn, we stay focused. This focus is the result of wisdom. It is also shaped by hope. Hope, St. Paul says, is one of the three most important virtues – these three remain, faith, hope, and love. The reason hope is so important is that it looks ahead, beyond our natural sight, and sees a supernatural end goal to our lives. We are made for Heaven. Knowing this, you can ask yourself, “Am I living in such a way as to reach my stated hope? Am I preparing myself for Heaven or am I so distracted that I’m using up all my time and energy on lesser pursuits?
I suspect that many of us misplace our hope. At the least, we’re hedging our bets with money, career, good health, good reputation, those sorts of things. I had a real reckoning with that reality about six years ago when I quit my position as an Anglican priest. I’d converted to Catholicism and, for some reason, Anglicans don’t care for Catholics to be in charge of their parishes so I resigned and was trying to get a job in St. Louis. Archbishop Carlson was very supportive during the whole process, and it turns out I had nothing to worry about at all. But even so, it was an anxious time and I came to realize that my hope was more in my own self-identity as a priest and in my ability to earn a paycheck than it was in my ultimate destiny in Heaven. Without my comfortable job and identity, I was stressed out and not falling asleep very well at night. I remember praying at my kneeler (the one I have right behind my chair here in the sanctuary) in my study in Dennis, MA. I’d had my last Easter as pastor at the Anglican Church of the Resurrection, packed up my cassock and my white priest-collar, and wasn’t sure I’d ever wear them again. I felt a piece of myself left behind, like the door to my childhood home had been closed and couldn’t be opened again. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried, and finally I told the Blessed Virgin Mary that whatever happened to my priesthood, I needed to let go and give it back to her because it belongs to her and I know that she keeps her priests close to her heart. If nothing else, I knew that the piece of my heart that might be gone forever would be held close to hers.
I learned something during those five years before I was finally ordained a Catholic priest. I learned that I relied too much on myself, too much on the wrong things, and wasn’t fully committed to God. My desires weren’t pure.
No one is immune. Priests, regular Mass-goers, bishops, people who pray the rosary and volunteer all the time at Church…we all must constantly fight to avoid distraction. We must make a constant effort to stay awake, because the moment we let our guard down, that’s when the moment slips past and we lived that moment without God. What a tragedy that is.
How do we slow down and uncover the glory of God in every moment and aspect of our lives, how do we hold onto that hope for Eternal happiness in the midst of dropping kids off at the soccer game, grocery shopping, dealing with the latest family crisis, doing our jobs, and paying the bills?
St. Charles Borromeo, whose feast we celebrated not long ago, gives us a few tips.
FIND GOD IN THE MIDST OF YOUR ACTIVITY
First, we don’t need to ruthlessly cut away from our calendar – we can find God in our midst in any activity, he says. Spend quiet time with God, and anyone “may make his meditation at home or in the fields; he may even make it on the road, or at work…” We all have time in the morning when we’re getting ready for the day or in the car during a commute, maybe that would be a good time to turn the television or radio off and have some quiet to think about the day? Any time is better than none.
Second, plan ahead. If schedules rule our lives, turn it to an advantage. Put meditation time on the calendar. St. Charles recommends the morning because it helps throughout the day. If the time you typically use to commute is suddenly ear-marked as “quiet time,” it can be just the little bit of motivation that’s needed. The other benefit of scheduling time for meditation is that it forces us to do it when we don’t feel like it because we’re stressed or distracted – which is precisely the best time for it.
Third, consider each activity planned for the day. Think about what you do and why you do it. St. Charles says the fruits of meditation helps with emotions, prayer, and making decisions. He also says it forms a “good resolution.” For me, this has been particularly true when I know I’m going to be in the presence of someone I find it hard to get along with. I meditate on it in the morning and prepare ahead of time to be kind and patient. When I don’t, the moment takes me by surprise and I fall into bad habits.
By practicing his advice and putting aside distraction, every aspect of life becomes a “work of love,” no matter how busy our calendar remains. This is how we stay awake, slow down, and open our eyes to see how beautiful and full of God’s grace each moment can be if we don’t hurry past.
Through the night-watches we will meditate on You