I always liked the story of this actor who used to visit schools personifying the character of Benjamin Franklin, complete with costume and acting and everything. One day after a school assembly, one student raised his hand and said, "I thought you died." This was not an unusual question and so he easily got out of it, saying, "Well, I did die in 1790, but I did not like it, so I came back". Then, another boy raised his hand and asked "When you were in Heaven, did you see my mother there?" The man, telling the story, said that at that moment his heart stopped; he just wanted to disappear. He realized he cannot blow this because if an 11-year-old boy is asking such a question in front of all of his classmates, it had to either be a very recent occurrence or of utmost concern. Suddenly he found himself saying "I'm not sure if she is the one I think she was, but if she is, she was the prettiest angel there." 'The smile on the face of the boy told me that it was the right answer.'
We may not think a lot of death. But death exists. And one day you and I shall die. Perhaps even sooner than we think. Jesus Christ, being the practical man that he is, is suggesting a healthy attitude in life. "Be watchful", he says. "Be dressed for action. Have your lamps lit. Be like those waiting for their master to come back from a wedding banquet." Be watchful so that the future does not take you by surprise. One desert father used to say that every Christian should be like a cherubim - all eyes, in front and at the back. Always watchful.
Watchful for what? For two things basically.
First of all for the delicate touches of God in our daily life. God is a lover. A very romantic lover. He, who created the human heart, can be full of imagination. Our God is very resourceful. He just enjoys filling our daily lives with small little things to make us happy. He wakes up early to paint the sky blue. He makes sure the sun comes out to brighten our day. He makes us meet friends. He makes that relative phone us or email us. They are all gifts : the family in which I live, the girl-friend whom I love, the sick mother, the restless son, the office where I work, the parish I walk past each day, the blood test I've had or the new car that I have just bought... If only I could see them exactly for what they are : gifts, grants, favors, life would become a daily miracle of His tenderness.
God is a faithful God, and his promises are fulfilled. Waiting is an art for the Christian. Abraham lived in the hope and expectation of a son, and God fulfills these hopes by giving him Isaac, in spite of the fact that Sarah, his wife, is past the age and sterile. Then Abraham waited and hoped for a land and numerous descendants. And God fulfilled the promise of the land with Joshua. Many centuries after that, God fulfilled his promise even deeper with Jesus Christ - as it is only in Jesus that, "All the people of the earth will be blessed." A man-of-God is always in tension.
The Book of Wisdom, chapter 18, mentions another divine promise: deliverance from slavery, "That night was forewarned to our Fathers" (cf Gn 15:13-14; 46:3-4). God fulfilled this promise in an equally glorious and powerful way that famous night when the Egyptians remained in the dark while the Israelites were preceded by a column of fire which lit up their path. God again proved himself to be a faithful God, a loving Father.
But in life we have another agent working, this time against us. We have to learn to be watchful about the snares which the devil puts in our way. His mission is to destroy us, to make us sad, depressed. He tries hard to seduce us into sin. He presents occasions which lead to anger, false pleasure, grumbling, judgment.... He makes us other praise us to make us proud and vain. He makes us others criticize us to make us bitter and resentful. He tries to make us jealous and stingy.
"The devil is forever after us, prowling around "like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
In the parable which Jesus Christ narrates, the bad manager, convinced that the master will delay in coming, does specifically two things which apparently Jesus Christ wants to underscore : He begins to beat the other slaves and he eats and drinks and gets drunk. These are the two major pitfalls for the Christian. Beating the others - there are many ways of beating the others... by words, by a glance, by our indifference, by our tantrums... And eating and drinking - looking for pleasure in everything we do as if life is a big breast which we have to suck. Avoiding anything which annoys us and relishing only what pleases us.
On one hand, be watchful in order to master events, rather than being mastered by them; to make sure that you never lose peace, not even in the face of the trials and adversities. Get ready through service. And on the other hand, be watchful so as to discover God's writing in the pages of history, to discover the action of the Spirit around us. Watchfulness is not an option, it is a vital need.
"Watch with the heart, watch with faith, watch with love, watch with charity, watch with good works [...]; make ready the lamps, make sure they do not go out [...], renew them with the inner oil of an upright conscience; then shall the Bridegroom enfold you in the embrace of His love and bring you into His banquet room, where your lamp can never be extinguished" (St. Augustine, "Sermon", 93).]
Wait with the heart
Our future is unpredictable. The weather man may give us a forecast for tomorrow's weather. The economist may forecast the level of inflation for the year 2003 with a certain degree of precision. But our history of human beings is impossible to predict, because it is a history of freedom. Who can tell what the others will do tomorrow? Who can tell what I will do tomorrow? The unpredictability of the future calls for watchfulness. We must be watchful so that we can finish the last page of the book of our life with a happy ending.
A good ruler of an Eastern kingdom once asked the wise men of his realm to formulate a truth that would be easy to understand, and that would apply to all times and situations, no matter what they were. After much study, passionate debate, and careful consideration, they returned to the king with a single sentence: "And this too shall pass away."
I had this sentence framed in my small monastic room and I used to look at it often. In those times when all was going well, when it seemed that nothing could go wrong and when I thought that I was doing a wonderful job, I would look up at the saying and I would be reminded that this too, shall pass away. It helped me not to be so self-assured, self-centered and proud for what I thought were my many accomplishments. I was reminded that it is God who gives the increase.
In the hours of difficulty and doubt, when it seemed that what I had to offer as a young priest would never be enough, I would sit at my desk, look up, and be reminded once again that this time of trial would also pass away. That message quieted and reassured my restless heart. What I am worrying about now will pass away. I cannot control all that happens neither for my benefit nor to avoid suffering. He is the Chief. A good chief An efficient chief.
Only He does not pass away. Root yourself in HIM!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.