While standing in a supermarket checkout line, I noticed a little sign warning that tobacco products would not be sold to anyone not born before today’s day in 1990. My first kneejerk thought was: “People born in 1990 are still in preschool!” But then I did some quick math in my head and realized that, no, people born in 1990 are now young adults. I was reminded quite forcefully of the old saying “Tempis fugit!” – Time flies.
Time does fly, and we need to be always mindful of the time. Not just so that we know what time it is, which is always important, or so that we’re not late, which is important too. We need to be mindful of time so we can appreciate how quickly it passes, realize how little of it we really have, and accept how short life is.
Before a Sunday Mass once, I was standing in the back of the church. I wanted to know if it was 8:00 o’clock yet so I could start the procession, but for some reason I had forgotten my watch that day. So I asked two different people walking past if they knew the time, but they didn’t have watches either. Then I turned to one of our regular ushers, and asked if he know the time. He held up his forearm, showed me his wristwatch, and said with a smile, “I’m watchful!”
I thanked him and said I would be using his words in my homily on this First Sunday of Advent, because in today’s gospel our Lord tells us very directly that we all need to be watchful. Not just in the sense of being aware of the time, of course, but being watchful for his coming, which could come at any time. We need to be alert and prepared to meet the Lord- whether it be at his second coming at the end of all time, or our meeting him and the end of our time, when we pass from this life into eternity. At both of those times we’ll be judged on how we’ve conducted our lives. We know it will happen; it’s an article of our faith. But we can’t be exactly sure when. And because time flies, the time when we meet Jesus may come more quickly than we think, or expect.
That’s why we need to be prepared; that’s why we need to be watchful.
At a deacon’s funeral I attended, an Irish priest preached the funeral homily in which he recalled a parish mission he had attended in Ireland as a boy. The priest who was leading the mission reminded the entire congregation that one day, everyone in the parish would die. When he said that, however, one woman in the pews began to giggle uncontrollably. At the end of the talk, the priest greeted everyone at the door as they left. When he met the woman who had giggled, he asked her why she had laughed when he said that everyone in the parish would die. “Well you see Father,” she explained, “I’m not from the parish!” The serious point was, however, is that one day we will indeed all die and be judged by the Lord, and for that we need to be prepared.
Preparing to meet the Lord means repenting- turning our lives around, seeking to grow closer to God, opening ourselves more to his grace, striving to follow his will more faithfully, and eliminating those attitudes, habits, and lifestyles that we know to be sinful. I’m reminded of the story of “Easy Eddie” O’Hare, who was the lawyer for Chicago mafia boss Al “Scarface” Capone. Easy Eddie was a crafty attorney whose legal skills managed to keep Capone out of jail and continue his illegal bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution operations. In gratitude for his services, Capone paid O’Hare lavishly and gave him plenty of extra perks, including a massive home that filled an entire Chicago city block.
O’Hare knew who he worked for and even took part in illegal activities himself. But he had a son for whom he wanted a better life. He was able to provide him with fine clothes and an expensive education, but he knew that he couldn’t give his son an honorable name or a good example. And so he made a decision to turn his life around. He met with federal authorities and testified against Capone. This led to Capone’s arrest. It also led to O’Hare’s assassination on a Chicago street. Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medal and a poem clipped from a magazine. The poem read: “The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still.” O’Hare had seemingly realized that time flies, and that he needed to turn his life around while he still had time- both for himself and for his son. And as for his son, Butch O’Hare, he grew up win the Congressional Medal ofHonor as a Navy pilot. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named after him today.
Now, we here this morning aren’t lawyers for the mob, at least I don’t think so. And turning our lives around will probably not place us at risk of being assassinated. But not turning our lives around will place anyone at risk of death, because death is a consequence of sin, and a life lived at odds with God leads to eternal death. This shouldn’t scare us, because God is merciful and wants us to live in hope! But should instead motivate us to conversion, not later, but now, because time, whether we want it to or not, always flies.
Readings for today’s Mass: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112711.cfm