In the video below, a comedy routine from Mad TV shows how many modern notions were non-existent even just fifty years ago. In the sketch, a pregnant mother drinks a martini and smokes a cigarette; children ride bikes without wearing helmets. Of course, like a lot of comedy, the topic is taken to excess for effect.
Nevertheless, most of us who are older grew up in a “dangerous” world and managed to survive. You’ve probably seen lists like this one:
drinking from a garden hose,
breathing second-hand smoke,
running in the misty cloud when the DDT spray truck went by,
playing with toy guns,
paddling in school,
praying in school,
not wearing a seatbelt,
not wearing a bike helmet,
playing in asphalt playgrounds with metal monkey bars and swings,
not every kid making the team,
not everyone receiving an award.
I can personally attest to the item about running in the cloud of spray behind the DDT truck. The cloud had a sweet, pungent order; we were told it wasn’t harmful and sure enough, none of us ever got sick from it. At left is a picture of mine to prove that I’m not lying! It was a little bit like the smell of newly mimeographed paper as the teacher handed it out—a strange but pleasant odor. DDT was banned in the 1970s and scientists still debate whether the lives lost (to mosquito-borne diseases) as a result of banning it outweighed the gains made by a purer environment. I leave that debate to them, but for the record, I am a survivor!
The spiritual point I would like to make is one of moderation. I am not recommending that pregnant women drink or smoke. I am not saying that children should stop wearing bike helmets or that seatbelts are unimportant. Rather, I caution against prioritizing safety concerns to the degree that we become too fearful. Life involves risks, and there is no such thing as complete safety.
I lived through many of the things on the list above and depicted in the sketch. In order to live we must take certain risks. A life too obsessed with dangers and too constrained by artificially imposed limits can smother and restrict. Some of the modern preoccupation with safety and for a life without any rebukes or challenges comes from a desire for excessive comfort and reassurance.
Comedy like that depicted in the video below is funny because while over the top, it also has many elements of truth.
In the Gospel for today (Monday of the 13thWeek of the Year) Jesus gives two teachings on discipleship. They are not easy, and they challenge us—especially those of us who live in the affluent West.
Poverty– The text says, As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
Here is a critical discipline of discipleship: following Jesus even if worldly gain not only eludes us but is outright taken from us.Do you love the consolations of God or the God of all consolation? Do you seek the gifts of God, or the Giver of every good and perfect gift? What if following Jesus gives you no earthly gain? What if being a disciple brings you ridicule, loss, prison, or even death? Would you still follow Him? Would you still be a disciple?
In this verse, the potential disciple of Jesus seems to have had power, prestige, or worldly gain in mind. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a political messiah and wanted to get on the “inside track.” Jesus warns him that this is not what discipleship is about. The Son of Man’s kingdom is not of this world.
We need to heed Jesus’ warning. Riches are actually a great danger. Not only do they not help us in what we really need, they can actually hinder us! Poverty is the not the worst thing. There’s a risk in riches, a peril in prosperity, and a worry in wealth.
The Lord Jesus points to poverty and powerlessness (in worldly matters) when it comes to being disciples. This is not merely a remote possibility or an abstraction. If we live as true disciples, we are going to find that piles of wealth are seldom our lot. Why? Well, our lack of wealth comes from the fact that if we are true disciples, we won’t make easy compromises with sin or evil. We won’t take just any job. We won’t be ruthless in the workplace or deal with people unscrupulously. We won’t lie on our resumes, cheat on our taxes, or take easy and sinful shortcuts. We will observe the Sabbath, be generous to the poor, pay a just wage, provide necessary benefits to workers, and observe the tithe. The world hands out (temporary) rewards if we do these sorts of things, but true disciples refuse such compromises with evil. In so doing, they reject the temporary rewards of this earth and may thus have a less comfortable place to lay their head. They may not get every promotion and they may not become powerful.
Thus “poverty” is a discipline of discipleship.What is “poverty”? It is freedom from the snares of power, popularity, and possessions.
Jesus had nowhere to rest his head. Now that is poor. However, it also means being free of the many obligations and compromises that come with wealth. If you’re poor no one can steal from you or threaten take away your possessions. You’re free; you have nothing to lose.
Most of us have too much to lose and so we are not free; our discipleship is hindered. Yes, poverty is an important discipline of discipleship.
Promptness (readiness)–The text says, And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
The Lord seems harsh here. However, note that the Greek text can be understood in the following way: “My Father is getting older. I want to wait until he dies and then I will really be able to devote myself to being a disciple!”
Jesus’ point is that if the man didn’t have this excuse, he’d have some other one. He does not have a prompt or willing spirit. We can always find some reason that we can’t follow wholeheartedly today because. There are always a few things resolved first.
It’s the familiar refrain: I’ll do tomorrow!
There is peril in procrastination. Too many people always look to tomorrow. But remember that tomorrow is not promised. In Scripture there is one word that jumps out repeatedly; it’s the word now. There are many references to the importance of now or today rather than tomorrow:
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD (Isaiah 1:18).
…behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart (Ps 95:7).
Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth (Prov 27:1).
That’s right, tomorrow is not promised! You’d better choose the Lord today because tomorrow might very well be too late. Now is the day of salvation.
There is an old preacher’s story about delay: There were three demons who told Satan about their plan to destroy a certain man.The first demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no Hell.” But Satan said, “People know that there’s a Hell and most have already visited here.” The second demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no God.” But Satan said, “Despite atheism being fashionable of late, most people know, deep down, that there is a God, for He has written His name in their hearts.” The third demon said, “I’m not going to tell them that there’s no Hell or that there’s no God; I’m going to tell them that there’s no hurry.” And Satan said, “You’re the man! That’s the plan!”
Yes, promptness is a discipline of discipleship. It is a great gift to be sought from God. It is the gift to run joyfully and without delay to what God promises.
Here are two disciplines of discipleship. They are not easy, but the Lord only commands what truly blesses. There is freedom in poverty and joy in quickly following the Lord!
I was interviewed on National Public Radio last year regarding a blog post I had written a few years previously about the movie “Toy Story.” The link to the interview is at the bottom of this post. You may wish to skip my written remarks below and just go to the interview instead, as it incorporates most of my reflections.
There was a movie some years ago that most of you have probably seen called Toy Story. It had a profound impact on me, for it came out at a critical time in my life.
It was my 33rd year of life and the 6th year of my priesthood. As I have related elsewhere, I had suffered a nervous breakdown that required a week in the hospital and a month off to recuperate. What drove me to that point was agreeing to take an assignment I really wasn’t ready for. I was asked to pastor a parish that was in serious financial trouble. The stress nearly finished me.
Invincible? I was a young priest at the time, still in my “invincible” stage, when I thought I could do anything. I guess it’s fairly common for young men to think they can handle anything. During those years, opinions are strong, dreams are still vivid, and hard experiences have not yet taught their tough lessons.
So, this young priest said “yes” to the assignment, even though I had reservations. Soon enough, the panic attacks came, followed by waves of depression. There were days when I could barely come out of my room. A week in the hospital for evaluation, a month off to recuperate, and years of good spiritual direction, psychotherapy, and the sacraments have been God’s way of restoring me to health.
Somewhere during the early stages of my recovery, I saw the movie Toy Story. Right away, I recognized myself in Buzz Lightyear. Buzz begins the movie as a brash, would-be hero and savior of the planet. Buzz Lightyear’s tagline is, “To infinity … and beyond!” The only problem is that he seems to have no idea that he is a toy. He thinks he has come from a distant planet to save Earth. Buzz often radios to the mother ship and, hearing nothing, concludes that she must be just out of range.
At a critical point in the movie, it begins to dawn on Buzz that he is just a toy and may not be able to save the day. He struggles with this realization and resists it. He tries to leap to the rescue, not knowing he can’t really fly, and falls from the second floor breaking off his arm. Suddenly, Buzz realizes he’s just a toy, that all his boasting was based on an illusion. Buzz then sinks into depression, his sense of self destroyed.
But God wasn’t done with Buzz Lightyear. In the end, Buzz does save the day, by simply being what he was made to be: a toy. One of the neighborhood kids, Sid, straps Buzz to a rocket, intending to launch him high in the air. In the end, that enables Buzz to “fly” and save the day at a critical moment. Although Sid meant Buzz’s launch to cause harm, God meant it for good. The humiliation Buzz suffered enabled him to conquer his pride; it made him able to save the day.
The lesson of the movie is a critical one and certainly the lesson I learned in my own personal crisis. The lesson is that our greatness does not come from our inflated notions of our self but from God. God does not need or want us to pretend to be something we are not. He wants us to be exactly what He made us to be. It is often through our weakness that He is able to do His greatest work.
Just as Buzz comes to realize that he is just a toy, I have come to realize that I am but a man. I have certain gifts and lack others. Some doors are open to me and others are not. When I accept that and come to depend on God to fashion me and use me according to His will, great things are possible. If we go on living in sinful illusion, we miss our true calling and our proper place in God’s kingdom. Ultimately, each of us must come to discover the man or woman that God created us to be. That is our true greatness. It is often through our weaknesses and humiliations that we learn this best.
Last week in the Office of Readings we concluded the Book of Ecclesiastes. One of the more beautiful passages in the Old Testament is the 12th Chapter of Ecclesiastes. It is a melancholy but soulful meditation on old age. Its poetic imagery is masterful, as it draws from the increasingly difficult effects of old age such as hearing loss, fading eyesight, difficulty walking, digestive issues, and even gray hair.
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come And the years approach of which you will say, I have no pleasure in them; Before the sun is darkened. and the light, and the moon, and the stars, while the clouds return after the rain; When the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, And the grinders are idle because they are few, and they who look through the windows grow blind; When the doors to the street are shut, and the sound of the mill is low; When one waits for the chirp of a bird, but all the daughters of song are suppressed; And one fears heights, and perils in the street; When the almond tree blooms, and the locust grows sluggish and the caper berry is without effect, Because man goes to his lasting home, and mourners go about the streets; Before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken, And the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the broken pulley falls into the well, And the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, all things are vanity! (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)
And now some commentary on each verse (my comments appear in red).
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come And the years approach of which you will say, I have no pleasure in them;
We are advised to give thanks to God for the vigor of youth because “evil” days will come. Here evil does not mean sinfully evil. Rather, it refers to days that are difficult, days that bring challenge and pain.
We might want to be thankful for living in modern times because the burdens of old age are far less than they were long ago. Consider all the things that make aging less difficult today: pain medication alleviates arthritis; calcium supplements help with osteoporosis; blood pressure medication aids in preventing strokes; motorized scooters increase mobility; eyeglasses and hearing aids improve the ability to interact. In the ancient world, age brought such increasing and cumulative burdens that our author said, regarding these days, “I have no pleasure in them.”
Before the sun is darkened. and the light, and the moon, and the stars, while the clouds return after the rain;
This is a poignantly poetic description of failing eyesight. The light darkens, the moon and stars are less visible (perhaps they are blurry), and the clouds of cataracts begin to hamper vision.
When the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, And the grinders are idle because they are few, and they who look through the windows grow blind;
The “guardians of the house” are the arms. They begin to tremble with the tremors common to old age, even without Parkinson’s disease.
The “strong men” are the legs. They are bent, less able to carry the weight of the body. Bent also describes the legs when we are seated, unable to walk.
The “grinders” are the teeth and they are few! We have far better dental care available to us today. In ancient times, it was common for the elderly to have lost many if not most of their teeth. This made it difficult to eat and required food to be mashed.
The image of an elderly person sitting by a window looking out, but able to see less and less, is surely sad, but also vivid. I remember my grandmother in her last years. She could no longer read much because her eyesight was so poor, and her mind could not concentrate on the text; and so she sat for hours and just looked out the window.
When the doors to the street are shut, and the sound of the mill is low; When one waits for the chirp of a bird, but all the daughters of song are suppressed;
The “doors to the street” are the tightly compressed lips common to the very elderly, especially when teeth are missing. It also depicts how many of the elderly stop talking much. Their mouths seem shut tight.
The sound of the mill may be another reference to chewing. Many of the elderly lose their appetite. One the psalms says, regarding the elderly, “I moan like a dove and forget to eat my bread” (Psalm 102:4).
Waiting for the chirp of the birds may be a reference to the silence of the elderly, but it may also be a reference to deafness, as many can no longer hear the singing and chirping, something the young often take for granted.
And one fears heights, and perils in the street; When the almond tree blooms, and the locust grows sluggish and the caper berry is without effect,
Walking is difficult, sometimes treacherous, and requires great effort for many of the elderly. Whereas the young may not think twice about climbing a flight of stairs, the elderly may see them as an insurmountable obstacle.
Perils in the street like loose or upturned stones cause fear because falls for the elderly can be catastrophic. They may also not be able to get up if they fall.
The blooming almond tree, with its white blossoms, is a symbol for gray hair.
The caper berry had several uses in the ancient world. It was an appetite stimulant, an aphrodisiac, and was also used to treat rheumatism! In old age, however, it would seem that its desired effects were hard to come by.
Because man goes to his lasting home, and mourners go about the streets; Before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken, And the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the broken pulley falls into the well, And the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it.
Finally, death comes, as symbolized by the mourners in the street. The silver cord and the golden bowl—symbols of life—are now snapped and broken.
The broken pitcher symbolizes that the body no longer contains the soul.
The pulley, a device used to lift, is now broken, indicating that the body will no longer rise from its place but rather fall into the well of the grave.
Then we return to the dust and the soul goes to God.
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, all things are vanity!
In the end, all things pass. Nothing remains. Because all things are to pass, they are vain (empty). The physical world is less real than the spiritual world, because the physical passes while the spiritual remains. Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand (Col 1:3).
This chapter from Ecclesiastes is a sad but powerfully beautiful description of old age. I have often shared it with the very elderly and those who are suffering from the ill effects of old age. I remember reading it slowly to my father as he lay dying in his hospital room. He could no longer talk much, but as I read it to him I saw him nod and raise his hands as if to say “Amen!” It was almost as if he meant to say, “Somebody understands; God understands.” Perhaps you also know an elderly person who could benefit from this passage. I know that it is sad and that not everyone is in a condition that they can hear such a stark and sad description, but some are in a frame of mind such that they can derive peace from it, as God, through His word, tells them that He understands exactly what they are going through.
There is a passage in John 16 that is unusual for its repetition. This past Sunday it was the assigned Gospel in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The expression “in a little while” is repeated seven times in the brief passage. Its repetition is almost to the point of being annoying, such that the reader is tempted to say, “All right, already. I get it!” Obviously, John, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit want to drill this point into us.
Let’s look at the whole passage:
Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So, with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy (John 16:16-22).
Do you get it? A little while! This text is a perfect illustration of the old expression repetitio mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of studies). We’re supposed to lay hold of this because it clearly was significant to the Lord.
The Greek word translated here as “a little while” is even more evocative of brevity. It is μικρὸν (mikron) which, at least in its English connotation, speaks of something very little.
Contextually, the Lord seems to be referring to the brief time between His death and His resurrection. Indeed, that time was brief. He was trying to prepare His disciples (in the hope?) that they might not lose faith and would be able to endure His passion. However, it seems that these and other words promising His resurrection “in a little while” (on the third day) had no real impact on them. All but John fled in fear, and all of them were astonished and incredulous at the resurrection when it first broke in to their reality.
In a more extended and pastoral context, the words of Jesus are also intended for us. He wants us to grasp that “in a little while” we will see Him.
This is a very important perspective for us to gain: life is short! This truth is both consoling and challenging.
It is consoling because whatever pain we are going through, we are going through it; if we are faithful, it is not our destination. Whatever the current difficulties, they will be over “in a little while.” An old African-American spiritual says, “Hold on just a little longer, everything’s gonna be all right.” Another says, “Trouble don’t last always.” As most of us who are a bit older know, life passes quickly—so very quickly. Whatever our troubles, they will be over in a little while. If we have been faithful, eternity dawns with far great glories than the trouble we have endured for just “a little while.”
We ought to expect that life here will be a little uncomfortable. We live in a paradise lost. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. We who are baptized now live in this world as strangers and aliens. We’re just passing through a world with strange customs and a strange language. We’re living out of a suitcase and have all the discomforts of travel. In a little while, though, we get to go home—if we but hold on to God’s unchanging hand.
Scripture speaks often of this aspect.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18).
We ought to be consoled by this perspective that whatever difficulties we’re currently going through will be over in a little while if we stay faithful. Meanwhile it is producing and storing up glory for you.
It is also challenging to consider the “little while” of this life. Simply put, you are going to die, and you don’t get to say when. You are not promised even the next beat of your heart. Tomorrow is not promised, so you’d better choose the Lord today. Do not delay your conversion to the Lord.
Life passes so very swiftly. I’ve been a priest for nearly 30 years now. Wow, how did that happen? I feel like I just got out of high school! Scripture says,
Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years, or eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain. They pass swiftly, and we are gone (Ps 90:9-11).
But as for man, he is like the grass, of the flower of the field. The wind blows, and he is gone and his place never sees him again (Ps 103:15-16).
Remember your Creator—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Eccles 12: finis).
Yes, life passes quickly. For most of us, the memory of our existence will linger but a generation here on earth.
Here comes the challenge: Life is short—prepare for judgment. Scripture says,
It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment (Heb 9:27).
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).
Jesus also warns,
Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping! What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33-37)
I am coming SOON; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown…. Behold, I am coming SOON, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done (Rev 3:11; 22:12).
Yes, life is short, and in a little while we must report to the judgment seat of Christ for a very honest conversation. Prepare confidently, with faith but not presumption—which is a denial of the faith. The Lord has said that we must be sober, awake, and ready. In just a little while the moment will come. You will die, and you don’t get to say when. Get ready.
There it is, perspective. The consolation is that the troubles of this life pass in “a little while.” The challenge is to be ready, for in just a little while our time here is up and the question is called.
In a little while!
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming SOON.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)
When I was about 10 years old I took some sailing lessons and then did so again when I was in my early 30s. Sailing involves a kind of romancing of the wind, wherein one observes it and then adapts to it, wooing it, learning its moves, its vicissitudes, its often subtle and changing signs.
Oh, for the great times when the wind was with us! Catching the wind, the boat would speed along making a slick sound in the water. Oh, too, for those daring and thrilling times when the spinnaker was put out. The boat would almost strain as the proud winds filled her arcing sail.
There were also difficult days, too, days when the winds were contrary and there was the hard work of tacking, beating, and jibing.
Sailing is an image of receptivity. One cannot control the wind, but must simply accept it, taking it as it is. Yes, the sailor must adjust to what is, to learn to accept and work with what is given, to live in the world as it is rather than wishing for the world as it ought to be.
The sailor must simply accept the wind’s biddings and blessings, the way in which it would have us go: this way and that, sometimes quickly and unexpectedly. The good sailor accepts that a good strong breeze can suddenly grow calm only to stir again moments later. This is especially the case in the sultry days of summer, when the prevailing winds are less evident and their strength and direction can be local and subtle.
Yes, it is all very mysterious. Indeed, Jesus used the wind as an image for mystery when He said to Nicodemus, The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (Jn 3:8).
Thus the wind and sailing become symbolic of the soul interacting with God. We cannot control God nor should we try. Our role is to sense His direction and put out our sails accordingly. We are to “romance the wind” by growing deeper in our love and trust of God. We are to discover the serenity of accepting what is, of following His lead or receiving what is offered rather than seeking to control or manipulate the outcome.
Sometimes God’s Ruah, His Spirit and breath, is a strong and refreshing wind, as at Pentecost when Scripture says, And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were (Acts 2:4). At other times, God speaks in a whispering breeze: And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:12-13)
Yes, allow the wind to represent the movements of God’s Ruah. God is looking for some good sailors, ones who know the subtleties of the wind’s movements and can adjust accordingly.
Now because the wind cannot be controlled and must simply be accepted for what it is, many people prefer motorboats. How much nicer it is to feel empowered from within and to be able to resolutely set one’s own course, no matter the wind! With a motorboat, there is little to no threat of being at the mercy of the winds. There is no need to relate to, nor to be in relationship with, the wind; there is no need of romancing the winds here! No, with a motorboat there is only the need to drive forward with a powerful motor, following one’s own designs.
This is control; this is power. Here is the sailor alone with his own will, dependent on little and certainly on no other person. It is one man alone against the elements.
Motorboats are a mixed blessing, though. They require a good bit of gas, can be noisy, need maintenance, may suffer breakdowns, and can be downright dangerous to other things and people around them.
This is another image of our soul interacting with God. There are many who prefer to be under their own power, dependent upon no one but themselves, acting and operating independently. They prefer not to have to sense the direction of the winds, to watch for other signs, or to consider other factors.
Just as there are dangers with a motorboat, there are dangers associated with this sort of controlling person. Indeed, such individuals can be noisy “gas-guzzlers,” prone to breakdowns, and potentially hazardous to things and people around them. In their perceived power they often barrel through life, missing or ignoring its subtleties, and frequently causing harm to themselves and/or others. “Breakdowns” are almost predictable with this sort of person.
Most people prefer a motorboat, but God is more in the sailboat business. He’s looking for some good souls to sense the breeze of His Spirit, hoist their sails, and follow where He leads.
Each of us is invited to be more like a sailor, following the Spirit’s lead—yes, like a sailor, trusting in and yielding to a Godly breeze.
Do you prefer a motorboat or a sailboat? Are you a boater or a sailor?
Here is a remarkable video, not of a sailor at sea, but of a “land sailor,” a kite flier. Note the beautiful interaction as this man romances the wind, working with its subtleties and rejoicing in its moves as in a great dance.
All of us ponder why God permits suffering. By faith we acknowledge that God never permits it except that a greater good may come from it. Perhaps He permits that we suffer loss in order to bestow some new gift in its place. Even beautiful relationships may hinder some new growth that God wants to bestow. For example, the death of a loved ones creates a space for the new and different while not canceling the gifts of the one who passed.
Suffering brings sobriety by reminding us that this world is not Heaven and its joys can neither last nor ultimately satisfy.
In addition, in the crucible of suffering we are tested and our faith can be strengthened and purified.
Suffering brings wisdom, which differs from mere human knowledge or experience in that it is from God. Wisdom sees past the apparent and is as much a “sense” or “disposition” as it is a body of knowledge. There is something about wisdom, so often acquired in pain, that enables us to embrace the paradoxes and riddles of life in this perplexing world, a long way from our eternal home. In wisdom we cling to God and grow more silent; we avoid simple explanations and do not demand exact answers. It is enough that God knows and that He will reveal to us only as much as we can endure now.
Yes, suffering is painful; it is a fearsome grace of God but it is a grace.
For now, the Spirit tells me that I’ve said enough, except to indicate what drew forth this meditation: an ancient maxim, an utterance of truth from ancient Greece.
He who learns must suffer.
And even in our sleep, pain that cannot
forget falls drop by drop upon the heart,
and in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. – Aeschylus, c.a. 500 B.C.
We are concluding our reading of the First Letter of John during daily Mass. Many struggle to understand this letter because they miss the experiential aspects of the faith to which he refers. Consider just a few brief lines from the end of the letter:
[God] has testified on behalf of his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God
has this testimony within himself ….
And this is the testimony:
God gave us eternal life,
and this life is in his Son.
I write these things to you so that you may know
that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).
To a typical modern reader, the argument seems to say that the proof (or testimony) of who Jesus is, is that we will (one day) have eternal life. To many, eternal life is something that happens only in the future, something we cannot know until we die. With that perspective the argument makes little sense because proof is something in the here and now, not after death. In fact, eternal life is something that can be seen, known, and experienced now.
A key in understanding a passage like this one is to consider that the word eternal (aion or aionios in Greek) does not simply refer to the length of life but to its fullness. Aiṓnios does not focus on the future so much as on the quality of life. As such, aiṓn relates to the life of a believer right now, as a growing experience of God’s life. It is a present possession not just a hope for the future.
Thus, John is saying that the testimony of the Father, the proof that Jesus is Savior and Lord, is the fact that you are currently experiencing, in increasing quantity, the fullness of life that He died to give you and rose to show you. That Jesus is Lord is proven by the fact that your life is getting fuller and richer, that you are seeing sins be put to death and graces coming alive, that you are less fearful and more courageous, less angry and more forgiving, less resentful and more grateful; that you are delighting in the truth, walking more closely with God, and seeing your life change for the better.
Even as a person ages physically, his or her spiritual life can become more full, confident, joyful, vibrant, and energetic. This is eternal life: to be fully alive with God forever. And while this gift will be complete for us in Heaven, it began at our baptism and, if we are faithful, will continue to grow throughout our life’s journey and become ever richer.