Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A vapor in the wind

Several years ago I sat in a bible study with a woman who I had never met.  There was some small talk but for the most part she kept to herself.  She seemed very shy, very timid, but at the same time you could instantly tell that she was searching for something.  For three weeks she attended that bible study and each time I thought to myself I need to spend some time getting to know this person, let them know that we notice her.  Then one day she missed.   I meant to call her and ask how she was, if there was anything I could do.   A week passed and I meant to do it again, but things got in the way.  Another week and I hear her name in a news blurb, she had committed suicide.   As we gathered for the bible study that next week there was that empty chair.  I could picture her face, searching for something, for someone.   Each time I could hear myself thinking, "there is always next week."

James reminds us in the first reading that we should not take today for granted.  He compares the human existence to a puff of smoke, something that fades quickly.  For a few years there I fancied the idea of learning to smoke a pipe.  I wanted to learn to blow those smoke rings you know?   I had a professor in college who smoked this fragrant apple tobacco and he would blow these intricate designs in the air.  So beautiful, but so fragile.   Those rings would float towards the ceiling and then just as rapidly as they had formed they would dissipate and there would be no sign of their existence. So it is with man.  Just as that woman had been there one day, the next she was not.  A vapor in the wind.

That's why we cannot take one day for granted.  We cannot wait for tomorrow to do the things we know are the right things to do.  As James says,  for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.   We have to start today.   Living our lives with no concern at all for the future, putting our faith in Christ to protect and guide us.  A friend of mine gave me a plaque tonight that said "Let not your hearts be troubled..." (John 14:1)  Such a strong reminder that not only should we remember that our plans are completely contingent on God, that we cannot add a single day to our lives by worrying about them, but that we also are challenged to be a people who are known for their love and joy.  Pope Francis put it so eloquently when he said that all too often the Christian face has more in common with a pickled pepper than with a life filled with joy.

Today's Saint, Pope John the 1st, gave us an amazing example of simply following Christ.  He was sent by the emperor to bring back a portion of the Church that had fallen into the Arian heresy. The Arians had fallen into the belief that Jesus was not God, but rather just a very wonderful creation.  John did not want to go but he listened to the directive to go and he went.   On his return the very man who sent him on this mission had him killed because he had begun to believe that John was conspiring against him.  John could not have seen this coming.  Any plans he had for the future were worthless.  As we hear at many funerals "there is a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to live, and a time to die."  We must trust in God to see that plan for us, and to live each day to the fullest of our ability.

Our Psalm response for tomorrow, one of the beatitudes, speaks of it in a way that is eloquent and more powerful than any words I can come up with on my own.  "Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!"  It is when we get our own ego out of the way and begin to live our lives with God's purpose at the forefront of our minds that we truly begin to step into our inheritance.  Every day at Mass we pray "thy will be done, they kingdom come." That Kingdom isn't just something that we have to wait for the future for, but it's something that we can experience in the here and now.   We do that by following God's lead, by realizing that only He knows what the future holds for us, and trusting that He will protect us and provide for us what is best.   The only time light produces a shadow is when something gets in the way.   I think the readings encourage us to begin to ask, am I putting anything in the way of the light which God has given me by virtue of my baptism?  Am I casting a shadow?  If so, how can I get out of the way and let Christ's light shine through me into the world, that they may look at me and not see me, but see Christ himself shining through me?

I think that is part of Jesus message in the Gospel.   While it could be seen as a call to ecumenism or a call to kindness, and probably is.   It's also a moment in which the disciples seem to be irritated that someone else would dare to do good works in Jesus name without being one of them.  They aren't too concerned that someone has been delivered from a demon, but rather want to put a stop to these impostors.  What about for our spiritual life though?  I think we have to look inside and see if there are places in our lives where we allow our pride to prevent us from seeing the good being done around us.   To really examine our conscience and find anything that is an impostor, anything that draws us away from God.   Then to begin to push those away, to move towards rather those things that are doing good, even if it means giving up something we really enjoy.  That's the only way we can clear out those things that are casting shadows into the world.  All of this begins with a Sacramental Life, putting Christ first.  

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."