Friday, November 15, 2013

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Oh, the Places You’ll Go
is a book by Dr. Seuss in which he speaks of the triumphs and tragedies that await young people as they journey through adulthood. At one point, he speaks a "most useless place" called "The Waiting Place." People there are, and I quote, "Waiting for a train to go, or a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or No, or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting!"

The implication is that that time spent waiting is often wasted time. Perhaps that’s something to keep in mind in since we are people who are waiting. As today’s Scriptures remind us, we are waiting for the Day of the Lord, the end of the world, the return of Jesus in glory.

As we wait, the temptation for us is to waste time. We heard St. Paul speak to this temptation in his second letter to the Thessalonians. The early Christians to whom he wrote expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes. As a consequence, some of them decided to stop working altogether. They ended up just hanging around, gossiping, and "mooching" off their fellow Christians. In today’s lingo, they’d be called "slackers."

Most of us don’t expect Jesus to return in our lifetime. We don’t have that same sense of anticipation that our earliest brothers and sisters did. We probably assume, if we even think about it at all, that Jesus will return at some point in the distant future. In today’s gospel, Jesus himself seems to suggest that he will return later, and not sooner, when he told people that all kinds of things would happen before he came again- natural disasters, political upheavals, wars, and religious persecutions.

In other words, we may have a lot of waiting to do. But we shouldn’t think of the time we spend waiting as wasted time. Nor should we waste the time we spend waiting! Instead, we should see all of the time available to us as an opportunity- to live the gospel, spread the gospel, grow in grace, build God’s kingdom, and do God’s will, whatever our circumstances might be.

A great model for us in this regard is Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who died about five years ago, and is now on the track toward sainthood. He was named Archbishop of Saigon just before the end of the Vietnam War, and was arrested shortly after Saigon fell to the communist North Vietnamese. He was never tried or convicted of any crime. Nevertheless, he was imprisoned for thirteen years, nine of which were spent in solitary confinement.

In reflecting on his experience, Cardinal Van Thuan observed that much of a prisoner’s life is taken up with waiting- waiting for meals, for someone to speak with, for exercise time, and most of all, for freedom. He recalled a Catholic bishop who had been imprisoned in China who said, after his release, "I have spent half my life waiting." Cardinal Van Thuan resolved not to let that happen to him. Instead, he was determined to live his life in the present and make the most of his life as a Christian, even in prison.

And he was true to his promise. He found inspiration from a small crucifix he made from a piece of wood and some wire which sympathetic guards had given him. He made a tiny Bible from scraps of paper. He wrote beautiful prayers which have since been published in a book called Prayers of Hope. And at night, he wrote encouraging messages to the Vietnamese people. At great risk, these handwritten notes were smuggled out of prison, copied by hand, and circulated within the Catholic community. They have been printed in a book entitled The Road of Hope. One thing he wrote was this: "While in prison, everyone waits for freedom, every day, every minute. We must live each day, each minute of our life as though it is the last."

That’s great advice for all of us. To live each day of our life as if it is our last. Or to put it another way, to live every day as if it’s the world’s last. Certainly not by wasting time, but making our best use of it. We certainly will be judged on what we do with our time. Today’s Scriptures are quite clear on that point. So we don’t want to be caught off guard or unprepared. But what should we do?

First of all, we can ask ourselves how we feel about the prospect of Christ’s coming. Is it something we look forward to with eagerness and hope? Or is the prospect of our Lord’s return something that fills us with apprehension and fear? If it does, we may wish to ask ourselves: Am I living the sort of life I would want to be living if Jesus were to come today? For most of us, the answer is probably "No." Because in spite of our faith and good will, we all have aspects of our lives in need of change, repentance, and conversion. In addition, we may have good intentions to do many good things, from helping others to jump-starting our spiritual lives. But we keep putting them off by making excuses in order to do them tomorrow instead of today.

But if we live each day as if it’s our last, we won’t let that happen. If we live the present moment to the fullest, we won’t regret the past or wait around for the future. If we see our waiting time not as wasted time, but as an opportunity, we’ll make the best of what the Lord has given to us. So that when he does come, whenever that will be, we can, in the words of today’s Alleluia Verse, stand erect and raise our heads, for our redemption will be at hand.

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