Saturday, November 5, 2011

Be prepared!

John had fallen on some bad times. Things were so bad that he could barely support himself and his family. Desperate, he got an idea. He would go back to Church and ask for God’s help. He was a little nervous because he hadn’t stepped into a church in years, but he finally made it through the doors. He knelt down in the back and prayed: “God, if you’re up there, please help me win the lottery so I can support my family.” He returned to the same church day after day and made the same prayer. But nothing happened. Weeks passed, then months. Finally, one day, he was making his regular visit: “God, if you’re up there, please help me win the lottery.” And much to his astonishment, the ceiling opened, the choirs of angels appeared, a bright light shone down and a thunderous voice from heaven answered: “OK, fine John. But, can you help me out and at least go buy a ticket?!”

My friends, I think sometimes we can be like John too. We all want everything that God promises He will give us, but how often do we fail to do our part, afraid perhaps to take the risk of fully living the life God has called us to?

A few years ago, Steve McEveety, who produced such well known movies as “The Passion of the Christ” and “Braveheart” was giving a lecture to a group of college students who wanted to pursue a career in entertainment. During the question and answer period one of the students asked an interesting question. She asked, “Mr. McEveety, what is your goal in life?” This wealthy and successful Hollywood Producer paused and thought for a moment, then turned back to the audience and responded, “My goal in life? To get my kids into heaven. And I guess to get there myself, too.” It certainly wasn’t the answer the audience expected to hear. And yet, if you think about it, isn’t that how all of us should answer the same question? What else in life could possibly matter if it means being denied our glorious reward in the end?

As we approach the end of our Church year, our Scriptures look towards the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus speaks to this “end times” theme today in a way that can be summed up in two words: be prepared! With the parable of the 10 virgins, Jesus gives us a lesson in watching and waiting, and reminds us that the fulfillment of the Kingdom is in God’s hands. We can neither hurry it or stop it. But we must be prepared for its coming. Today’s readings want to tell us something about that fulfillment and about our need to be ready.

The fulfillment of the Kingdom that Jesus speaks of is nothing other than the realization of all that God promises. The Bible tells us that God promises us a secure and prosperous future. That God promises peace. “Peace is my gift to you,” Jesus tells us and by that he means not merely a superficial peace; not merely the absence of war or conflict, but a true peace that includes these things plus everything that we need to be happy and to thrive, to be holy and destined for Heaven.

The challenge for us as Christians is that we cannot live in our world the way non-believers do. We must live in a different way. We must live in an extraordinary way in these ordinary times. We must live in a way that shows we know there is nothing ordinary about it, instead we know that the time of God’s fulfillment is at hand. We must live with our eyes, our hearts, our lives focused on Heaven.

In today’s parable, the virgins are part of a very large bridal party. And the point of the story is the necessity of always being prepared, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” All of the virgins were ready for an immediate arrival of the bridegroom and his company, but only half of them were prepared for the long wait and the half that were not ready, were excluded from the feast.

Parables always ask us to identify with someone in the story and so which are we? Are we prepared? Or will we be among those left out because we failed to be ready for Jesus. The great Church theologian St. Augustine in his autobiography talks about the struggle he faced in fully accepting Christ in his life. Prior to his conversion he had a mistress and bore a child out of wedlock. When he writes about this time, he says, “I prayed, ‘Lord, grant me chastity, just not yet.’”

How often do we essentially pray in the same way? God, help me leave behind my sin, my anger, my need to gossip, my jealousy of others, my grudges that I hold, my failure to come to Mass every week or go to confession, help me to live a life fully committed to you in all that I say and do – just not yet!

The challenge placed before us today doesn’t need to be overwhelming. God isn’t calling us all to leave our lives and to quote Hamlet, “Get thee to a nunnery!” But, we are all being invited to live in the moment; to live each moment as though the fulfilled Kingdom of God were in our midst. You may have seen the bumper sticker which reads, “Jesus is coming! Look busy!”

So, what is God asking us do right now? He is asking us to take those first steps at being prepared. So, perhaps that means there’s a relationship in your life that you need to fix, or even end? Maybe there is someone you need to forgive or seek forgiveness from? Maybe you need to renew your commitment to the ABCs of being a Catholic: daily prayer, regular communion and confession, supporting the Church, making reasonable efforts to know what the Church teaches?

God doesn’t want our lamps to run out of oil. He wants His light to keep shining in our hearts, for our own benefit, and for the benefit of those around us, now and forever. But He won’t force us to fill up that lamp and keep it filled. Today, as He comes again to offer Himself to us and for us in the Eucharist, tell Him that you will do your part, whatever it may be. Let us all make that promise to God today.

When Pope John Paul II was dying, the doctors were treating him with pain killers and other procedures to keep him with us as long as they could. At one point, the Pope simply had enough, and he waved them away, knowing that his moment had come. And his last words were, “Let me go to the Father’s house.” To the Father’s house, where all his brothers and sisters in the faith were waiting for him, where all the saints he had canonized would be cheering his arrival, where he hoped to see again his mother who had died when he was so young, his older brother who passed away soon after, and his father, who had not even lived long enough to see his son ordained a priest. Let me go to the Father’s house.

Let us pray that we too may be counted among those who are ready; among those who will be welcomed into our Father’s house.

May God give you peace.

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