13 Nov 2011
“For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (1 Thess 5:2) In the name …
2011 has proven to be a rather dramatic year weather-wise. We had hardly any snow for last Christmas, then January came and gave us storm after storm. We had a real winter for a change. Then in late Spring a rare New England tornado swept through Westfield and Springfield and parts a bit farther East. Not to be outdone, summer shared with us an even rarer occurrence, an earthquake, which I never got to feel up in the hills of Goshen at 4-H Camp Howe. That would have been enough to make 2011 remarkable, but there was more to come. Hurricane Irene came right over head and what was even worse was the flooding that followed, flooding that some families and farmers are still trying to recover from. Then two weekends ago we get hit by an October Nor-Easter. The snow and the scenery were beautiful for a moment, that is until the trees started falling on the power lines and a whole bunch of us were without electricity for days on end. With all of this already on the books, not a few people have mentioned to me that God must be pretty angry with us, which is then followed by the question about whether these are the first signs of the end of time. I don’t know how seriously those questions are offered, and I for one do not believe in the least that these weather events are God trying to tell us that the world is coming to end, but the question remains on many people’s minds nonetheless.
And we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Today’s Lesson is from First Thessalonians, which is the oldest book in the New Testament, and already there we hear Paul, their pastor, trying to tell them to stop worrying about the End. There will be no signs. The end will come, says Paul, like a “thief in the night.” It may come with dire warnings like a year of messed-up weather, or says Paul to us today, it may come in the best of times when people are saying “Peace and security.” Surprise is the message associated with the end of days, not signs. Any one day has just as much chance of being the end as any other, or even more likely, any one day has just as great a chance of not being the end of time. It’s really not something to worry about, says Paul. The great German theologian Hans Kung says that all the biblical talk about the end of time is probably no more historically accurate than the Bible’s talk about the beginning of time in the mythical Garden of Eden. Today is more the Bible’s concern than a mythical yesterday or an imagined tomorrow.
But even so, from the pages of the Old Testament through the New, another idea has been tacked onto this message of surprise and nonchalance that can be, that has the potential to be, just as unproductive as trying to predict The End. And that second idea is “Be prepared.” This is where I think we can be drawn off track. The message of surprise is supposed to stop our futile attempts at predicting the future so that we can concentrate on the present, so that we can replace fantasy with possibility. “Be prepared” can actually be undermined if we are preoccupied with stuff we can’t do anything about anyway. Then the work we should be doing for Christ in the world is pushed to the side. When Jesus was asked about the end of time, His answer was simple: “‘[It’s] not coming with things that can be observed. Nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you, is within you.’” (Luke 17:20-21) To be prepared is not to wait for some possible Last Day, but to meet God today among us in the community of our neighbours and also to meet Him today within each of our individual souls.
This past week I attended our diocesan clergy retreat. It’s only about a half a mile from my dad’s house in Westfield, but it’s like a whole other world because you retreat from the pace and priorities of the world, and even if for just a little while, you can let God be the absolute priority. That’s what makes all the difference. Genesis Center is a stone’s throw away from the road. From my room, which was nothing but a bed, a chair and a sink, I could see people driving off to work and coming home in the evening, all part of the necessities of daily life. In the other direction, I could look out to the backyards of homes on a side-street. You can see the blue light of televisions on everywhere eating up hours and hours of time. And not too far down the road is Noble Hospital. The ambulance sirens are clearly heard. When you get the opportunity to pull back from the world at a retreat, to watch it as a spectator, you notice how very little time there is for God or for the life of the spirit. There are distractions born of the ordinary, the banal and the urgent, but they all want our time. And that whole message of God among and within goes deeper and deeper into hibernation.
The retreat was based on one Psalm, number 62, only 12 verses. The words that meant the most to me were: “One thing God has said; two things I have heard.” I’ve highlighted verses right before and after that verse in my Bible, but never these words, then at retreat they became the most important words to me. God speaks once, but in silence and attentiveness, in the chance to think over what He speaks, in contemplation and prayer, in removing other priorities, all of a sudden He speaks again without saying a word. How much do we miss of God in our world just because we don’t give Him enough of our precious time and attention? Maybe it’s the chance word of a stranger, maybe it’s a piece of music, maybe it’s almost anything. But God is waiting and wanting to be found – here and now. We look to the weather for signs of God’s coming judgment. But there are no signs, says Jesus, because He’s already here, among us and within each of us. Pull back a little and see for yourselves. Turn off the blue light of the television 30 or 45 minutes earlier and give that time to God on occasion. Ask to come sit in an empty church. Give yourself up to the Mass. Pray like you’re really talking to God. “One thing God has said; two things I have heard.” Let us pray for a willingness to give God the chance to be found among and within us, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo