Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Challenge to Live For God Each Day

What a marvel it is to awaken to a new day!

God holds us, and offers us this splendid gift which is "today." It is a fragile but also tenacious gift, never to be "taken for granted" as though our existence came from nowhere and depended on nothing for its sustenance.

This year, I have had to face death in a way that I never have before. Faith and prayer do bring great and sustaining consolations when a loved one dies, but they do not simply remove the psychological shock, the emotional disorientation, the sense of loss, or the clumsy and strange unfolding of the path of grief.

I can’t even imagine the experience of losing a parent while being a child or a young adult or while raising my own family with small children. Both my parents played such important roles in all those stages of my life, and I thank God for that. But there’s no easy time to lose your own father or mother. All those years of having them with us lead to a different scope and very particular sense of loss. Still, faith brings some consolation and a more profound hope even within these spaces of pain.

One peculiarity of this for me, as I approach the age of 57 (and it may be due in part to my own excessive self-consciousness) is that my experience of the death of my father - and now the increasing neediness of my mother - has stirred up in me some vivid anxiety over my own mortality.

This is in many ways a salutary thing. No one "knows the day nor the hour," and we must “stay awake” and ready for the Lord when he comes. But beyond that, I feel more and more the weight of years of chronic health problems, even if I have reached a certain level of “stability” (in the management of what remains an unpredictable, unstable condition).

And then there are the usual “risk factors” of this season in my life. I can only do my best with the appropriate self-care and the use of available medical resources. All the more reason for me to check disproportionate levels of emotional anxiety, obsessive worries, and the many other possible new tricks my brain may try to play on me.

Nevertheless, even in the proper mode of human reflection, I find that I cannot evade the fear of death. Indeed, I am afraid of death: its inevitability, its uncertainty-as-to-WHEN, its radical finality and darkness in relation to all I have ever known before.

The remedy, of course, is to live in hope of the salvation promised by Jesus to those who follow him. I try to be faithful and to walk in the vitality of an active hope and love. And I also "tremble" (rightly) at the judgment that will come with death.

Judgment is inherent within God's loving gaze upon me when my life is OVER. I will be measured according to the truth, in light of what my freedom could have actually achieved through grace, in response to God's calling - to the unique personal vocation that he gave to me.

If I died today, God would not pretend that my response to his invitation to a liberating and transforming communion with him - offered and empowered by the superabundance of his love - has been anything but paltry, timid, and half-baked.

From my present vantage point, I can only surmise that I have made a rather poor job out of living my Christian vocation, with all the wasted moments of life, the distraction, the laziness, the vanity, the self-indulgence.

For an old sinner like me, "purgatory" can seem in some ways a consoling thing. But I cannot be presumptuous even about that. Today, here and now, I am called and challenged to live. While I still live, and for what still remains my part, I cannot for a moment be content to "settle for" some level of mediocrity in my relationship with God. A slothful quietism very quickly degenerates into worldliness, cynicism, and a destructive envy of those who continue to move forward.

Here I have found sober and useful reflections to help me prepare for the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which can be specially fruitful during this Advent season. Here too I find important resolutions for whatever remains of my earthly journey. While I live, I shall continue to pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to sustain in me the struggle to refrain from evil, to be attentive, to do good, to be open to the Spirit's grace and inspirations that here and now call me to draw closer to him. Even at the 11th hour, "time" calls me to "labor in the vinyard" of my own heart, and in service to others.

Every breath of this life contains the possibility (and the challenge) to pray, to hope, to do our best, to try to grow in the love of God, and to wrestle with all that still hinders us - all the while trusting in Jesus and abandoning everything to the Father's infinite mercy and goodness.