Why Ponder Absence?

Why Ponder Absence?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Which situation would be harder to sustain: to have and then to lose, or never to have had at all? We know the pain of having loved someone, and then losing that love. And we know the sense of deprivation at never having loved at all. Which is more painful?

Comparable examples abound. There’s the opportunity we may have had to improve our life, which we neglected to pursue, compared to the life of another person who never had such an opportunity. Or the rags and riches contrast, involving one person moving from poverty to wealth, or vice versa, as opposed to another never having had the experience of encountering either way.

Has the comparison ever entered our mind: would it be more bearable to have enjoyed eyesight, and then lose it, or to have been born blind without ever having gained the slightest glimmer of sight?

We think of the Son of God Who enjoys heavenly bliss for an eternity, and compare that to the interlude when He became human and underwent a way of life ending with thieves on Calvary.

Why should we ponder such unpleasantries? Because they can lead us to appreciate the opportunities we have enjoyed, or they can remind us of those whose loss we have survived, or never even had. This reminds us that life is a gamble, where the stakes are high, and prospects of winning are doubtful. Youth teeming with energy and vitality who join the military and see their peers return from Iraq or Afghanistan, maimed and distorted, may have second thoughts about this gambit: is it a matter of here today, but gone tomorrow?

So we do better to avoid taking things for granted. We should treasure what we have, regardless of the demands made upon us. We are to cherish what we have, not disdain it. Those leading a Spartan life often value the little they have more than others unable to take advantage of the many options at their beck and call. It can lead to a sense of appreciation and thereby offset the impression that opportunity has never knocked at one’s door. So often our sense of loss is magnified more by focusing on what we no longer have rather than by actual deprivations currently afflicting us. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” applies not only to significant persons in our life, but to other losses we have sustained.

We might profitably recall that primeval struggle in the heavens, eons ago, when Lucifer and his angels revolted against God, and fought against Michael and his cohorts. We should wonder at what made Lucifer dismiss the delights of his heavenly habitat, and think that greater opportunity awaited him in another setting. In his foolishness Lucifer lost an unparalleled opportunity, not only victory in his struggle but an infinity of benefits to which he had access.

The loss of heaven was a missed opportunity, indeed. Can we even begin to imagine what it means to have the kingdom of heaven in one’s grasp, and see it snatched away by our own foolishness? Would it not have been better never to experience the joys of heaven, than to have had them, then suffered their loss through our own foolishness?

In our own situation, we may be well to review the pity we feel for the newborn, or the fetus, with a serious mental or physical defect, over whom we, blessed with health, grieve for their defect, for, notwithstanding their liability, they display satisfaction with their condition, never having known anything different. We may deplore their impoverished way of life and appreciate why some would think of abortion to avoid the “misfortune” of a live birth. But have we never noticed how happy and contented such seriously deformed children can be? They suggest the possibility of not missing what one has never had. Rather, they illustrate the opportunity of enjoying what is available to them.

On the other hand, we note the sense of loss playing itself out in the biblical history of the Hebrew people. From early on, chosen by God as His own special people, loved and cherished by Him before all other tribes and nations, from whom the Messiah Himself was to come, the Jews lost their long-awaited opportunity (as we Christians see it) to acclaim and accept Him as One of their own, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. A missed chance, from the Christian point of view, but, thanks to God’s special dispensation on behalf of the Jewish people, they still enjoy His favor, especially the promise of something good to come. We disciples of Christ, who now enjoy Him as God great gift to us, do not, however, ultimately benefit at the expense of our Jewish friends. For together with them we await the end-time when the full manifestation of the Messiah will take place, to our mutual enrichment. Whatever opportunity may have been missed or overlooked will be restored, for Jew and gentile Christian alike. This greatest opportunity of all still lies ahead.


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