When the Rubber Hits the Tarmac

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

Should we give of our surplus goods (so that I or mine experience no harm in doing so), or should we give until it hurts us (because I suffered some sense of personal or family deprival in doing so)? Behind these questions of course is GIVING. Do we give, should we give?

Americans have acquired a reputation over a long period of time of being givers. Tipping is one instance of it, and is usually identified as an American trait. Tipping was not a practice common in Europe or Asia during the war years, for understandable reasons. As a result, merchants and service people always liked it when Americans entered their establishments. Eventually, unfortunately, this sense of hopefulness at having an American exploring one’s store or store front in search of merchandise gave way to another kind of profile of us as the ugly American: one demanding that he or she be treated deferentially and respectfully precisely because we were Americans to whom others owed a lot for all that we had done for them. And we often became critics of what they had to offer us.

Is giving something unique to Americans, but seldom associated with others? When we give, is there an implicit hook attached to the action, designed to gain for ourselves the admiration of others and preferential treatment from them as beneficiaries of our beneficence? If so, would this not be like an investment or payback that we hope proves beneficial for ourselves? Or are there some things money cannot buy?

Nonetheless, likely most of us do tip (for a service received), or, just as frequently, given out of our surplus in recognition of something good and beneficial associated with doing so. And this is praiseworthy, and not to be belittled. But it may sometimes be associated with the attitude, “easy come, easy go”, with the emphasis on “easy”. And it need not always involve money. It may entail clothing, furniture, tools, machinery, or even a service of some kind or other. Even the practice of picking up hitchhikers, now generally discontinued, was often an instance of offering a service to others. But It usually comes down to giving away what we no longer need or want or value. Likely these examples probably describe what does not put us at any disadvantage, or hamper our plans. But they are all commendable practices, and likely serve to bond people together, who otherwise may have remained strangers to one another. And even though we may experience no sense of loss or deprivation as a result of our doing them, it can mean very much to the person who is the beneficiary of our largesse.

However, when it comes to giving to another, to the point where it hurts us in some form or fashion, then that’s when the rubber hits the tarmac, as we say. We don’t like imposing hurtful things on our lifestyle, or on our plans, or on our sense of well-being. And, especially, if we are married and have a family, we don’t want to impose hurtful things on them, such as downsizing our family vacation plans to help a relative or neighbor in need. In such cases we extend whatever inconvenience is involved, on those who are near and dear to us.

Nor do we like being generous to another when it involves a request from him or her, for help, in the form of money. If we don’t know the person, and if we have an unfavorable impression of them, we may wonder about their integrity in this transaction, as well as the prudence of doing so when there is doubt about the truthfulness of what they are telling us about their need. If it is a matter of spare change, we may somewhat cavalierly pass on to them what we do not need, despite our doubts. It may possibly prove helpful to another. And we may nurture an attitude of indifference in how he or she is going to use the money I give them.

And others of us may have no sense of urgency to respond to any of these opportunities to respond in these situations, reasoning that they are already over-taxed by various levels of governmental agencies, seeking revenue for various programs some of which I dislike and do not wish to support. As a result, I may consistently refuse to financially support any appeal for help.

Giving can be a complicated affair. It can involve the wrong attitude, the wrong kind of issue, or the wrong person making the request. And it raises the perennial question good people periodically put to God: why does He seem to bless or at least tolerate those who are obviously not good persons? Why do the wicked prosper, receiving good things like health, reputation, honor, esteem, recognition, praise?

This age-old question has been asked over and over again. The answer lies in the recognition that God knows that the good will ultimately prevail. He enjoys an advantage in that regard. The disaster that His Son underwent on Good Friday and that threw the apostles into a quivering mass of hide-aways hoping to escape discovery was followed by Easter Sunday, and this was not happenstance. God, if no one else, knew that the resurrection was near at hand, to rectify what seemed like the triumph of evil. That was the advantage God enjoyed in allowing His Son to suffer a travesty of justice. That is an advantage we obviously do not enjoy. But it throws light on all the potential mishaps to which we are liable as we work our way through the maze of options we encounter in trying to help the good prevail amid the deceptions and mistakes affecting our efforts at doing the right thing for the right persons or causes. A silver lining can always appear around the malingering dark cloud.

Restoration and Healing

Dave O'Donnell
Dave O’Donnell

Reflection on Gospel Reading for Sunday March 6

In John’s Gospel just before Jesus heals, or is it cures the blind man: “His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.’” (JN 9:2-3)

The common belief in those times was that good fortune was the reward for good works and bad fortune was caused by sin. Many people believe this even today. For those people, God doles out retribution or reward. The god in this story is a restorative god, one that heals for love’s sake only. That is the mystery of the cross. It is restorative and healing even though it may be difficult and painful. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (MT 16:24) This is a uniquely Christian teaching that reveals a restorative and healing God in the embrace and experience of your personal cross. I believe that all healing and growth flows from the hand of God.

You Can’t Go Home…or Can You?

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

Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel entitled YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN. It was published in 1940. It describes the strange sensation of trying to go back home, after an extended absence.

One may think this is not much of an ordeal or a challenge, anticipating that the sensation of familiarity will dominate the experience. But such is seldom the case, especially if the absence has been over a number of years, and if it takes place in the setting of a forever changing scenario that is so typical of life in the United States, where change is happening all the time, at multiple levels of our experience.

The word “familiarity”, of course, is itself related to the similar word, “family”. Something that is family-related is or has become “familiar” to us. For nothing is more “familiar” than “family”. Nonetheless, in a sense, one can never go back to family, as we recall it 20 or 30 years ago. The house in which one lived then was also a “home”. But, of course, not all houses are homes even if some houses don’t change, or, at first sight, after a long absence, don’t seem to have changed. To all intents and purposes the house one recalls from 25 years ago may still be standing when one visits it years later, and notes it occupying the same lot on the block as it did when we left. And this is so, even if it has been repainted in the intervening years, and the big maple tree that dominated the front yard is gone, and a different kind of fence now encloses the back yard.   For one can recognize it immediately. But that may be the extent to which an identity can be noted over this extended period of time.

For, should one have the opportunity to enter the house, a strange sensation overcomes one’s experience. In the front room, all the familiar furniture has been replaced. Painting has replaced wallpaper. The former carpeting has given way to throw rugs. The wall pictures now depict totally different scenes. The familiar odors of years ago, emanating from the kitchen, are no longer permeating the dining room area. One feels like a stranger here, in one’s former house, which, back then, had also been a home.

For a home is made up more of people than of furniture or décor. But all the old familiar faces are gone. There are new occupants now, who may be quite cordial and welcoming. But their house no longer comprises the home that was once here. The home is gone. And one’s awareness of this grows as one soon discovers that the neighbors on either side of the house are strangers, different from those who used to live there. And if the opportunity offers to explore the old neighborhood, it dawns on us that one can never go home again. The old barber shop is gone, as is the gas station on the corner. The familiar theater has been replaced by a shopping center, and the school one attended has been enlarged and upgraded.

And so the realization sinks in: one can’t go home again. Things have changed. Jesus Himself underwent a similar experience in His time. For He was brought up in Nazareth by Mary and Joseph until He was thirty years of age, when He left home and began His public ministry in Judea and other parts of Galilee. He was still identified as a Nazorean (Mt.26-71), perhaps because of His accent. He was an almost instant success wherever He went, preaching and performing miracles, and gained great popularity. Then the opportunity arose for Him, now quite a success, to go back home again.   This He did, and, entered the familiar synagogue where He had prayed and studied the bible. But when He rose to read the bible and apply a passage to Himself, there was an instant reaction, a very unfavorable one, (Lk 4.16-30), and Jesus learned that one can’t go home again. He seems never to have returned there again.

A somewhat similar experience awaits us, if not in this life, then in the life to come (2 Cor 5, 1, ff.). For we believe, on the word of God, that there will be a new heaven and a new earth awaiting us, at some point in the future—no longer in time, but in eternity. We don’t know where this might be. But the “place”, if it’s appropriate to use this word for this new setting, will likely be more like “home” than the house to which we may have returned on one occasion, because, even though a lot of changes await us in our future habitat, it will still remind us of “home” as it used to be, for all the familiar faces from years ago will be there to greet us. In this sense, it is quite possible to go back home again. We won’t mind the change of place (“I go to prepare a place for you”, Jn 14.2-3)) because the presence of the faces that made the place of old “home” is again before us.

Jesus too had this wonderful experiences at His Ascension into heaven. He was, at long last, able to go home again and be with His Father in heaven.

A Near Miss

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

Just a few days ago one of the most thrilling auto races ever to take place, occurred at the Daytona 500, where two racing cars crossed the finish line almost simultaneously, with the winning car doing so by reaching the finish line 0.01 of a second ahead of the next car. It was a photo finish, where only by means of a photograph (not the naked eye) could the winner be discerned.

It was a near miss for the loser, but a near victory for the winner. How should we regard near misses? Are they to be viewed positively or negatively? The answer might be: the winning driver could exult if he/she was expected to lose; and the losing driver could grieve, if he/she was expected to win. On the other hand, the winning driver could worry, if he/she was expected to win “big”, just as the losing driver could exult if he or she was expected to lose, as they say, “big time”.

Near misses don’t have to occur in a competitive exercise but they frequently seem to involve two or more participants. Two airplanes can be involved in a near miss while approaching the runway of an airport. Two planets/asteroids can be part of a near miss while pursuing their space trajectory. But in either case, they are not competing against one another.

Near misses always involve effort of one kind or another, which may engage the concentration of just one person, such as a student taking a test. He or she may experience a “near” miss, meaning that the student came very close, either to passing the test, or to failing the test. But the common denominator, in any case, is that a threshold was just missed, whether for good or for bad.

A near miss can occur in a game of chance, involving, for instance, the power ball, where a near miss doesn’t depend on someone else winning or losing, but depends solely on an individual player, who may or may not be known to other players, and who is not dependent on what happens to them in order to experience a near miss. For one can lose whether he or she is one of millions playing, or the only one doing so.

And so it is in our relationships with other people. We can experience a near miss in striking up a relationship with another. The initial “chemistry” may have seemed right or encouraging, but, with the passage of time, what was becoming a very close relationship becomes frayed, and on the verge of dissolving. This may initially prove to be painful, but, with the passage of time, it may become evident that the “near miss” (meaning failure to seal a relationship) proves to be a blessing in disguise.

And this may also occur in our relationship to God. In this case a near miss may mean that one was on the verge of cementing a cohesive bonding with God, or, on the other hand, a person was at the point of dissolving a relationship with God that had grown quite close. In this regard, we think of Judas’ relationship with Christ in its beginning stages. There is no reason to believe it was any less close than that of any of the other apostles. But, with the passage of time, the phenomenon of the near miss, that is, the cementing of the relationship between Christ and Judas, fails to achieve cohesion.

So the near miss can intertwine itself with many facets of our lives. And it can involve either a benefit, or a loss. A marriage-in-the-making may proceed on its way, and conclude with a cementing of the budding relationship, perhaps after having undergone the near miss of dissolving. On the other hand, it may arrive at the threshold of a permanent commitment, and then encounter a near miss in that regard, and dissolve.

The near miss is an elusive quirk to an experience. An element of chance is caught up in it. Some call this “luck”. But, of course, there is good luck and bad luck. Some feel they are constant victims of bad luck. Others may modestly acknowledge that they are the beneficiaries of good luck. In either case the near miss is an experience woven into its fabric.

Is the near miss part of a gamble, or taking a chance? Probably no more than God undergoes in His dealings with us. Each time, do each of us represent a near miss He is willing to take in our regard?

2016 Time to Let the Wind Blow

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

The New Year (2016) has just rounded the corner, putting us again to the task of a new series of resolutions about making life become better, bigger, and happier than it has been. It’s remarkable that so many of us go through this routine year after year, reformulating the resolutions about what we’re going to be and do. But we seldom succeed. If we compared this exercise to a ball player’s batting average, it would be around 180. And this is nothing to brag about.

Perhaps we have to engage in this process differently, for we are not hitting the ball successfully. This process could possibly begin with an automobile drive through some areas of the countryside, in a number of our states, that have begun to feature huge windmills, sometimes extending over large areas of land for several miles–gigantic windmills, with impressive dimensions extending over several miles, presenting what initially stand as an ugly eyesight, compared to the pleasant farmland they’ve replaced. But, their saving feature is that they’re productive energy resources, which more than compensate those who have invested time, money, genius and perseverance in supporting this new energy resource, to complement traditional energy resources that are diminishing, such as coal, oil, gas, waterways. For wind can be an effective and economic generator of electric power, for instance.

Why is it that it took us so long to discover and take advantage of such an available energy resource? For the Dutch have successfully done so for decades. Surely we have felt the power of wind sweeping across the landscape, bending tree limbs to the point of breaking, even stopping us in our tracks, especially if we live in such windswept areas as residents of the “windy city” do.

Eventually a consortium of like-minded persons emerged to collaborate to take advantage of this overlooked energy resource, developing it into a helpful energy source to meet our energy needs. And, for the most part, this resource is not significantly injurious to the landscape, other than withdrawing the land on which it sits from agricultural use, and, in the estimation of some, turning it into an ugly blemish on what had been a pleasing pastoral scene.

It is likely that Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter extolling the role of mother nature in our overall well-being can strengthen this innovative development, supporting his attempt to elevate our esteem of nature in our overall assessment of helps available to us to live in a way that is responsive to our available resources. In recent decades, we have been so preoccupied with improving on what nature can provide us in our effort to lead satisfactory lives that we have left unexplored and untapped resources untapped within nature, that can reward our attention. The Catholic tradition in the area of moral theology has called upon “natural law” as a fundamental guide in discerning goodness and evil in human behavior and conduct, and natural law is nothing other than an appreciation of mother nature to help us in addressing the dilemmas of moral goodness and evil. The Pope’s letter, entitled LODATO SI, (“Worthy of praise and esteem”) carries on this tradition of appreciating nature in its genesis and development as instructive in our understanding of how things ought to be.

So, as we stand on the cusp of a New Year in our lives, we again face the formidable task of making this year better than previous years have been. The “discovery” of wind-power as an answer to our diminishing energy supply should bolster our conviction that ways and means are available, remaining to be (re-)discovered, in our effort to fortify New Year resolutions to achieve some improvements in our lives, possibly goals that we have consistently failed to accomplish. The reassessment of wind-power is a simple example of an overlooked resource, in this regard. We may be recharting a nautical development that itself was an improvement on sailing the seas, replacing the wind-dependent sailing vessel with the steam engine. It may call for a renewed appreciation of one of nature’s primal forces (the wind) to reappropriate a place in powering over the oceans, in conjunction with nuclear generated sources of power and energy.

To enrich our appreciation of nature’s resiliency as an energy resource, we can enrich it with a faith reflection pat to the purpose of commencing a New Year enriched with God’s role in empowering us. This flows from our Catholics, and indeed Christian, understanding of the mystery of God as trinitarian, that is, as one God Who is a trinity of Persons. And our appreciation of One of these Persons as the Spirit of God, whom we frequently identify as God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. For the most part, most of us have a poor record at acknowledging the role of the Holy Spirit, in our lives, perhaps in a way comparable to our recent oversight of the significance of wind as an empowering element in mother nature. And, yet as God’s Holy Spirit, He is identified as the energy, the power, and the pent-up potential of God available to us throughout our life. He is the divine resource to move us ever closer to our destiny with God facing us at death. We might enrich our New Year’s resolutions by  invoking God’s Holy Spirit to empower us in this New Year of 2016. For the Holy Spirit, as God, is an inexhaustible energy resource Whose power is comparable to wind, for did not those assembled together on Pentecost Sunday share this experience: “…there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were…and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…”? (Acts2.1-4)

E.T. Meets Planet Earth

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

Is Christmas a memory? Is Christmas more than a memory? Is Christmas only a memory? Is that what the greeting Happy Holidays implies?

Pearl Harbor: Remember Pearl Harbor! Is Pearl Harbor only a memory? Is it something more than a memory?

Usually, a memory rests on some event of the past. Especially if it’s a long-lasting memory. Perhaps a shorter term memory is liable to be explained away by offering an alternate explanation for its endurance. But when it extends back over a long time, and is fostered within a large group of people, it’s difficult to explain it away. This is certainly the case with Christmas. It is hard to maintain that the many traditions and stories associated with the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem of Judea 2000 years ago lack any foundation in history. Especially when this memory is found embedded in the memories of so many people scattered across the face of the earth.

The influence of this memory has made its way into so much of the music that resounds at this time of the year, coinciding with the shortest day of the year, just come and gone, and when the introduction of a new season, the winter-time, is freshly underway. The lyrics of so many current musical pieces are replete with Christmas themes centering around mother and Child, angels and shepherds, wise men from the east and animals. And costuming, featuring the colors of red and white, dominates the dress and apparel of people across the board.

All of this richness of color and sound and verse and practices and traditions add up to the impact of an historic event entering into the fabric of human life, which is comparable to the scientific forays into the history of our earth suggesting the lasting effect upon this home of ours of some huge visitor from outer space, long ago, crashing upon the crust of our earth-home, leaving its indelible marks, embedding itself into the fabric of our planet emphatically, to the point of shaping our earth-home, with its mountains and canyons, its oceans, lakes and rivers, possibly its elliptical orbit around the sun and its cycle of night and day that has affected the way we calculate the passage of time.

The history of these two events, the birth of the Son of God among us which has refashioned our sense of before and after, so as to constitute a kind of rebirth and renewal among us, and the readjustment of the equilibrium of planet earth following the impact of this encounter with a foreign body from outer space, constitute a combination of shock and awe from which we have never recovered. One occurred within the parameters of human memory; the other antedated it. But, in either case, basic adjustments took place to accommodate the powerful repercussions each have had on us, from which we will never recover.

One took place within the parameters of human history; the other antedated it. So we have a memory of the one, but not of the other. But there is no reason on our part to shed or diminish the eventfulness of either. We can well imagine the dimensions of the sound that emanated from the clash of two gigantic bodies of astral or planetary materials, and the sound-waves that must have inundated this universe over the ages. But, at the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, there was also a heavenly sound emanating from the choir of angels singing their hymn of Glory to God. And, whereas that first sound has long since ceased to resound throughout the universe, the angelic hymns have never faded away, but continue to interweave our indelible memories that constitute as much of the Christmas event as their visual counterparts so familiar to us and that together constitute the memory of this significant day. And a celestial body has also assumed prominence in our memory of the first Christmas, assuming the guise of that bright star serving to guide wise men from the east, to the place where the infant was to be found. This star was not bent on an ominous intrusion into the pathway of mother earth, but provided a helpful outreach from outer space along the pathway of the visitors from the east leading them into a friendly encounter with the family at the center of the Bethlehem event, and to the One through Whom all things were made including the lowly space that was His first home.

Christmas is a memory of an event involving the encounter of an extra-terrestrial body with our planet earth, contributing a happy dimension to what we celebrate at Christmas time. It’s a memory we cannot forget.   While there are other encounters among heavenly bodies, including mother earth, of which we may have no memory despite their shaping our history, in a very remote way, it is the conjunction of heaven and earth on Christmas Day that persists as a powerful memory shaping our history, whose details we can recall and remember. For that reason the greeting MERRY CHRISTMAS bears much more significance to it than our current HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

Win, Place, Show

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

It is unseemly to entitle a reflection piece, written around Christmas time, with a title such as appears above. For it calls to mind the racing establishment, and the often unsavory atmosphere that permeates this past-time. For many a career has been sent crashing to the ground because of those consumed by the racetrack fever.

Gambling, of course, is nothing new. It is one of the past-times that has captured the fancy of earlier generations, so much so that it seems endemic to the human situation. It is a game of chance and supposedly skill or ability has little to do with it. For that reason, it is lightly regarded, and does not rate encomiums of praise and admiration usually reserved for activities that call forth the best in human capacity. The Chinese engaged in it in 2300 BC. In the western world the Kings of Sweden and Norway relied on card gambling, to determine which of them should control the district of Hising, though this game of chance occurred at a much later date in history, around 100 AD.

Nonetheless, certain gambling practices can be subjected to intense, almost scientific, analysis, which outmaneuvers the happenstance of many gambling past-times, and relies on human skills to determine the outcome of some gambling procedures. To make this point is to diminish the seeming foolishness of gambling, and to note a role for human skill and ingenuity in the gambling past-time. This removes the notion of foolishness and absurdity (and thereby the indefensibility) from gambling, and elevates it to a past-time that enjoys a bit of quality and even dignity. Once this is recognized, the absurdity of reflecting on gambling at this particular time of the year is avoided, and the groundwork is laid for considering whether God has taken a chance in dealing with us over the ages, a chance that is indefensible, given the proven track-record of our unreliability in dealing with Him.

So we ask: was God taking a chance in sending His Son among us at Christmas time, given the sordid history of this relationship as it developed throughout history? And, of course, we know on what side lies the source of this fiasco: the human side.

St. Bernard comes to our aid in answering this question. He does so by noting that God reduces the irrationality or the chance-taking of His dealings with us by increasing the number of times in which He reaches out to us. For He does so, not just one time, but three times, thereby increasing His chances of success in dealing with us. God is not acting foolishly by making an irrational move in dealing with us. Rather, He diminishes the irrational factor in reaching out to us in several ways, thereby increasing the possibility of success in doing so.

St. Bernard identifies three instances of God’s outreach to us. The first was what we have come to identify as the Incarnation, the memorial of which is close at hand: Christmas. That commemorates His historical birth among us, His nativity, in which He became a human being like ourselves and lived among us for over thirty years. And even though many may count it as a failure on God’s part, since some of us rejected His outreach by nailing His Son to the Cross, killing Him. But many among us count it as a success for God, since it brought about the redemption of the world, which otherwise would have continued its downward trend toward failure.

Equally well known is the third and last instance of God’s rendevouz with us: the last judgment, when God confronts each of us and asks for an accounting of how we have lived our lives. This acknowledges that God keeps close tabs on us, and is extremely interested in how we have run the race of life. Having endowed each of with talents and assets, in varying degrees, He has placed us in various situations, each full of opportunities to give Him glory and honor. In doing this He has wagered on and invested in us, counting on us to win the race of life, and witness to His own investment in us, who are the products of His creating hand. And many of us will glorify Him by doing well, justifying the chance He has taken with us.

St. Bernard then notes a third occasion God has taken in our regard, that further witnesses to how carefully He has calculated the wager He has taken with us, showing the reasonableness rather than the foolishness, of His counting on us to do well, to succeed and not to fail. And this is a way we often overlook, given our focus on His Incarnation, and on the Last Judgment, as better known examples of His taking a chance on us. St. Bernard describes this way as “a hidden one”, because He operates by “coming (to us) in spirit and power”. He considers this way as a connecting link or a road between the Incarnation and the Last Judgment. It is apparent in Jesus’remark: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we WILL COME TO HIM.”

So God deals with us at three levels, in three different ways. Thereby He hedges His bets on us to diminish His failure risk and to enhance the likelihood of His success. God does bet, but knows how to cut His losses, and enhance His prospects of winning. He is hardly unreasonable. Rather, He is a seasoned veteran in this regard.

There is a Time

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

Advent introduces a new year into our lives, as the church’s version of the civil new year that occurs every January 1st. It’s a helpful reminder that time marches on, and brings us along with it. Some of us are largely neglectful of time, and its meaning for and impact on our lives. Others of us are quite concerned about time, and the influence it exerts on us. A few of us may be obsessed with time, to the point where it dominates us and makes us its captive.

When we’re young, past time is usually not a major preoccupation for us. In the first place, there’s not that much of it in our lives to this point, and, secondly, what there is of it, has been largely a preconscious period that has not engaged us very consciously, except perhaps for some memorable event of such intensity that it has left an indelible impact on our young self: perhaps a melody that was frequently played or hummed in the house, or a particularly violent thunder storm that rocked the house in which we were staying, or a frightening argument among the adults of the household. In any case, it is our memory that serves as the medium containing echoes of such occasions lingering in our past. It classifies us as the victim of circumstances engulfing us. It epitomizes us as still on the edge of a future yet to emerge, in which our agency will be more prominent.

When we’ve grown into adulthood, we’re ordinarily busily engaged with life as it unrolls before us, and carries us along with itself like flotsam floating on the surface of a river in flood stage, which seems to control us along more than we guide and influence it. Much of our adult energy is expended in just keeping up with things, trying to keep our heads above water and not allowing ourselves to be swept under the flow and disappear beneath it. Time glides by at an alarming rate, seldom allowing us the opportunity and leisure to disengage ourselves so as to take adequate stock of what is happening to us.   This is the stage where we were engaged in shaping our selves, producing the person we finally managed to become.   Here our own freedom was busily engaged in producing the person that was emerging, though not without turmoil and effort.

And then, as we slip into old age, if we have survived to this point, we have amassed a presumably rich time period on which to look back, and enough time and capacity (hopefully) to reflect on it. Here, unlike the early first stage, we have a memory chock full of persons, events and impressions some of which have perhaps indelibly inscribed themselves on us, having shaped us into the kind of person that we have become. At this final juncture we may be may be surprised, as we take a step backward to look at ourselves, asking: is this who I planned to be years ago? Did I follow a line of continuous and harmonious development all along the way, or were there abrupt course changes resulting from unforeseen intrusions in my life and changing the course of action I was pursuing throughout my life? Did I remain master of my own destiny, or did I become the product of unplanned events in my life owing to other persons or events?

In recent years we have become adept at citing conditions prevailing at the times when we grew up, which influenced and formed us for our life ahead, and loom largely responsible for whom we have “turned out” to be, for good or for bad. And, then, we coped with the life unfolding before us and struggled to survive and succeed at what life found us doing, during which we frequently kept our eye on a future time when things will be made right for us, promising that “all, at long last, will be well with us”. Maybe yes, or maybe no. But at times this retirement hope for a better future can take our eye off the present. But living too much in the future can cause us to take “our eye off the ball presently coming at us”, lessening our chance to get on base. But Jesus had a word of advice for such occasions. We are to live in the present more than in the past or the future. As He says: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Mt 6.34)

Here is presented a three-fold division of our life cycle: the past, the present and the future. This simplifies what the ancients suggested, such as Ovid, with his four ages facing the human person, and Hesiod, describing five ages confronting us, while Shakespeare famously referred to the seven ages through which we live. But none of these matched the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes in its remarks on “the flow of time”:

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away. A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace.” (3.1-8)

Even the Dogs are Fed

 Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Dave O'Donnell
Dave O’Donnell

I really like the story of the Syrophoenician woman in the Luke. She begs Jesus to drive out the demon possessing her daughter. Jesus tells her He has come for the Jews. She responds: “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Admiring her faith, Jesus grants her wish. (MK 7 24-30)

Why did Jesus challenge her? When I hear this parable, I identify with the supplicating woman believing I am asking for something I haven’t earned and probably don’t deserve.

Similar to asking of God, who I’m not sure I believe in for a favor, I really don’t deserve, but ask anyway. “Even the dogs are fed” This is a re-telling of a familiar imperative in parable form to support a wobbly faith.

Seek and you find, knock and the door will be opened, ask and it will be given. (MT 7:7) You don’t have to know God just accept that there is a higher power.