Cute joke in the e-mail the other day:
A priest waited in line to fill his car with gas just before a long holiday weekend, but there were many cars ahead of him. Finally, an attendant motioned him toward a vacant pump. “Father,” said the young man, “I’m so sorry about the delay. It seems as if everyone waits until the last minute to get ready for a long trip.” The priest chuckled, “I know what you mean. It’s the same in my business.”
Ah, time, precious time. In our early years it passes so lethargically, but then ever more rapidly … days, then weeks … months … years … and even decades … passing as a thief in the night. As the skin wrinkles and joints begin aching, we start questioning: “What have I done with my life?” The Christian wonders: “Will my Lord be pleased? Have I invested well the talents He so generously entrusted to me?”
I’ve always loved the novels by the nineteenth century author Charles Dickens … such classics as A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, Bleak House, Oliver Twist, and, of course, A Christmas Carol. Dickens’ characters are always written somewhat toward an extreme—the bad extremely bad, the evil extremely evil, and, of course, the good are extremely good. Even names very often fit the character, particularly the more notorious: the hard-bitten miser Ebenezer Scrooge, the vile scoundrel Uriah Heep, the amoral leech Harold Skimpole, the avaricious Mr. Smallweed, the controlling and blackmailing lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn. On the side of good, more soothing names fit characters such as the angelic Esther Summerson, and the innocent (yet often tragic) sweetness of Little Nell, Pip, and Tiny Tim.
Yes, Dickens’ novels are idealistic and can even be predictable … and, yet, that is also their attraction. They attract us in the goodness of their heroes, and repulse us in their villains. By his extreme characters, Dickens helps us to see the joy in being kind, thoughtful and generous, contrasted with the sorrow and pain we inflict by selfishness, haughtiness, envy, hatred and greed. In these examples his novels reinforce Christ-like values and help us remember that vices make us small and mean, while love and generosity brings joy to all.
Too often we worry way too much about using our precious time to pursue commonly-lauded “achievements” in life—fame and fortune, power and physical beauty, etc. To the world these things are things important … but not to God. Without virtue, all else is for naught. In John’s first letter we are reminded pointedly: “…all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it… (1 John 2:16-17)
Certainly we are obliged to use well the gifts given us, but always in an attitude of humility and service for the greater good. Even science reminds us that our abilities are largely defined in the genetic lottery, which St. Paul echoes: “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) So we do well to remember the inevitable: “…you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) … and live life with the realization: “…[as] he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil…” (Ecclesiastes 5:15) … nothing, at least, in the material sense. The whole theme of that book of Ecclesiastes centers around the vanity of pursuing things of this world, the theretofore hedonistic author finally concluding: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
With the end of life in mind, what IS of ultimate importance in life? Certainly not the futile pursuit of fame, fortune, wealth or beauty … but rather charity, forgiveness and faith … as Jesus teaches us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) … He reminding us that “…the end of an unrighteous generation is grievous…[but] in the memory of virtue is immortality, because it is known both by God and by men. When it is present, men imitate it, and they long for it when it has gone; and throughout all time it marches crowned in triumph…” (Wisdom 3:19-4:2) … because as St. John concludes his quote above: “…he who does the will of God abides forever.”
Have a great week, and “…God bless Us, Every One!”