Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

“And For a Helmet the Hope of Salvation”

But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. …Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5: 4-11, 13b)

I have a hazy memory of sitting on the floor in a very large church between two coffins and wondering why everyone was so sad. Actually, the memory is quite clear. What I am not certain about is whether it is a memory of Grandpére’s and Ti Eduardo’s funeral. But I do remember sitting on the red carpet. And I do remember wanting to play but being quiet because everyone was so sad. And I remember that it made no sense because Grandpére had not been sad. He had been calm – concerned with Marmar, concerned with me, concerned with the soldier who shot him – but not sad. In fact, I don’t think he was at all concerned about dying at that moment. I think he was busy doing something else.

We think of the last days as days of terror, days to be frightened, days of woe – days when the horrors we read of in the book of Revelations will happen. But aren’t they also good days? Great days? Amazing days? Aren’t they exciting days that usher in the greatest most exciting thing ever – the manifestation of the Kingdom of God? For Christians, shouldn’t they be days of rejoicing particularly since we know we fight on the winning side? There’s no doubt about that. The stable is real. The Cross is real. The empty tomb is real. The fullness of time intersects with what we know as reality and everything changes seemingly in an instant. But the change is actually happening all along – it’s just that most don’t recognize it. But we have inside intel, we’re members of the team. And though we’re on a need to know basis, we have some awareness of what is happening. We’ve been given so much information. When we read the lives of many of the saints, when we read scripture, and, even for a few of us, when some of those we know and love have faced death or just faced the hard work of illness or of simply living as God calls us to live in this world, many, many of them have not experienced terror and great anxiety but rather, have been full of joy. During the days of being starved to death with nine others who were being starved at the same time, St. Maximillian Kolbe sang in the darkness and his companions sang with him. We know he was busy doing something else.

Certainly none of us wants to be starved to death. Neither do we want to be shot nor persecuted nor even inconvenienced. We want to be left alone to live our lives. But the fullness of time is upon us; we’re in the midst of a war. In fact, it was only an illusion to think we could just go our own ways and be concerned with ourselves and our families and friends and our own personal salvation. But really, if we are honest, we know we should never have become so lacksidasical in the first place – we have always lived in the end times. We are and have always been in a time when we ought to be busy doing something else.

My spiritual director used to tell me that hope was more important than getting what I wanted. I’d nod my head and try to take it in but really, I found his words confusing. Why bother hoping if it wasn’t to get what I wanted? Why hope for the sake of hoping itself? I have goals and I want to reach them. But what if I don’t reach them. At what point do I stop hoping? (I was actually quite proud of myself for continuing to hope.)

My spiritual director was telling me that I had envisioned a goal that I expected to reach and when I did, my job would be done. Then I would rest. I would no longer be engaged in this constant perseverance, this constant struggle, this work that life is. I wanted an end place, a place where I would be out of the fray, out of the action, where I could sit and relax and know that I had finished and there was nothing more demanded of me. I wanted a holiday from persevering. That was my definition of hope. That is not hope at all.

Hope never takes us outside the action but, rather, puts us right in the middle where we might be starved to death or shot or faced with choosing a viable candidate in an election or even become aware and fluent enough to tell others why we hope, why we persevere, why we are grateful for a chance to fight alongside God Himself. We know hope will not take us to the goals we have established and leave us there to have a well deserved rest. Hope isn’t a road to retirement. The job continues regardless of what happens on 5 November or when the electoral college does its job or if any or all of our neighbours choose to be violent and uncivilized once a decision has been made. We know we will be failed. And we will fail. And we will be played. And we ourselves will be the player. And the winner of the election will break many promises, make many mistakes, commit many sins. And babies will die. And someday, two little girls will become aware that their father believes children are a punishment and their mother has not smacked him in the head and insisted he publicly affirm that their daughters are precious gifts - at the very least, they will wonder if they are punishments. No matter what happens, there will be no halcyon days of retirement. There will only be hope.

We are in the midst of an immensely exciting election. And there are thousands of babies whose lives might or might not be saved. And mothers and doctors and nurses who might or might not the commit mortal sin of abortion. And two little girls who might or might not learn that they are beautiful gifts from God regardless what their parents let slip. There might be even more gains in defeating the evil of abortion or all we have fought for these past 35 years might be lost. But this is not an apocalyptic movie. Neither is it some sort of cultish frenzy. We really are, right now, in the last days, in the time when what we do matters. What we do participates in the might or might not of it all. We are not in a lull. Others can't pick up the pieces for us in the future. We ourselves, at this very moment, are awaiting the Bridegroom and woe unto us if we are the foolish virgins.

What we ought to be busy about is our Father’s business. We ought to be loving and praying and sacrificing and saying that some things are just plain wrong and running for office and chooisng a viable candidate who will protect life and caring for neighbours whomever they happen to be at this moment and lighting up the world with an immensely bright flame – all at the same time. There’s no place for petulance or frustration or just plain fed up-ness. And while it isn’t our place to try to force others to love God (and it won’t work anyway so it’s really not worth trying), it is our business to be doing everything we can to make His love known. It’s urgent. We haven’t any time to waste. We must just do it.

And we can do it. That’s part of the gift of fighting on the winning side. We’re with angels and saints and the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We have more help than we know - we probably don’t even make up a division in God’s army. (I’ve dreamt that I was surrounded by four angels, one on each side and that Marmar and Papa walked along beside me.) We are not alone in this. And we’re given supernatural endurance – that’s what hope is. Otherwise, we couldn’t do it. We’d have given up long ago. And it’s as simple as that. That the Church continues to persevere with all our divisiveness and foolishness and sinfulness is evidence that God gives us the strength to do it. We have been given armour that makes us stubborn and hard headed and able to insist that Jesus Christ is and always has been and always will be Lord. Our stubborn insistence that salvation is real is proof of its reality. Maximillian Kolbe and Grandpére and so many, many others have attested to that truth and to the hope as endurance, as perserverance. We have plenty of examples that tell us we must just keep doing it. Not until we get it right. Not until our government gets it right. Not until we reach any goal we can imagine at all. But because we can’t love unless we hope. We can’t love if we will not endure. Because when Christ ascended to Heaven and took His seat at the Father’s right hand, it wasn’t so that God might take a well deserved holiday. He continues to persevere with us and gives us hope as a helmet that we might persevere right alongside Him. He really wants us with Him in this greatest action-adventure.

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