Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Just One Thing, God

When I was a sophomore in high school, I used to talk with God. Beg or bargain with God might be more like it.

My life was a charm. I had it all: great school, good student, decent athlete, nice friends. There was only one thing wrong with my life: death.

I used to ask God to solve this one problem of death, and—I don’t remember what I promised in return. I had pretty much left active worship in the church-going sense. I was a lapsed Episcopalian then, still 40 years from the Catholic Church. Be that as it may, I was as aware as I’ve ever been in my life that death would happen to me.

And I had no solution.
I stopped talking to God for nearly 40 years, and death never went away. I did my best to forget it, with work, fun, family, drink, more work. Now, 40 years later, the deal is exactly the same: death is the one insoluble problem. (Forget taxes. Anyone can avoid taxes. Just ask the rich.)

I thought of this again while reading this week’s homily by our beloved former seminarian-in-residence and now priest at a parish nearby, Fr. Kwang Lee. I do not have copyright to his homilies and won’t quote him here. But you know the subject: the ten virgins, five of them wise. We all heard homilies on this subject last weekend if we went to Mass, but I didn’t hear this point made by Father Kwang:

The lamps represent our faith, the oil our love for God. Father Kwang made it clear that he meant the supernatural gift of faith, and the supernatural gift of the love of God.

The kicker, the punchline of the parable we all heard last weekend, of course, is, “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” But what does stay awake mean?

Now I know. It means to love God.

Father Kwang encouraged his listeners to be, and now I will quote him once and once only, because the phrase is powerful, “souls madly in love with God.”

I know what it’s like to wake up in the morning madly in love with someone. I don’t experience this every day, but I still do frequently, being madly in love with my wife of 27 years.

But madly in love with God? Wouldn’t that be cool?

Father Kwang ended his homily by quoting from the Latin-English Booklet Missal for Praying the Traditional Mass, which of course allows me to quote it without quoting him a second time. The Missal says that we have this day, and every day of our lives,

God to glorify,
Jesus to imitate,
the angels and saints to call upon,
a soul to save,
a body to mortify,
sins to make up for,
virtues to acquire,
hell to avoid,
heaven to gain,
eternity to prepare for,
time to profit by,
neighbors to build up,
the world to despise,
devils to combat,
passions to subdue,
death perhaps to suffer,
judgment to undergo.

And of course there we are, at the end, back where we were 45 years ago, with “death perhaps to suffer, judgment to undergo.”

Thomas More and his daughter Margaret used to compete writing essays on the Four Last Things, which I have always thought is a pretty weird, pretty wonderful father-daughter thing to do.

I am glad that the Catholic Church encourages us to think about the Last Things during the lead-up to Advent. It all brings me back to my youth, when I worried about only one thing, although now I don’t worry quite in the same way.

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