Sunday, November 29, 2015

The First Watch

There are many cliches for it.

Focusing on the big picture. Not missing the forest for the trees. Not sweating the small stuff.

All these sayings are about keeping a healthy perspective on life.

We live in a society suffering under an epidemic of stress. Juggling all the expectations of home, family and work has put us under constant strain. The technology that was supposed to make our lives easier has only complicated it. The abuse of alcohol, overeating and chronic insomnia are only symptoms of this larger problem that we are too busy. With all the activity our lives demand of us, it is easy for us to lose perspective, to forget what really matters and to lose ourselves in the process. 

Jesus' message to us could not be more relevant as we begin the busiest season of the year: "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap." Jesus is warning us that this world is passing away. Our lives are short, and we have much less time than we think. He wants us to keep things in perspective. It is the eternal life that God is preparing for us that is really important. Any other worry or concern is insignificant in comparison.

What is most pressing on your mind today? What is distracting you from prayer as we gather here? What plans are you making in your head for later in the day or later in the week? Ask yourself honestly, how important is it really? Will you be worrying about the same things next week? Can you even remember what you were anxious about last week or the week before? Is what you are concerned about so important that you should let it distract you from the word of God? Have you let your work, small jobs around the house or other activities take away time you could be spending with your family and loved ones?

Our lives are indeed short. Time passes us by very quickly. While we are busying ourselves with the messy details of life, our children are growing up, we are losing touch with our friends, and we are losing touch with our God. Before we know it, we can look back and ask ourselves, "How did all this happen? How did I lose all this time?" It happened because we allowed ourselves to lose perspective on the things in life that really matter.

Thankfully, God never ceases to call us back to him and remind us that we were created to live with him forever in heaven. From the perch of faith we can examine our actions and how we have used our time and make a renewed commitment to those beliefs, people and activities that are most important. It is never too late to start over and make up for lost time with our loved ones and with our God. 

In today's second reading, Saint Paul gives us a game plan for re-centering our lives on God and his word.

The first thing he tells us is that we should "abound in love for one another and for all." We were each created by God with a heart that can only find fulfillment in loving others. If our activities are not helping us to grow in love then they are useless. If we are too busy to show basic kindnesses to people or to help those in need, then we are wasting our time and wasting our lives. At the end of the day, we will be judged on how we have loved others. Everything else is meaningless. And so the first step to re-focusing our lives on God is to drop from our schedule any activities that keep us from loving others as we should.

The second thing he tells us is that we should be "blameless in holiness." God requires that we love him above all things. We can never be so busy that we do not make time to pray or to attend Mass on the weekend. If we let that happen, we will lose sight of the whole reason for which we exist in the first place. And if we use our busy schedules as an excuse to indulge in sinful behavior, then we are really missing the mark. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation to make us holy as God is holy. And so the second step to regaining a meaningful life is to cross off our schedule any activities that are keeping us from attending Mass, from praying regularly and which are leading us to sin. 

The third thing Saint Paul tells us is that we should act so as "to please God."  As we examine all the activities we fill our days with, the question we should always ask is, "Is what I am doing pleasing to God?" We will only have success in life when we are acting in accordance with God's plan for us. If we are doing something which is against God's will, we will face nothing but failure and frustration. On the other hand, when our lives are harmonized with God's word, things work out for us. We find the strength to overcome whatever obstacles we face. Our lives become less hectic and more peaceful. It is not always easy to know what God's plan for our lives is. That is why making time for prayer and to read the Bible is so important. Without it, we can get lost pretty quickly. And so the third step to bringing our lives into harmony with God's will for us is asking ourselves in whatever we do whether or not it is pleasing to God.

Today we begin the four weeks of preparation leading up to the feast of Christmas. The festivities of the coming month will keep us very busy. But if we are not preparing our hearts with as much care as we are preparing our homes and our tables then we are wasting our time. These weeks provide us a precious opportunity to re-center our lives on God by focusing on love, on holiness and on pleasing him in whatever we do. May God strengthen us to cut out of our lives those things that are keeping us from him so that this Christmas will be a time of life-changing grace unlike any we have ever known.

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