Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 15, 2007
Dress for action and have your lamp lit
The beginning of a new year seems to spark a desire in us for a better life. The making of New Year's resolutions may be a custom, but it is more than a habit that we fall into. Rather, the soul strains to be more than it is, to be better than it is.
The making and carrying out of such a resolution - whether it be a new exercise program or a plan to knock off 20 pounds - is no small thing. It is a sign of our yearning for wholeness. That most New Year's resolutions are quickly abandoned does not negate this. It is perhaps a testament to the fact that such resolutions tend to the superficial and, even if fully implemented, do not bring us closer to the goal of our yearning.
The ultimate yearning, of course, is to be one with God. It is to unite our current life with eternity. The 20th century poet T.S. Eliot wrote, "The point of intersection of the timeless with time is an occupation of the saint."
Eliot's comment stands in contrast to the belief of our secular society that faith and action must be separated, that time and the timeless should each stand in hermetically sealed tubes.
It is the job of the saint - and aren't we all called to be saints? - to forge a union between history and the silence of eternity. One sees that in Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity who are contemplatives in action. Their daily lives are filled with prayer and also with tending to the needs of the most miserable in society.
Or, one can see the same in the life of Bernard of Clairvaux, whose life was one of launching Cistercian monasteries, overcoming a schism in the Church and launching a crusade. Yet, Bernard was a great mystic and one of the Church's most profound spiritual writers.
In both cases, life was not merely contemplation followed by action. They do not stand alongside each other. Action is imbued with contemplation.
"Only through humility and prayer does one perceive the intersection of the timeless moment," writes theologian David Schindler.
Jesus advised us, "See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks" (Luke 12:35-36).
Eternity can come without warning. It is the person whose lamp is lit with humility and attentiveness who opens the door to welcome eternity into the passage of time.
The deepest need of our time is to bring eternity and history into union. We, of course, need to challenge the evils and injustices of our day. We need to model something better.
But if we are merely actors - and not at the same moment contemplatives - we too easily become competitors in the dreary race towards emptiness. We can be, as Eliot says, "distracted from distraction by distraction, filled with fancies and empty of meaning."
Challenging the separation of Church and state is really only the tip of the iceberg of what we should be about. We need to live that union of time and eternity in the places where we are planted. We need to be dressed for action, but also to have our lamps lit.
We not only bring eternity to life, but life to eternity. The Second Vatican Council announced that our lives foreshadow a new heaven and a new earth. At the end of time, all our seemingly mundane enterprises will be found again, "cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured" in God's kingdom of holiness and justice.
The New Year's resolution is a small thing, but a profound one too if it is a bringing to birth of eternity in our world. We strain to be more than we are. It is only through a deep unity with eternity that such straining can reach fulfillment.
- Glen Argan
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