Tuesday 22 May 2012

You Are a Mist

By Adam Hincks, S.J.

… Wel bið þam þe him are seceð,
Frofre to fæder on heofonum,     þær us eal seo fæstnung stondeð.
[… Well is it for him who seeks mercy,
Comfort, from our Father in heaven,     where, for us, all steadfastness standeth.]

(The Wanderer)

I recently left for Venezuela for a summer of Spanish language studies with two other men from my community. When I was saying goodbye to some of my companions who are remaining in Canada, we spoke of when we would next see each other. We often do this in our culture when we make our goodbyes. ‘I’ll see you at such-and-such a place,’ we say with confidence and a firm handshake. When we bid farewell, we tend to anticipate our next encounter.

I often add (or simply think to myself), ‘God willing!’ after such valedictions. It’s important to remember that any certainty we have about the future is an illusion. Scripture is full of instances warning us against relying on expectations of the future. ‘This very night your life will be demanded from you,’ the Lord informs the rich man with his silos full and his life carefully charted (Lk. 12: 20). Or, as St. James puts it so eloquently:
Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ (James 4:13–15)
St. Ignatius of Loyola, after his many adventures, learned this lesson well. We read in his autobiography, ‘If anyone were to say, “I shall do that within two weeks or a week,” he was accustomed to say: “How is that? Do you think you are going to live that long?”’

Is such a way of thinking morbid or pessimistic? Although it would be excessive to be constantly worried about death or disaster, I really think a healthy reminder of the fragility of our existence is something we need more of in the First World. Those of us who are blessed with comfortable lifestyles and easy access to medical care can all-too-easily be lulled into the deception that life will always be thus. I believe that this contributes to the general indecision prevailing among my generation of Westerners. We are always putting off decisions large and small into the future, with a vague presumption that there will always be more time. Of course we will meet again, and of course there will be opportunities later, we tell ourselves. The dizzying array of ‘options’ that life presents us makes us falsely confident that it is too soon to choose now; that it would be imprudent to set the hand to the plough and not look back.

Of course, behaving like this is a vanity.  "I tell you," St. Paul wrote, "Now is the time of God’s favour; now is the time of salvation." (2 Cor. 6:2)

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