Wednesday, February 4, 2009

One Day At A Time

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

“A promising future.”  The expression is one which we have heard so often that perhaps we never stop to think about what it really means.  Perhaps it is better that we never do, because I wonder if we did whether our optimism would fail us completely.  Really, when we consider it in the ultimate sense, this phrase contains something of a problem, or at least a sort of riddle.  For if there are any promises which the future holds, they are our promises; and, as this world teaches us with increasing clarity, our promises can be broken.

 A week ago, a young man with what many would have called “a promising future” was taken suddenly from this life.  At the age of twenty-six, he was an ordained deacon in the Church and completing his final year of preparation for the ministry of priesthood.  He would have been ordained this summer – in just a few short months.  In family and friends, in the many lives he had touched through his years of training and witness to the Gospel, seeds of hope and expectation had been planted; and with the promise of a fruitful ministry ahead, a shoot had begun already to sprout.  But all too suddenly, the shoot withered.  The promise was broken.  Those whom had nurtured these hopes and expectations in loving friendship and admiring camaraderie were left to grapple with the mystery of why.  And in the quiet hours of mourning and grief, there was felt a sense of abandonment and even betrayal.  For if a promise had been made, then who could be said to have broken it, if not the One who gives life and takes it away?  Bourn from many hearts, with not a few bitter tears, the cry went up: “Why, God?  Why?”

 Although I met him five years ago, unfortunately I never got to know him as well as I should like to have done.  I knew him to be a kind and generous man, an impressive and faithful witness to God’s Providence who gently accepted in all things and circumstances some expression of the will of God.  I can honestly say that I never heard an uncharitable word pass his lips.  In formation he was diligent and sincere, and manifested true love for the Church.  I, too, had recognized the promise...

 He was buried on February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation.  Sitting in the Cathedral at the funeral Mass, I reflected on the words of Simeon’s Canticle from the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel running through my head: “Lord, now let your servant go in peace, for your words have been fulfilled....”  As a deacon of the Church, this young man had prayed these words from the Divine Office every night before laying his head on his pillow, along with the haunting responsory: “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit. You have redeemed us, Lord, God of truth.”  The promise made to Simeon – the promise of eternal salvation and happiness and oneness with God in the life to come – this had been God’s promise to this deacon untimely dead; it is God’s promise to each of us, the baptized.

 A priest friend told the story that when the young deacon would speak of his first Mass or any other aspects of his future ministry as a priest, he would always add the caveat, “God willing.”  He understood the nature of his promise, and of God’s.  He knew that man’s promises can only attain for a day; that tomorrow is a new day and we must either recommit ourselves or fail in the promises we’ve made today.  Our promises can be broken, and sometimes not through any fault of our own.  This young man had once lain on that same Cathedral floor where his coffin was greeted by hundreds of loving faithful, and he had dedicated his life to God.  He promised, in a solemn act, his fidelity and chastity and obedience.  He promised his service to God, as God would have it.  And, for however short a time, that promise was faithfully kept.

 But our promises can be broken.  Not just because we fail, but because we are frail – because we are mortal, because tomorrow takes care of itself and sufficient to a day is its own evil.  Each night, when the Church prays the Canticle of Simeon, together we thank God for our faithfulness throughout the day which has ended.  We can only express our desire that we will remain faithful the next day, if such be given us.  But we also commend our spirits into the hands of God, knowing that, sometimes, another day is not given.  Then it is the promises of the day which has ended which will attain into eternal life, and not the promises of the future.  Death may break our promises for tomorrow, but cannot touch the ones we have kept today.

 Today’s promises are God’s promises, too, for us.  Today we will hear his voice, and must be take care that our hearts be not hardened.  A former coworker of mine, when you asked him how his day was going, would always respond: “I woke up this morning.  Everything after that is a bonus.”  Here there is a profound truth.  The lives of the saints, and good Christian men like our deceased brother deacon, teach us time and again the valuable lesson: this is the acceptable time, the promised day of salvation.  If we have been given this day at all, then we have been given it with the full pledge of eternal peace and joy, if only we hear and accept the word of promise.  Now is the time, we cannot delay.  We must make our commitments today: for tomorrow will take care of itself.  Each dawn that greets us is rife with renewals of God gift to each of us: the momentous offer of eternal salvation.  We must never take for granted that another day, another encounter of the fullness of time, shall be ours.  And this is after all only just.  God knows as well as we that our promises might only last the day, that tomorrow we might stray.  So, we are led along at a pace most manageable for us in our weakness, and God’s continual promise is expressed in each new dawn – each day, every day, but only one day at a time.

 He will be greatly missed.  Our community mourns him as we celebrate his memory and emulate his virtues.  For my part, I can at least hope that I will pray more fervently now the Canticle of Simeon in Compline before bed.  I pray that my head falls to the pillow in peace as I commend my own soul each night to the Lord; that at least I will have tried to respond that day to the Lord’s promise, knowing that the promise of any future days rests solely on the mercy and Providence of God.  May we all strive to live lives full of promise in the present, rather than in the future; such are lives like those of the saints, like the one lived by our dearly departed brother: such are lives of promise, lives well lived – one day at a time.

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