Monday, October 7, 2013

Be Prepared--Heaven Can't Wait

"All the way
to heaven
is heaven,
because Jesus said,
"I am the Way."
+ St. Catherine
of Siena

What if heaven is not just some far-off destination?  What if heaven is not just a distant goal which we wish upon our departed loved ones?  Indeed, what it it's as close as the palm of our hand?

The kingdom of heaven proclaimed by Jesus has very little to do with the "somewhere, over the rainbow" perspective which we so often defines conventional wisdom about heaven.  In fact, the Gospels recount over and over again the NOW of eternal life:  It is today; it is this present moment. It is among us; it is at hand.

And this NOW reaches out to each of us each day, as the Risen Lord quietly asks, "But who do you say that I am?"  He invites us to become more alert to--more conscious of--the signs of the kingdom of heaven in our midst. 

The question of "being prepared" is first and foremost not a matter of trying to make it to heaven after we die, but it is about embracing the gift of God's life in our hearts--right now.  It is a question of whether we will see the face of Christ in those with whom we live and move and have our being--today.  It is a question of whether we will listen for the still, small voice of the Lord, who whispers words of affection in our hearts--from moment to moment. 

But if your life is like mine, it might not always seem so heavenly.  The rush of activity, the frantic pace of post-modern life, or the crush of daily duties can leave us feeling like little grapes in the proverbial wine press.  Perhaps even in such experiences, however, we can still catch a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.  After all, though the Lord wants to transform us from mere grapes off the vine into the finest of wine.  The idea of God "writing straight with crooked lines" suggests that the Lord finds a way to use the prodding and poking and pressing of our daily difficulties to turn us into the priceless vintage we were created to be.  Here and now.

If all of this seems a bit abstract, perhaps St. Ignatius' simple Examen prayer can help make it more concrete.  It is not merely an examination of the ways that my conscience reminds me of my personal sin--though this is a very helpful part indeed.  But the Examen is fundamentally a review of, and increased consciousness of, God's presence in my daily life.  It is a few minutes of mediating on the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven--both as I've embraced it today and as I've ignored or turned away from it. 

One of my new Year of Faith resolutions is to remember to "read" this prayer off of my five fingers, as the image above teaches.  The five steps pictured above are translated as follows:
  1. Give thanks: Start with gratitude.  Isn't it often easier to see our blessings in retrospect, when we have a sense of appreciation for all of the gifts we've received?
  2. Ask for light: Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to see ourselves as we really are.  Wouldn't it be helpful to see ourselves from God's perspective?
  3. Examine: Coaches know the importance of reviewing the game film.  Shouldn't we rewind the "tape" of our day to look for ways the Lord has reached out to us?
  4. Express sorrow: Nobody is perfect.  Isn't it helpful to admit the times we rebuffed the Lord and turned back from the Way to our own way?
  5. Propose a resolution: The first step to change is recognizing our need.  Shouldn't we take the next step and resolve to change--with God's grace empowering to do so? 
As we strive to "be prepared" each day, these five simple steps are guaranteed to help us count our blessings and see ourselves as a people "on the way," with the Way.

Pax et bonum,