“The Apostle John describes the present time in a precise way: It is the last hour (1 John 2:18). This statement means that with God’s coming into history we are already in the last times, after which the final phase will be of the second and definitive coming of Christ. Of courses here we are speaking of the quality of tiime, not about quantity. With Jesus the fullness of the time, the fullness of meaning, and the fullness of salvation has come. And there will be no new revelation but rather the full manifestation of what Jesus has already revealed. In this sense we are at the last hour [and] our every action is charged with eternity. In fact, the response we give today to God, who loves us in Jesus Christ, bears upon our future.”
Pope Francis, from today’s Magnificat magazine reflection
I love this. As it is with eternity, and salvation history, so it is with our own individual lives. The fullness of meaning, the fullness of salvation, such as those things are or have become with our seeking, are already here. Today. Now.
The hope is that the fullness of meaning will enlarge yet more with the passing of chronological time. But the meaning for me, on the last day of 2021, is pretty full already.
Today’s reading, from the beginning of John, is one of the most awe-inspiring, glorious, and heart-wrenching in all of the Gospels:
“In the beginning was the Word, and withe Word was with God, and the Word was God…What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. he came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.”
The world did not know him; did not care to know him. Not then, not now. I think many stop short at the brokenness, fallenness and failure of the Church (and how could it be otherwise, as the Church is comprised of us?) to live out the Gospel message.
But I don’t see how anyone could go to Christ–to his heart, his life, teachings, death; the parables with their inexhaustible levels of meaning, and fail to be electrified.
Here’s a passage from Search for Silence by Elizabeth O’Connor, a book I’ve mentioned before:
“We are aware of how the hardened structures of society resist change, but those hardened structures that we externalize and call the enemy are really in ourselves. There is something in each of us that wants to keep things as they are. Our whole self-identity is tied in with the present order. Is this not what Jesus was trying to tell us in the conversation with the man at the pool of Bethsaida?
After this, there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep (Gate) 3 a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked. Now that day was a sabbath. John 5:1-9
You remember that later Jesus finds him in the temple and says to him, “Now that you are well again, leave your sinful ways, or you may suffer something worse.” Here he makes a direct connection between the man’s sufferings and his rproblems. At some time it would be profitable to reflect on this connection, but now is the startling question, “Do you want to recover?”…Do we really want to give our our illusions about life, our deceits about the kind of people we are, all those false images about the past and fantasies concerning the future? They may be our sins in that they have kept us from living our lives fully, but they are comfortable and familiar, and in our internal establishment they hold together our concept of who we are. Take out even one little piece and there is a trembling in the whole structure–such is the interconnectedness of all our inward workings. We cannot change in one little corner of our lives without feeling the reverberations in other corners. The question–“Do you want to recover?”–might even go to the root of things where the foundations would shake and the whole of us be in danger of collapse.”
The man of our pool story made reply to the question by saying that he never had a chance. The cards were just stacked against him. “Poor me. I do not even have a friend. In the competition, I can’t make it. I have not the advantages of others. But…” There was surely a “but” to shore up self-esteem. “But I am patient. I am persevering. In adversity I wear a brave smile and am warmed by the thought that others see my plight and know me to be longsuffering.”
How I guffaw every time at that last line: the image of the longsuffering, bravely patient, faux martyr, glued to my mat. How often I’ve been that paralytic: thinking to myself “I’d like for things to be better, but sadly no-one will help me! It’s my lot in life to be constantly abandoned, misunderstood, cast aside. ”
This casting off of our chains is exactly what Christ came for! We get to ask ourselves what are we consciously or unconsciously stubbornly holding onto that prevents us from coming fully alive, from taking full responsibility for ourselves, from responding to our vocation if we have one? That’s the Good News that seems so seldom to make its way into our often paltry attempts to evangelize. Evangelize to what? A set of seemingly ad hoc, seemingly impossible-to-follow “rules?” The reason for which many of us wouldn’t even be able to explain simple laypeople terms?
When we’re fully alive, we’re obedient to the rules freely, joyfully, as the baseline. Of course we want to go to Mass on Sundays–many of us want to go as well several times a week. Of course we’ll contribute to the offering basket: we’ll also, more and more, want to offer up our entire lives.
The point being: this year I got up off my mat and walked. I did tons of investigation and made a couple of reconnoitering trips to a new city. Then I made a decision; researched moving costs; bought boxes, packing tape, and buble warp; culled, sorted, gave away; accepted help from friends, and after probably a dozen years of hemming and hawing, got up off my mat and walked.
That would not have been possible had I not had one ear cocked to “the last hour.” Fear, “prudence,” “caution,” would have kept me glued in place. So would a “realistic” attitude–how “smart” was it to think I could start a new life at my age? What if “something happened?” as a few people asked. Well what if it does? What if the worst thing that could happen would be to stay stuck on my mat? What if something wonderful happened in the new place and I missed it!?
Wishing everyone who checks in here, whether frequently or occasionally, an eve of reflection and fun–whatever fun may mean to each of us. I can’t say how grateful I am for the support and largesse, especially this past month. You’re a huge part of my life.