Some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set him in the Lord’s presence.
Before I can come face to face with the Lord I must come face to face with myself. Who am I? What am I doing? What am I thinking?
It’s not always so easy to tell right from wrong. Everything is not always so black and white. But some things are, like rules, truth and forgiveness.
A while back I visited a catholic school that had painted on one of their prominent walls a quote. It read, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough.” The quote comes from Meister Eckhart, a Catholic theologian. I have thought long and hard about this saying. In fact, I have never forgotten it. It sounds very nice but I don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, I know it is important to say thank you. But if the only prayer I ever said had to be reduced to two or three or four words then I would prefer to say “I am sorry.”
Yes, that sounds much better. That sounds like me! And I don’t think I am any different than any of you! I am more than confident that if I say “I am sorry” then I will receive a great big “Thank you” from my neighbor and from my God! The first leads to the second. “Thank you” acknowledges all the things my neighbor and my God has done for me. “I am sorry” acknowledges the all too many things I have done to my neighbor and God. So after a lifetime of “I am sorry”, I hope and pray that when I die and find myself in front of the Lord, the very next thing that comes from my lips will be a great big “Thank you!”
Christmas time is “Thank you” time. Advent time is “I am sorry” time. If we don’t live Advent well, then we need not wonder why Christmas has lost almost all of its meaning.
Advent is that time of year when we must commit ourselves to a journey all too similar with that of the Wise Men. We too are kings that seek the King of kings. We too are guided by one lonely star in the midst of total chaos. Here we find the irony of ironies! It is striking how sin (darkness) can make Christ (the star) shine ever brighter! It is very easy to see why Christ is the one and only true Way, Truth and Life when sin abounds.
Advent is not the time of year to start a fire; to create my own light and feel warm and cozy in mediocrity and sin! If I seek the Lord’s presence, then I must not settle. I must ready myself for the challenges that await me. Christ will only become present when I seek to change my life and I am open to that daunting challenge! I know I prefer to settle rather than to run. We don’t like to be challenged but if I want to see a change happen in my life, then I need to take a leap of faith in words and in actions.
Yesterday I celebrated my first Mass at St. Monica. What would I say? How would I introduce myself? Of course I didn’t want to screw up my first homily or my first Mass, and I didn’t want the people to label me as this or that. I thought to myself, “Be conservative. Be easy going. Take it easy. You want to make a great first impression.” But while I was preparing to celebrate my first Sunday Mass, I felt in my heart that something was missing. I wasn’t pleased with my meditation at all. Then, at the start of the 7:30 am Mass, I sensed that the moment had arrived. I noticed, for the first time ever, that not everyone in the congregation struck their breast when they said, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” That was it! I knew what was missing in my homily: something that was personal, concrete, practical, and face to face. I knew what I would tell them. I would tell them the truth, what was black and white – actually printed in their missalette. I would tell them that rules still mattered; that the Lord of forgiveness and compassion still deemed rules to be essential to good living! So, why didn’t they all strike their breast? I would like to think that it was because no one ever instructed them to do so. This coming week I will see if my words had any affect!
This is what makes today’s Gospel passage so beautiful. It is the story of that man who, although paralyzed, was filled with faith, hope and courage. Nothing – no walls, no barriers, no crowd and no fears - was going to stop him. He broke all social rules but kept God’s first rule: Have faith in me! And because of it, this poor man found himself in Christ’s physical, spiritual and psychological presence. He found himself face to face with the Lord. Because of his great faith, the Lord forgave Him of all his sins. I am sure that he apologized to numerous people along the way. I am also sure that he “thanked his neighbors and the Lord” while picking up his mat and walking out the front door.
Thank you is good, but sorry comes first.