The only time that exists is now. Yesterday is gone, and will never return. I don't know what's coming next. It could be tomorrow, or it could be eternity; I don't know which will come first. "Now is the time of salvation; today is the day of the Lord".
The graces of today are very unique, and will never be repeated. Salvation is not something I get when I die. It is the grace I get to start again, any moment I choose to. All diets begin tomorrow! I am going to do great and good things, but it's always going to be 'at some other time'. When the house is finished, when the kids are reared, when I am retired. There is always going to be that 'ideal time' when things are going to happen, but THIS is not it! "Some Sunday when there's no Mass" was a phrase used in my younger days. The grace of God is offered to us NOW, because, obviously, God sees that the grace is needed now. It is a particular blessing to be a person of action, who is ready and willing to avail of the graces of God as they come along.
In a novel by Albert Camus called The Fall, there is a story about a man from the legal profession who is visiting Amsterdam. One night, he is in a red-light district, when he hears a woman scream. It sounded as if someone had thrown her into the canal. The man thought about what he should do. His first instinct was to go to her assistance. The more he thought about it, the less attractive than option became. What if the police came along? What if the press arrived, and his picture appeared in the paper in this particular part of town. Maybe the person who attacked her was still around, and would attack him as well. Very soon the screaming stopped, and, by now, the man knew it would be too late to do anything anyhow. Camus completes the story with a chilling and damning comment. He didn't do anything, because that's the kind of man he was.
'Life is what happens when you're making other plans' are words attributed to John Lennon. There is another powerful phrase, and I'm not sure who first spoke it, but it is "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come". There is no scarcity of ideas. We all have many bright and brilliant ideas; but how many of them will be put into operation? "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". We will all die with a long list of things that 'we never got around to'! To understand the Spirit is to understand, and to act on his inspirations. If an idea is a good one, it should be acted on. Of course, we cannot do everything, and there will be many things left undone. What I'm speaking about here is acting promptly when the inspiration comes, if time and circumstances allow. Procrastination is the thief of time. Acting on inspiration is often nothing more than obeying God's commands. It is really a question of obedience.
Jesus speaks about the man with the two sons. He asked one son to do something, and he said he would, but he didn't. He asked the other son to do something, and he said he wouldn't, but he did. Jesus makes it clear that it is what each lad did that matters, and not what each one said. One of the ways in which we'll never get around to doing anything is to think about it long enough, to quote from Peter Calvey Hermit. How often do we debate a problem, set up a committee to 'look into it', issue a report for our consideration, and the problem is still untouched and unsolved. The hungry people of the world may have to wait for many more G8 Summits before the world's surplus food is made available to them. There is no scarcity of food. Half the world is dying of hunger, and the other half is on a diet, trying to get down the weight.
What is lacking is the will to do something about it, by those who are in a position to do so. I remember hearing something a few years ago that went somewhat like this: You say that if you came across a group of people who are radically living the gospel, you would join them. I tell you that that is not the case. When you are READY to radically live the gospel, you will find that group. Otherwise, there could be one such group on your doorstep, and you have never noticed them, and you will never notice them. When you are ready to radically live the gospel, you will find that group very quickly. In fact, if you are ready and willing to radically live the gospel, you will begin such a group, if there isn't one there already. It's those people of action who get things done around here.
I remember some years ago, speaking to one of our priests who was working with lepers in Calcutta. His stories were gripping and many of them were horrendous. I said to him "What do you think someone like me could do to help such a situation?" His answer was immediate and spontaneous. "Stay at home, and start at home". When I was growing up we always had a prayer among our Rosary 'Trimmings' 'for the conversion of Russia'. That was safe enough, because it had to do with other people being converted. It helped make us more smug than we were! We collected pennies for 'black babies in Africa'. The further away the problem the better, and the safer we felt. When someone speaks to us about our conversion, it can become a little uncomfortable!
We shall all one day die is safe enough; but to say that 'I shall one day die' gets too close for comfort. Stay at home, and start at home. When it comes to concern for the welfare of others, I can begin right her, right now, with the person nearest to me. I may be concerned about people in Iraq, and not speaking to a neighbour across the street. I have listed many insights in this book so far, but I think I can honestly say that it was only when I acted on them that they led me to anything good. Insights can be wonderful if you write books or give Retreats! For some years now I have got into a certain attitude when I'm writing a book. I write for me. I write so that I myself can reflect and mull over my thoughts, and discover what benefit they have brought to my life. The fact that somebody else is going to read these when the book comes out does not concern me in the least. I do not write for others, because I can see the danger inherent in that. I can only write with any conviction about these insights if they have played a role in my own growth, and I can identify the good that flowed from them.
"Bloom where you're planted" is wise advice. Some years ago I was speaking to a Sister in an active Congregation of nuns who was considering entering an enclosed community of Sisters. The idea was admirable, and she was a good person. As I questioned her, I was looking for the answer to one question. Was she entering an enclosed Congregation so that she might become holy? If so, then she should stay where she is. Any one of us can become holy exactly where we are. We all are surrounded by the very people who will make us holy! If she was entering because she had a vocation to the Contemplative Life, fair enough; she should go ahead. We have saints from any and every walk of life, like St. Joseph Laboure who spent his life sleeping rough on the streets of Rome.
St. Leopold was a Capuchin monk in Padua not so very long ago. He had a stammer, so he couldn't preach. This led him to spend his time in the Confessional. His ministry there became so powerful that people came from all over the world to go to Confession to him. He was canonised a few years ago. Another Capuchin, Fr. Solanus Casey, is on the fast-track for canonisation. He never could pass his moral theology exams, so he was never allowed hear Confessions. He spent his life at the front desk, in Reception, in the Friary. He signed Mass cards, and listened to people's problems. Once again, word got out about him, and the Friary became a focal point for people far and near, seeking prayers and blessings.
If I went to live in a cave in the Dublin mountains, and I give myself completely to the Lord and to his will, there will be a pathway up the side of the mountain in no time at all, as people will seek me out, looking for a share in the blessings the Lord is pouring out upon me. The more Thomas Merton tried to withdraw into his hermitage, the more people came to him, many from very far away. The person of God attracts people like a lamp draws the moth.
I said earlier that everyone of us has within our lives whatever it takes to make us holy. To be able to look around me at the people, situations, and circumstances of my life, and to say 'yes' is to bloom where I'm planted. The safest place in the whole world for me to be is where God wants me to be. The most important place for me in the whole world is right here at this desk; and the most important time in my whole life is this very moment that is passing. God is to be found in the ordinary. St. Zita is the patron saint of pots and pans! Most people that I know are doing an excellent job exactly where they are. Parents continue to impress me by their generosity of spirit. A friend, who is a mother, told me that being a parent is very demanding, but the rewards are truly wonderful.
None of us can measure our own holiness, nor should we dare try to do so! Holiness is what happens to me, like a baby getting teeth or hair. There is nothing the baby can do to hurry up the process. Each day brings its own growth, and only the most observant of mothers will notice this happening. In the very first chapter of this book, I spoke about God being able to see the very best in all of us. He sees the part of us that reflects his image. He has planted us here, and he has given us now, and with that comes all that we need to grow, and become what God created us to be. We are truly blessed right here, right now. But the best is yet to come. You ain't seen nothing yet ...