A number of years ago while on a plane which was beginning to taxi down the runway, I overheard a conversation between a little girl and an older relative. I was seated right in front of the little girl, who was traveling with her mother and the relative, on what was obviously her first flight. As we began to pick up speed the little girl got more and more excited about this first flight experience. When we became airborne and were hitting the first bank of low clouds, the little girl was pointing out things she was observing, in awe over seemingly everything. Suddenly she asked rather loudly, "Auntie, are we going to see Jesus today?" In less than a heartbeat her aunt shot back, "O dear Lord, I hope not!" The entire section of the plane in which I was sitting erupted in laughter for a couple of minutes because it was hilarious; it got us all inside the mind of a little girl who had obviously been taught at some point in her young religious formation that Jesus resides in the clouds. She took what she had been taught quite literally. One can see why she thought that we might see Him. What trust!
The aunt's reply, while humorous given the scenario, is probably the response many of us might give to such a question, even on "terra firma." Most of us do not even want to think about the prospect of seeing Jesus today because the obvious implication is that we would have to die in order for this to happen. The aunt was not ready for the plane to crash or for all of us to literally see Jesus through the unintentionally suggested “impending doom” of the question. But the more important issue at hand here is readiness. Are we ready to see Jesus face to face? And if we say no, why not?
Obviously none of us want to die because we see life as a gift. But we are in a time of year in which we should think about these things. Lent is about getting ready for eternity. Jesus already came, died and rose. We know that. The season of Lent is a time to remember that we need to be ready for Him to return and ultimately to spend eternity in Heaven with Him forever. As we ready ourselves for Easter, we are really preparing for the Second Coming of Christ. And in order to be ready, we also remember. We remember what Jesus did for us by becoming one of us, then going through the horrible ordeal of all manner of suffering, death on a cross, and resurrection in order to overcome the power of death and to open the gates of Heaven for us. Therefore it is all about Heaven and our desire to be there. Lent is an excellent time for us to make ourselves so ready that we do not have to have the response, "O dear Lord, I hope not!" when considering if today is the day when we will see Him face to face. This time is a good time to work on our readiness.
Recently the northeastern part of the US had a huge blizzard. Individually, the people of that area knew it was coming and they readied themselves with the requisite milk and bread, gas for the snow blowers, and whatever else they may have needed. As communities, the townships and cities readied themselves with salt, sand and plows that would be needed to clear streets. When the storm hit, it dumped several feet of snow in many areas. Despite their efforts there were some areas where they simply could not keep up. But in the end they were prepared enough to get through it together. It was a team effort. People helped one another.
Lent is also a team effort. The Church invites us to work even more closely together than ever during this season. We are challenged to give prayer, fasting, and almsgiving more time and attention. We are encouraged to come to Mass more frequently if we can. We are invited to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to wipe away and atone for anything which stands between us and God. Prayer is always important, but during Lent we are reminded that we need to have a relationship with the Lord that is growing, not stagnant, just like in any other friendship. But we are also reminded that community is important. We are all in this together.
Our prayer is not only about "me and Jesus", though we do need a personal relationship of intimacy with Him. It is also about the entire Body of Christ. We all are building the Kingdom and we all are intended to be together in Heaven for eternity. It is clear from reading the Old Testament that God came to save Israel as a nation; He did not save only Noah, Abraham, or Moses. He saved the entire family of Noah; He saved all of the descendants of Abraham; He saved all of Israel through the exodus experience, and so on.
Therefore it is important for us to realize that our prayer is important to everyone; it is important to the entire community. Our works of charity, almsgiving, the Corporal Works of Mercy, simple acts of kindness, positive attitudes, etc. are all important to the entire Body of Christ. Our fasting and prayer may be private, but they affect the entire Body in a powerful, even if often unseen, way. Finally, these efforts have an impact on our own lives. If Jesus came for any one of us today, we should be ready. These acts help us to be ready.
We should never fear death because it is the passage between this life and new, perfect life. It will bring us to everlasting life with the Lord. This is what He promised us. Most of us would not like that passage to come today, but we should live life in readiness for it because not only do we have no idea when the moment of that passage will be, but because people who live in readiness are holy people. Think about it: prayerfulness leads us to trust in the Lord, and it leads us to intimacy with Him. All authentic prayer always leads us outward to action. Those actions are works of charity and kindness, as listed earlier, because a loving heart cannot keep the love to him or herself: it overflows. Fasting is a real sacrifice because it awakens our minds and hearts not only to what it is like to be lacking enough food to eat, but to the suffering of those around us. People may hunger for more than just physical sustenance: they can be hungering for time, attention, decent clothes, companionship, work, knowledge, health, and for love. When we fast we open ourselves up to the reality of the hungers in ourselves and in others. Therefore it opens us up to deeper love.
Let us ready ourselves this Lent. Let us open ourselves to the call of the Lord by adding more prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving to our regimen. Let us realize that we do see Jesus every day, maybe not in the clouds, but in the people around us, be they friends, co-workers, family, or strangers. Let us pray for the world and its leaders, and for the Church, especially for Pope Benedict and those entrusted with electing a new pope. Let us pray for our families, as well as the sick, the poor, and the lonely. And then let us go out and do something to share the love we have been given.
May this Lent be a time of renewed prayer and reflection! May this time be ripe with spiritual fruits and the renewal or deepening of our relationship with Jesus! May it be a time of cleansing and renunciation of our sinfulness, and a time to receive healing and forgiveness through the sacraments! May our eyes be opened to seeing Jesus all around us, so that in answer to the question as to whether we are ready to see Jesus today, the answer is a resounding "Yes!" Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord, where all are welcome and all are loved. Peace!
The photos are both mine. The first one was taken in New Mexico, near Taos. The second one was taken many years ago at the Cenacle Retreat House in Lake Ronkonkoma, NY. I used to go back in the wooded area to pray. The object at the end of the path is a little shrine to St. Thérèse Couderc, foundress of the Religious of the Cenacle.
Heart Speaks to Heart