The last week or so, the passages in Mass each day have been largely about the end of time when everything gets wrapped up in Christ. Despite having heard many of these passages before, they’ve dug a bit deeper into me this time around.
It’s not so much the epic nature of them. Though, don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty freakin’ epic. I mean, the sweeping end of history? The culmination of everything in the utopian Pax Christiana? A worldwide empire run by none other than Jesus Christ Himself? It’s a vision so broad and beautiful, no artist could capture it.
But no, my thoughts are much more pedestrian. I think about myself at the end. I will die one day. I will stand before God Almighty, naked and with no excuses. Death and eternity will find me as it finds everyone. In that is both a comfort and a curse of sorts.
How is it a comfort? Well, for one, it means the things I worry about on a daily basis are mostly petty. I’m in deep with a large amount of debt slowly—so slowly—being paid off. I’m struggling to figure out all the in’s and out’s of my new school-teaching job. I’m tired at the end of the day and wish my wife could just get a part-time job already to help lighten our load. This is what occupies my mind most of the time.
None of it is really worth fussing about. God wins in the end, which is to say, if we are with Him, we win in the end. All of history is barreling toward this like a freight train, and my life is a small but still valuable part of it. Nothing will stop it. “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
It’s a comfort because, in the end, all that will matter is what God thinks of me. There was a season of life where, for a time, our family was going through major struggles. I was driving hours to get to work each day, my kids weren’t getting the attention they needed from me, and I could not be there for my wife who was battling her own demons. I felt as though I was failing on all fronts, and some of our friends agreed and were frustrated with me.
The thing about that time of life is that, though I knew my giving 100 percent wasn’t enough for everyone around me, I knew inside that it was enough for God. He understood I was trying. He sympathized with me. He knew my weaknesses. And when I stand before Him, while I didn’t do everything right, on the whole I know I can hold my head up when it comes to that part of my life because I gave it my best shot.
But how is knowing we will stand before God a curse (in a way)? So many of us, including myself, tend not to live to our full potential. Think of it this way: if a five year old learns to ride a bike, that’s cause for celebration. If a twenty-five year old learns to ride a bike? Mmmm . . . not so much. Why? Because we know that a twenty-five year old is capable of a lot more than a five year old. That five year old was probably working days, maybe weeks, trying to balance on the bike and figure out exactly how to maneuver the steering. The twenty-five year old was most likely lazy much of his life and had only just then decided it was high time to learn to ride.
This is how it is with God. Some of us in the Catholic faith grew up in warm, prosperous households with strong values and an even stronger faith life. Perhaps we have talent in particular areas that developed as we grew up. We may have inherited a good work ethic and are quick to pick up new skills. The world smiles upon us when we lift our little finger and accomplish more than the average person.
But does God smile? Does He who sees the deepest recesses of the heart applaud us for our mild effort? We can easily feel self-satisfied in our well-paying jobs and Leave-it-to-Beaver family life, not realizing the heavy lifting is actually being done by good circumstances and even better genes.
I saw this as a piano teacher for the last decade or so. On one end of the spectrum, I remember a girl who started learning piano in high school and within a couple of years was playing pieces it had taken me thirteen to work up to. She was astonishingly talented. On the other end, I had a student with Down Syndrome. Every concept she learned took ten times longer to master than the average student. But who worked harder? Who was pushing themselves to do the best they could? Society would shower accolades and hopefully scholarships on my first student. But does that mean a student with Down Syndrome who toiled each day at the keyboard wasn’t working just as hard?
The greatest enemy of my spiritual life (next to outright pride) is laziness. I play the piece perfectly, receive the praise, and then pat myself on the back for a job that honestly didn’t take half a thought to do. I waste hours of life on Facebook and YouTube, but still manage to get the work done. Will God really be proud of that?
Or will I stand before Him one day wishing I had worked to my full potential when I had the chance? God gave nothing less than everything He is for me on the Cross. Am I returning the favor by giving Him only what will barely squeeze me through the gates of Heaven?
The end of our lives isn’t like the end of a book or even the end of a journey. The apostle Paul says it’s the end of a race. But our competition isn’t something or someone outside of us. It is us. Life tempts me to run with as little effort as possible. Don’t make waves. Keep things easy. Don’t exert too much effort. Paul, on the other hand says to run like your life depends on it. Run with everything you’ve got. Cast off any weights that might be holding you down and let loose.
I don’t want to run so as to simply get by or get through this life. Seeing that finish line, I want to run so as to win.
© 2017 Jon Holowaty
(Pic credit: soft_light/Shutterstock.com)