I had just finished conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation at Sacred Heart Parish in Stamford when I received word that there had been a bad accident on I-95 in Bridgeport. While the last photo at the reception was being snapped, Father Dariusz Zielonka, my priest-secretary, told me that the Turnpike was closed and that we should depart as soon as possible.
AP / Douglas Healey
Heading up the Merritt Parkway, I began to think of how many things we take for granted on daily basis. And how fragile are the very things we think are so solid. One moment a major North-South artery that bears over 120,000 cars and trucks a day is functioning normally. The next moment, it is a wall of flames, drooping concrete, and twisted steel.
A few days later, I was again conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation in another parish. After Mass, I was introduced to four parishioners who were suffering from serious illnesses. They all asked me for a blessing and for my prayers.
Every one of these individuals was in the prime of life - but suddenly their lives are changed as they find themselves battling a serious illness. Their once robust health is now challenged and even compromised.
What do we take for granted? Our health? Our reputations? Our prized possessions? Our financial stability? Our careers? Our relationships with others? How quickly any one of these avenues to success and fulfillment can be blocked off and shut down - just like I-95 between exits 25 and 26!
And what happens to us when health gives way to sickness? When an addiction fells us? When our reputation is tarnished by a foolish mistake or a serious accusation? When our possessions and money slip through our fingers? Or when our career path veers then crashes? What happens to our sense of security and our dignity when a spouse walks out or when a child's affections shut down?
Within days of the closure of I-95, I had a long visit with man whose career had crashed because of alcohol addiction. He had to rebuild not only his career but his very life, from the ground up.
But he described this as the greatest gift the Lord had ever given him. He was forced to admit his dependence on the Lord and to take bold steps to move beyond his former way of life. It was his death and resurrection experience that put his whole life on a new and secure footing and give him both insight and compassion into the human condition.
As Lent gives way to Holy Week and Holy Week to Easter, we need to ponder a serious question. Who would we be if all the props were knocked out? Where would we be if our access to family, friends and livelihood were suddenly blocked or put on hold? After all, we are more than the sum of the gifts and blessings we so easily take for granted. Yet we may find it hard to answer the question of "what's left" if those things suddenly disappeared. Put another way, what's even more important and lasting in our lives than what we do and what we own?
Recently a very wise speaker suggested that we could begin to answer the question of what we think is most important in our lives by consulting our calendars and checkbooks. Where do we spend the bulk of our time? And on what do we spend the bulk of our money?
I suspect that many of us spend most of our time working furiously and then trying to get away from work (but not really succeeding). And, aside from true necessities, we know how easy it is to spend our disposable income rewarding ourselves for our hard work. Life lived in such fashion can make us insecure, tired, and unsatisfied. Deep in our hearts, we suspect that we've built our lives on a less than solid foundation without lasting meaning or purpose.
The wisdom of the Gospel suggests that we bring into eternity only what we give away on earth. This wisdom was not dreamt up in the philosopher's tower, but rather was revealed on the Cross by Jesus Christ.
As we walk the way of the Cross, we witness His humiliation, His suffering and death. All that made Him humanly attractive was stripped away as the Son of God made Man is crucified, dies, and is buried. It was in that moment that the Triune God showed us the depths of divine love for each of individually and for all of us collectively.
The truth is that God loves us not for what we own or what we can do. He loves us for our own sake. What else gives us the strength to start over? How else can we forgive ourselves and others? And as our earthly life proceeds to its inexorable end, the depth of our love is tested.
For, someday, the things of life will be taken away from us, one by one. The passageways of life we so blithely travel will be shut down. But one bridge always remains standing - Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and life. In the Lord we find the strength to persevere beyond the confines of this life's possibilities.
May you have a truly blessed Holy Week and a joyous celebration of Easter!
This column is credited to Fairfield County Catholic monthly magazine.
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