The Present Is a Present

Homily for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Preached on October 5-6, 2013 at Saint Mary Catholic Church, Perryville KY, and Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Readings: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

“How long, O Lord?” (Hab. 1:2)

The prophet Habakkuk does not beat around the bush. He begins both his prayer and his book in the Bible with that complaint. No one can blame him: from a distance, he already sees the Babylonian army marching towards Jerusalem. Disaster is in the horizon and nobody seems to be doing anything about it, not even God. So, the prophet wonders out loud, “I cry for help but You do not listen! I cry to You ‘Violence!’ but You do not intervene. Why do You let me see ruin? Why must I look at misery?” (Hab. 1:2-3)

“How long, O Lord?” (Hab. 1:2)

When life pushes us up against the wall, we too find ourselves crying out to God with that same complaint. How long, O Lord, until a cure comes for this cancer? How long must I watch my loved one suffer this way? How long, O Lord, until I receive the good things that I think I am due? How long must I work for justice and for peace? How long, O Lord, until some luck turns my way? How long do I have to wait until we get out of this mess?

We know that the Lord has promised deliverance. He assures us that “the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late” (Hab. 2:3). But, sometimes we feel that relief does not come soon enough.

What kills us is not the pain that we have to endure; it is the waiting for something good to happen. We know that we can face the challenges that come upon us. But, we also wonder whether we have what it takes to outlast them.

nguyen-van-thuanIn 1975, on the Solemnity of the Assumption, the newly appointed coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon, François Xavier Nguyên văn Thuân (1928-2002), was arrested by the communists and sent to a reeducation camp. It immediately dawned on him that he might be spending the rest of his life looking forward to freedom, waiting for his release. He thought to himself, “If I spend my time waiting, maybe the things that I look forward to will never arrive” (Thuan, Five Loaves and Two Fish, 2000, p. 8). That night, he decided, “I am not going to wait. I will live each present moment, filling it to the brim with love” (Five Loaves and Two Fish, p. 8).

The bishop remembered how Saint Paul would write to the churches from prison and he resolved to do the same. He recruited a boy to bring him scraps of paper. He then would write his brief letters at night and slip them out in the morning. The boy would bring them home to his brothers and sisters who copied them by hand. These were circulated within the Catholic community in Vietnam. It would be years before they were collected and printed into a book: The Road of Hope (cf. Five Loaves and Two Fish, pp. 9-10).

Bishop Nguyên văn Thuân spent thirteen years in prison, nine of them in solitary confinement. But, instead of waiting for time to fly, he made every moment count.

“How long, O Lord?” (Hab. 1:2)

The problem is that, unlike Bishop Nguyên văn Thuân, we are often so busy waiting for a way out of our misery that we miss the way through it. We forget that what we have is our share of hardship for the Gospel (cf. 2 Tm. 2:8), that every moment, even the most miserable, is a window of grace. The present moment is a momentous present from above: it is a gift from God that is waiting to be unwrapped and used. The Lord already has assured us that a future full of hope (cf. Jer. 29:11) “will surely come, it will not be late” (Hab. 2:3). In the meantime, we who are His unprofitable servants (cf. Lk. 17:10) cannot just wait for something good to happen; we have to make that good happen.

Sooner or later, we have to stop asking, “How long, O Lord?” (Hab. 1:2) and start to live each present moment, filling it to the brim with love.

~ by Fr. Noel F. Zamora on Sunday, October 6, 2013.

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