“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad,” the psalmist sang. One of the wisest founders of the United States Benjamin Franklin wrote, “The morning hour has gold in its hand.” It was a way of saying that this day the Lord has made is a gift to be used well. The gift of today is an important note from our readings.
In the first reading from the Book of Nehemiah, the people were rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem after returning from captivity in Babylon. Ezra the priest reads to them from the rediscovered scroll of the law which many had never known about before. Hearing the word of God the people weep, perhaps because they were ashamed that they had not been following the law as Moses proclaimed it, or perhaps tears of joy for hearing the love that flows from word of God. Nehemiah tells them there is no need to be sad, to weep. Despite the yesterdays not used well, today is holy to the Lord. “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength,” he encouraged them. Essentially he urged them to seize this moment; God has given you a new opportunity today, a new beginning, a new chance. We know from history that they did not seize that moment, and troubled times followed.
In the Gospel Jesus returns home to his hometown of Nazareth. He goes to the synagogue, unrolls the scroll and reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.” He sits down and ‘the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently on him.’ He concluded by declaring: “today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Essentially he is telling them that standing before you is the one you have been waiting for, the Messiah. Be joyful, seize the moment, God has given you a new opportunity today, a new beginning, a new chance. We know from Scripture that they did not seize that moment either, and troubled times followed.
Nehemiah is speaking to us. Jesus is speaking to us. Today is a new opportunity for us. Will we seize the moment? Will we approach this day, and the next, with the hope that comes in Christ Jesus. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once noted that there are two ways of waking up in the morning. The first is to say, “good morning, God.” The second is to say, “good God, morning.” Do we experience the morning hour as gold in the hand to be used well, this day as a new opportunity despite our yesterdays to rejoice in the Lord?
There are many diversions that can interfere with joyfully seeing today as God’s gift to be used well. Certainly this heavy winter weather can, as can sickness, worry, fear for the future. A few years ago I flew to Italy. There were long waits in airports, my baggage was lost both coming and going, several connecting flights were missed. One long day I went through security four times. In circumstances like that we tend to turn in on ourselves, even to feel sorry for ourselves. I did, until in prayer it dawned on me what a privilege it was for me to be able travel the world, to do so safely, and to experience the joy of coming home.
Sometimes humor can help. Erma Bombeck, a columnist and Catholic convert, before her death used humor to bring perspective to the annoyances in our lives. In one column she described her New Year resolutions: “I will go to no doctor whose office plants have died. I’m going to apply for a hardship scholarship to Weight Watchers. I will never lend my car to anyone I have given birth to. And just like last year – I am going to remember that my children need love the most when they deserve it the least.” That is the love Christ offers us and what we with our unique roles in the Body of Christ are called to share with others each day.
Our culture emphasizes extreme individualism and immediate gratification, so often expressed in crankiness and criticism. Those who built the Church on the prairie in whose legacy we live did not share that approach. They trusted in God and persevered through worse weather than we have experienced, traveling in harsher conditions than the warmth of an airport. To rejoice in the Lord this day in the midst of our difficulties, we need to take the longer or higher view.
St. Paul in the 2nd reading wrote to the Corinthians who were divided among themselves, not unlike the Church of today. He instructed them and us on how we can overcome narrowness, crankiness and seize the moment today, by raising our sights beyond our selves. “You are Christ’s body,” he tells the local church in Corinth, and individual parts of a greater whole. Every part, each one is necessary for the whole to be what God intended. If one part suffers, St. Paul wrote, all parts suffer. That is one reason why our hearts go out to those in the Middle East, in Latin America suffering persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ and those who suffer in other ways including from clergy child sexual abuse. If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. That is why we celebrate the special occasions of life like baptisms, marriages and anniversaries. When we remember that we are part of something greater than ourselves, Christ’s Church, we can endure the little hurts and big challenges and thank God for the gift of today.
An old man was sitting on a bus holding a bouquet of fresh flowers. A young girl sat across the aisle. She looked again and again at the flowers. When the time came for the man to get off the bus, he impulsively put the flowers on the girls lap and said, “I can see you love flowers. I think my wife would like you to have them. I’ll tell her I gave them to you.” The girl happily accepted them and then watched the old man get off the bus and walk through the gate of a small cemetery to visit his wife’s grave. He seized the moment to take the time that day to comfort, counsel, encourage and care for that young lady. And they both rejoiced.
God gifts us with life each day. God gives us another opportunity to seize the moment whatever our past, to gaze upon him intently, for when we do he gazes back at us with unending love and mercy. May we begin each day with the humble and grateful greeting: ‘Good morning God. I am going to use this day to rejoice in your presence in my life, trusting in you and as best I can loving and forgiving others as you love and forgive me.’