“Forsake foolishness that you may live”, our first reading advises. St. Paul in the 2nd reading cautions, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons, but as wise, making the most of the opportunity because the days are evil.”
It is interesting that these two readings both use the term foolish, not a common biblical word. To be foolish is to be without caution or foresight. St. Paul goes on to advise: “Therefore do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand the will of the Lord.” Times have not changed; foolishness or poor choices in the use of time and creation are common. These days with the attacks on life at all stages, the threats to religious and other freedoms, random violence, the violation of trust and vows by some priests and bishops, and widespread poverty, injustice and loneliness can be described as evil days.
Where can we find the wisdom to forsake such foolishness and avoid the lure of the evil one? Jesus in the Gospel declares it clearly: we discover wisdom in Him who is the Bread of Life and by extension in the Church he instituted. He can move us beyond the foolishness of this world to meaningful life in the Spirit. Despite all that is swirling around us these days economically, politically and morally, we have a choice to take advantage of the opportunities we have to commit to him. Often though we hesitate or we hedge our bets because to invite Christ to the center of our lives requires change and conversion. Sometimes foolishness seems more fun, at least for a while. To do the will of the Lord often requires sacrifice in the worldly sense, and so we foolishly hesitate.
There is a Hagar the Horrible cartoon in which the husky Viking struggles up a snowy mountain. A barefooted monk-like figure wearing only a robe sits on top peacefully enduring the icy wind. Hagar asks him: “what is the secret of happiness?” The monk replies: “poverty, fasting, abstinence and celibacy.” Hagar looks concerned and then asks: “is there anybody else up here I can talk to?”
Many of those who listened to Jesus when he declared himself as the bread of life could not believe their ears. He wants us to eat his flesh? Is there someone else we can talk to, follow? Many today seek direction from government or media or technology, placing god-like expectations in them. To do so misses the opportunity we have been given to understand the will of the Lord, which is the only way to live with perspective about this world and its things and with the hope of life eternal.
Most of us including me tend to focus our lives around work, doing, whether it is pleasurable or not. Too much work leads us to becoming tired and stressed out. When we are stressed we are more vulnerable to temptations and to destructive behaviors, especially in our relationships. Impatience and anger is often the result. Surely they define our culture these days. We need to balance doing with rest and recreation and especially with spiritual renewal.
I fight that battle all the time. I tend to focus on administrative work, struggling to balance the many responsibilities as bishop, many unknown to others. After 12 years I still have not found the proper balance and I thank God for your patience and understanding. I was taken aback when I read what someone said, “the last thing our high strung, workaholic, career driven people need is a high strung, workaholic, career driven pastor.” Wow. With the grace of God and sustained by the Holy Eucharist we can learn to live balanced lives. Work yes, but rest, recreation and spiritual renewal.
Another way to take advantage of today’s opportunity and avoid foolishness is to spend some time with others. Tomorrow may be too late. My parents were divorced when I was young. As a result I never really knew my father’s side of the family who lived miles away. One of my uncles, my father’s brother, lived in Maine. So when I went to seminary in Boston, I stopped and introduced myself to him. I promised to return. He invited me to join him for Thanksgiving dinner. I had already accepted an invitation to dinner and felt overwhelmed with studies, so I said maybe later. Then he suddenly died of a heart attack. My chance to get to know him was gone. I was living foolishly. How many times have people lamented: “I never had a chance to say goodbye, to say how much I loved him or her, to thank them for the ways they touched my life.” Make the most of today.
Another way to take advantage of today’s opportunity and avoid foolishness is to pray, to open ourselves to God, to allow God’s presence to envelope us. Prayer is one of the first things we do when we have a need and one of the first things to go when we are busy.
For prayer to have impact it must become a regular part of our lives. Among the treasures of the Church are the variety of healthy spiritualties and prayer forms. All of them require us to slow down and stop doing for a while. It is hard at first but it is amazing how invigorating it can be. Many people have told me how Eucharistic adoration has changed their lives. Skeptical at first, over time quietly being in the presence of the Lord in this way is reassuring and calming.
Finally the most profound way to take advantage of today’s opportunity and avoid foolishness is to receive the Holy Eucharist reverently and properly disposed. The story is told of the French Emperor Napoleon. His brilliance on the battlefield made him the master of Europe for a while. He was asked which day was the happiest of his life, speculating over which battle victory would be selected. Napoleon thought a moment and replied, “Ah the happiest day of my life? That was the day of my first communion. I was near to God that day.”
Let us not miss the opportunity to be near to God through the Holy Eucharist, the Bread of Life. I encourage those unable to attend Mass to contact your local parish to have Holy Communion brought to you. For those unable to receive Holy Communion for whatever reason, pray for a spiritual communion that Christ through the Spirit may touch your heart.
To forsake foolishness and avoid evil, let us strive to make good choices to live balanced and prayerful lives with our eyes centered on the Bread of Life, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us follow the advice of St. Paul: “keep careful watch over your conduct . . . make the most of the present opportunity.”