Ready or not, here I come.
“I’m not looking forward to getting back tonight,” Fr Austin said to me yesterday morning. He was celebrating a wedding in Connecticut yesterday afternoon . “Not looking forward to coming back to Epiphany?” I said.
Was it me?, I wondered. Has he already grown tired of having me around?
“Yeah,” he said, “because I know that when I get back to the rectory Murphy will be crazed. He’ll be jumping on me and barking at ear-shattering decibals, and I’ll have to go outside into the frigid weather and play ball with him, no matter the hour.”
Whew, I thought, at least it’s not me.
But he’s right: that is exactly what happened because to Murphy-the-dog, Fr Austin is God. And when God is away even for a brief time, the return is triumphant. Oh sure, Murphy will wag his tail at me and sometimes direct some friendly barks my way, but if his master approaches or is on the move, Murphy’s attention immediately switches to God. When Fr Austin goes into church to say Mass, or to a meeting in the hall, or is seeing someone for confession or has dinner with me and Monsignor Modugno, Murphy always sets himself up outside the door and waits patiently--sometimes hours—for his return.
I watched him the other day, lying outside the sacristy. Did he have Fr Austin’s smiling face in his head? Was he imagining a delicious carrot in his master’s hand? (What dog eats carrots anyway?) Did his dreams involve endless tennis balls being lobbed his way?
He thumped his tail on the wooden floor as I approached, but he kept his head laser-focused on the door. He was prepared for God’s appearance at any moment, and I thought, man, that’s the very definition of ready and waiting. I wondered—do dogs have any sense of time? Can they measure it in any way? Murphy exhibits just as much enthusiasm if his master has been gone for 10 minutes or 10 hours, jumping and barking around like a crazy dog the minute he reappears.
Time: depending on the circumstances—never enough, sometimes way too much. I was reading an article in the paper yesterday about how the world spins just a little slower each year, about two milliseconds per day per century, and because of that we add a leap second to our clocks every so often. My own clocks never tell the right time. The clock in my car is around 23 minutes fast, the three clocks I have in my room all have different times, and none of them match the time on my cell phone. As a matter of fact, most of the time, I don’t really know the real time at all, leap second or not. But I’m OK with that.
I never wear a watch, I tell people it's against my religion. I just hate wearing a watch, but it's not the watch itself, it's the time thing that I hate. I don't know, it's not in my genes to be time conscious.
Our family was always notorious for not being on time.
I can't remember a time when we were ever early for Mass. Most Sundays we were being seated by the ushers during one of the readings, or at the beginning or the homily, or more embarrassingly, at the creed----though if Father Mahoney was preaching, that was often a blessing.
I think it was the genes on my mother's side actually. I just always remember my father yelling at her from the driveway to get us going, I can't tell you how many times after we left the house we'd have to go back because she forgot something, much to my father's delight.
It's in the genes, there are just people who are time oriented and people who are, well, less concerned about the time: they're living in general time frames, they're the people who tell you that they'll meet you at sevenish, around eight or so, in the neighborhood of three. It's against their nature, you see, to be exactly there on the dot, and boy does that make a lot of people mad, because you see there are people whose genes are the opposite: there are weird, misguided, uptight, anxiety-ridden people who must live in perfect time zones, whose every moment of every day is planned and precisely targeted. These poor souls go absolutely bonkers when they meet someone like me, when they have to work with someone like me, even when they try to be friends with someone like me.
Those of us who have a more relaxed sense of time have to pray for people like them. It's not their fault after all that they've been cursed with slightly malformed, uptight genes. We have to pray for them, and at times, in Christian charity, I suppose we even have to try to be a little bit more on time. There are recorded instances, you know, of people having heart attacks and bursting blood vessels while waiting for someone like me to arrive a little late.
I don't know, maybe I'm prejudiced, but somehow I don't think that Jesus was too concerned about the time. There are lots of instances in the Gospels where he seems to be running overtime, where some uptight disciples are urging him to get going, to leave the throngs of people seeking to talk to him, to touch him, to just be near him. And like good handlers or schedulers the disciples almost have to drag him away from the crowds to get on to the next place.
And yet we have the story in today's Gospel that Jesus himself tells about the five bridesmaids who weren't ready on time and had to go out at the last minute and buy some oil and in doing so, they missed the wedding. The five who were prepared on time got in, the others were left outside, pleading at the door. "'Master, master!', they cried, 'Open the door for us.' But he answered, 'Sorry, Charlie, too late for the date, tempus fugit, time flies on high, you're out of here, dudes!'
The story is about being on-time-wise, the kind of wisdom that is spoken of in the book of Wisdom: being wisely on time to meet your maker, being ready and prepared when God comes to the door to take you home. And that's not the kind of date where you can say, uhh, can we meet a nineish, around six thirty or so Lord, how about in the neighborhood of four?
No. God says "It’s Nine O One, Baby", and He means IT’S NINE O ONE, ready or not here I come. And that's the point about it, are you ready, or not?
Suppose you leave this place and He's waiting out there waving the flags at the finish line, right outside on the sidewalk---ready or not, here I am---you think you're ready? Me, if that happened to me outside after Mass, I'd still have to go back inside to get the oil for the lamp, I can tell you, with my sense of timing, I'm probably not going to be ready. My cousin Mary, Miss always-on-time, she’ll be there before He arrives, will probably even let Him know exactly how long she's been waiting.
Which brings us to the question----what if we're not like Murphy waiting at the door? What if we come in at the time of the creed? What will happen to us then?
Well, we've been promised that all is not lost, as long as we were on the way there at the time the alarm goes off. We may just have to be purged a little bit, that's the point of All Souls Day, you know, the reason for the names we've placed up on the altar. Most of us aren't really ready, and Purgatory is probably the waiting room set up for all the times we've kept everybody else waiting, God, especially. We pray for the souls in Purgatory, to make it easier and faster for them. I remember when I was little there were prayers you could pray for people in Purgatory, and if you prayed that particular prayer, it would take an hour off their time. I could never get into the exactness of that, given my time genes, but I think there's something to it, nonetheless.
The problem is that we aren’t usually living in the moment, right? The daily issues of life---paying our credit card bills, getting the toilet fixed, obsessing over how we are being treated by someone—distract us from recognizing that God is standing right behind that door or behind that face on the subway, or in the community of people who are living in other apartments in your building or even in the happy, barking dog leaping onto your shoulders. Using a popular term of the moment, we are not ‘woke’ to the miracles or the evils occurring right now all around us.
One solution is prayer. Every day some kind of prayer. You know what prayer can do? It can focus you, it can sensitize you, call you out of your everyday sleepwalk. There is a particular kind of Jesuit prayer called the Ignatian Examen—it’s a simple six step, five minute routine that you can do multiple times a day to return the focus, to get you back at the door, ready and willing to recognize how God is present in your every moment.
The point is, as it says in the Gospel, if you are wise, you will be like Murphy.
You will "Keep your eyes open, for you know not the day or the hour". The more we believe that God could walk through that door----ready or not, here I am----the happier we should be, the more loving we should act. Because being ready and on time for God means just that---we are on time to the second loving those around us, we are there on the hour every hour, at the touch of a button, on call any time of day or night with an expression of our love: it’s nine o clock, I love you--there in love for our wife, husband, mother, father, brother, sister, neighbor, stranger, it’s two o clock I love you, it’s five thirty, I love you, it’s seven fifteen, I love you.
It’s not so much about the quantity as it is the quality of the time we spend that begins from the moment we are born into it to the moment we come to the finish line.
Ready or not, here it comes…the Kingdom of God that awaits us all. So, be like Murphy, be woke and beready to bark and leap your way to heaven. It’s right nowwwwwww!