When is the Time Right? Will I be Ready?
People ask me the question now and again, “How will I know when the time is right? And will I be ready?” I give them an answer I’ve heard other people give, “You’ll just know when the time is right. And if you’re not ready, you have to be honest with yourself.” Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder if I believe what I’m saying.
Last Friday we received word of the death of Joanne Ellinger, a long-time parishioner at St. John. I don’t know a lot of details about Joanne’s life. But she always sat in the first row by the piano at the 8:30 Sunday morning mass until about a year ago. She always had a smile, and was kind and welcoming. She would stop by to see me on her way out of church and we would visit, nothing particularly memorable, just some pleasant conversation about the weather, her daily aches and pains, and not a hint of impatience or frustration. I very much admired that about her. Nothing would take her peace of mind and heart. Two weeks ago, she went to the hospital. Her doctor said her treatment wasn’t producing the results they anticipated. So they were sending her home to hospice care. When I visited her, she was her same cheerful self. And when I spoke to her daughter on the evening after hearing of her death, she said her mother went peacefully, that she was ready. Maybe Joanne can answer that question “When is the right time?” She went peacefully, her daughter said. Is it safe to say she was ready?
About three years ago, a young couple came to see me about getting married. I wasn’t convinced they were ready, but I didn’t tell them that. Usually with the rigorous process the diocese requires of engaged couples, there are enough built-in opportunities to reconsider a hasty decision, or grow in their understanding of the marriage covenant. Well, they finally got married Saturday, and I am a whole lot more confident they were ready then. It may have taken them longer than most. They had not set a date or rented a reception hall until they got through the discernment process, which I thought was wise. They took the process seriously. I could tell they did some much needed growing up. They did not have to pretend to be people they were not.
Every so often a parishioner will approach me. “I’ve been coming to church with my Catholic family for 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 years. I think it’s time.” YOU THINK? But truly, no one can tell us when it’s time. When it’s time, we will know.
In two weeks, a small group of our young people will present themselves to the bishop for the sacrament of Confirmation. It seems every year we have to deal with some crisis of faith, and a few half-hearted declarations of readiness for the sacrament. I have to sit down with each candidate to gently remind them what it means to ask for Confirmation. Now I have never told anyone this year wasn’t their year, or that they best sit out for now. I would never presume to know what the Holy Spirit is trying to accomplish in their lives. But I do ask them to be honest with themselves. Readiness for the truly important events in our lives is not always going to be a certainty. But there has to be a willingness to trust that God is hard at work, and will bring to completion the good he has begun. You will know when you’re ready. And if you have confidence that God knows what he is doing, you have no reason to fear. God will work with whatever we give.
When Jesus determined it was time to return to the Father, he didn’t consult with his apostles to see if they were ready. If he had asked them, they probably would have preferred he stayed much longer. But he assured them he would be present to them still, although in a different way, through his Word that they would proclaim to the nations, and through accompanying signs—including perhaps some of the things the gospel mentions, like driving out demons and speaking in tongues, being unharmed by snakes or poison, and healing the sick. Some people put much more emphasis on the accompanying signs. They are not the measure of success. More important is that Jesus instructed them to “go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
What Jesus asked of his apostles makes sense in light of what he himself tried to accomplish in his own public ministry. He desired to make his Father known to all the world, through obedience to his Father’s will, through signs and wonders that showed his power and authority over all creation, through the proclamation of the Good News of our reconciliation and restoration to friendship with God. He was clearly convinced of the urgency and importance of the work entrusted to him by the Father. And he tried to impart to his followers a similar sense of urgency and importance. Their effectiveness would hinge on the conviction that their contribution to the mission he received from the Father was of vital importance, that they could make it happen!
St. Paul speaks of this urgency and importance in his letter to the Ephesians. “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.“ His eloquence shows his conviction about Jesus’ mission, its urgency and importance. And when he experienced his call to mission on the road to Damascus, he also received sufficient understanding and conviction to sustain him for the duration of his ministry. He would not be hindered by hardship or persecution. From the moment he first proclaimed the gospel, to the Jews, and then the Gentiles, Paul was driven by a force much larger than himself, truly a manifestation of God’s Spirit at work in him in wondrous ways.
Jesus is no longer present among us in the manner he was present to his apostles. But he is present in his Word proclaimed and preached, in the Holy Sacrament of his Body and Blood, in the person of his ministers, and in the assembly that gathers and prays in his name. The urgency and importance of his mission to reveal his Father to the world, he has entrusted to his disciples. Through the ages, we have witnessed the power and majesty of God’s Spirit in the preaching and example of holy women and men who have taken up the mission Jesus entrusted to his church. That same mission is entrusted to us. “How will we know when the time is right? And are we ready to contribute our part?” We look forward to the feast of Pentecost and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. But we have already received the Holy Spirit. What will it take for us to realize the urgency and importance of Jesus’ mission? What will motivate us to heed his instruction to “go to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature?” He has poured out on us his Spirit, and along with the Spirit we have an abundance of courage, strength, conviction, joy, peace. Do we still ask whether the time is right? Do we still doubt our own readiness?
Rolo B Castillo © 2015