Monday, December 27, 2010

Our Bucket List

I just watched a rather interesting movie called “The Bucket List”, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. I know it is a rather old movie, made in 2007, but I hardly have many opportunities to watch movies when they are released. It’s one of those things that I wish I had time for, but my days off seem to be peppered with so many other things to accomplish.

The story revolves around two people (the characters played by Nicholson and Freeman) and how they end up sharing the same hospital room to undergo intensive chemotherapy for their cancer. A friendship develops between them and they both find out that their days are numbered. The rest of the story involves their ‘bucket list’ of things to do, and places to visit before they ‘kick-the-bucket’, thus the title. It’s one of those ‘feel good’ movies, where I suppose the intention of the director is to make the viewers walk out of the cinema hall with a new zeal to face and tackle the vicissitudes and challenges of daily living.

It would not be so bad an idea if we write our own bucket list as well, even though we may be alive and well, without the threat of an end of our lives anywhere in sight. What would this bucket list contain?

If we are idealistic and really hopeful, I am sure that it would include visiting many places that we would only read about or visit through the world of the television or the Internet. But it would be sad if the list were only full of physical places and nothing to do at all with visiting hearts and touching them as well.

What would we use as our gauge? The Wonders of the World? The Eyewitness Travel guides? Maybe the Michelin Guide to the Restaurants of the World. If money were no object, these may well be the lists that would influence our choices. But would they bring us to any sense of real fulfillment and achievement when we finally do lie on our deathbed?

From time to time, it would be good if we revisit Matthew 25. I daresay that it will bring us to places far more important and impactful than any of the above guides may recommend, because it speaks of visiting not places but lives.

Perhaps another gauge that will guide our list is to ask ourselves what our dearest and nearest will be thankful for to us when we are at our life’s end. Will our employees thank us for teaching them greed and how to be power hungry, or will they thank us for imparting honesty and integrity in the workplace? Will our spouses thank us for taking us around the world and to fine restaurants or will they thank us for not taking them for granted? Will our children thank us for giving them a wealthy family to belong to, or do they have a sense to know that true wealth comes because dad and mum have imparted to them a great love for God and how to do his will?

The New Year is just round the corner, and lots of people will be making resolutions. If you are one of those who do take part in this ritual, perhaps after reading this blog entry, you will think a bit deeper, reach a bit further, and love with a larger heart.

One of the best lines of the movie comes at the beginning and at the end, when the narrator reminds us how to die with closed eyes but an open heart.

May you have a blessed, holy and grace-filled 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The mercy of the messy first Christmas

Throughout the world, in just about every Church ground, or near the Sanctuary area around Christmas time, there will be a manger scene or Christmas crib on display. Some are life-size, some in miniature. They will inevitably feature the images of the holy couple Joseph and Mary, some shepherds, and the obligatory animals in the form of oxen or sheep. The prime spot of attention will undoubtedly be a tiny baby lying on some straw. Strangely, this baby is hardly ever in the proper scale of how a newborn should be, in relation to the scale of the images of his parents, Joseph and Mary. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just look carefully the next time you see the crib. The baby is always enormously out of proportion. I find this to be a pity, because if the baby is really in proportion to the size of the other figures, it will really bring home the point of how vulnerable God made himself through the incarnation.

Whether the figure of Jesus is out of proportion or not, the sentiment when viewing the crib, the feeling that sweeps over one’s heart, is often “look at the poor baby Jesus”. Yes, his surroundings are indeed poor and barren – after all, mangers are feeding areas for farm animals, and they would hardly be the place considered sanitized enough to be a place to give birth to a child. These areas must be habitats of bacteria and are places that are fit only to give birth to animals at best.

What should strike us at the heart about Christmas and the Christmas Crib is not a “poor Jesus” sentiment, but rather that God looked on at humanity and saw the way we needed to be saved and said “you poor people”, causing him to take on our frail and mortal human nature to show us how to truly be human.

That crib, that state of poverty, that visual diorama of unavailability and being closed for anything divine - is representative of our hearts and minds. We are in dire need of God’s entry point to give us a new direction in life apart from ourselves, and when we can’t see that, we miss the point of each Christmas Crib. When sentimentality is all we have when viewing the Crib, we are blinded to the fact that the Crib is in fact the state of our world and our lives. And the wonderful news about Christmas is that no place is too foreign, too dirty, too unhygienic, too dark, too dank and too smelly for God to enter in.

A priest once said so wisely at Christmas Mass that in the incarnation, God has changed a messy world into a mercy world. He didn’t wait for it to become perfect and sanitized before coming. In fact, it was because it was that messy that he came. But that’s not us, is it? We will only wait for something to be perfect before moving, wait until someone deserves forgiveness before we offer it, and wait for love to be appreciated before giving our hearts. Christmas (and the Paschal mystery) shows us how we constantly miss the point.

And for that, we have to be truly grateful at Christmas Eucharist. May all my weekly readers have a blessed and transformed Christmas.

God love you all.

Monday, December 6, 2010