May 25, 2019

Valuing the Moment

Imagine, if you will, that one second after midnight this morning, a bank account was opened in your name with $86,400 in it.  The money in that bank account is all yours and you can do whatever you want to with it.  You can spend it, invest it or be extravagant and give it away if you want to.  It is your money.  But the bank account was given to you with one stipulation.  The money in the account must be used today because at the end of the day, the bank account will be closed and you will forfeit whatever money that is left in the account.  You cannot withdraw the money and save it for tomorrow.  The money must be used or spent today.

What would you do?  That’s a silly question I know.  You would draw the money out and spend it, right?  Who wouldn’t?

Well in reality that is exactly what happens to us every single day of our life.  I’m sure that you’ve all heard the old saying that time is money.  Remember that there are 86,400 seconds in every day.  And this time that is given to us every day is something that we can only make use of at the moment.  We cannot save up all these seconds and make use of them at some future time.  We must make use of them as they are received.

I bring this subject up because we are now several weeks into a brand new year.  We’ve watched another year slip by and we watched the New Year dawn.  So at the start of this brand new year, we have an opportunity to consider and evaluate just how we have been spending the time that we’ve been given.

In 2008, Dream Works Animation produced a film titled “Kung Fu Panda”.  I hope you had an opportunity to see it.  It is a delightful animated film that features a clumsy overweight panda named Po who dreams of becoming a Kung Fu expert.  The current Kung Fu master is an elderly tortoise named Oogway.  In one scene, Oogway is trying to calm the anxieties of the panda’s mentor, whose name is Shifu, because this mentor is all upset over the day’s events.  Oogway, the master, encourages the mentor by telling him that, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift – that is why they call it “the present”.

The obvious lesson that the tortoise is trying to teach, is how important it is to recognize the value of every day.  The only guarantee that we have in life is the present moment.  Every second we’ve been given in life is a gift.  And we have complete freedom to spend this gift any way we choose.  We can spend it wisely, or we can be extravagant and throw it away.  But there is no greater extravagance in life than to spend this precious gift of time on worries, fears or anxieties.  What we do with these precious seconds is what is most important, because the “now” is the only guarantee that we have in life.

In Matthew’s Gospel (4:17) Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  In order to grasp the full significance of that statement, we have to recognize that Jesus is calling us to much more than just contrition for our sinful past.  For in reality, Jesus is making a very deep and profound statement.

First of all, the word “repent” means to reform our lives.  To repent is to undergo a deep and radical conversion of mind and heart.

Secondly, when Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, He is saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven arrived in your midst with my arrival.”  That’s what the word “incarnation” means, God in human form.  It is as if God was saying, “Here I am.  I became one of you so that you can now know and understand Me.”

There are those who will ask, “Well, if the Kingdom of Heaven arrived with the arrival of Jesus, was it removed from our midst when Jesus ascended into Heaven?”  The answer to that question can be also be found in Matthew’s Gospel (28:20) where Jesus says, “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven exists and it can be experienced by all believers by simply recognizing and accepting His presence in our lives.

So to fully understand the significance of that statement, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, we must look at the whole of Jesus’ life.  For by doing so, not only will we come to know and understand more about who God is, we will also come to know and understand what He meant by calling for a conversion of our mind and heart.

And what we discover in the life of Jesus is simplicity.  Simplicity expressed in living for what really matters. If we remain in the fourth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, the first thing we discover is the fact that Jesus’ preaching was very straight forward and simple.  If we rephrase Jesus’ statement using words that more comfortably fit our vocabulary, we can hear Jesus saying, “Reform your lives.  Experience a radical conversion of mind and heart for I am with you now.  Come to Me so that you can come to know, understand and experience Me.”

The second thing we discover is the simplicity of Jesus’ invitation.  “Come, follow Me.”  He didn’t ask Simon, Andrew, James and John where they received their theological training or what prior experiences they had in ministry.  He didn’t ask for a resume or conduct a background check.  No, He simply said, “Come follow Me.”

And as we read the four Gospels, we find that Jesus had much to say to His followers about how we are to live our lives.  But of all the lessons that Jesus taught, my all time favorite lesson is found in Matthew 6:34.  Jesus said, “Stop worrying about tomorrow.  Let tomorrow take care of itself.”  Or this can be restated as, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Rather dedicate yourself to living more fully today.”

Now this doesn’t mean that we are to fill every awaken moment with busy activities to make maximum use of every second of life.  No, it means just the opposite.  Jesus told us to learn how to live by watching the lilies of the field and the birds of the air; for it is there that we see what it means to live a peaceful, trusting existence.

I recently read a short little story about a Zen master who was known for his great wisdom.  This Zen master was very old and was on his deathbed.  His followers traveled from far and wide just to have an opportunity to hear the great master’s last words of wisdom.  A young disciple, staying at the master’s bedside, said, “Master, what can I do to make you more comfortable?”  The great master said, “Please go to the village and fetch me a poppy seed cake.”  “But Master,” cried the young man, “I would not want to miss your last words of wisdom.”  But the master replied, “Please fetch me a poppy seed cake.  This is my last wish.”

So the young man ran to the village and rushed from store to store till he finally found a nice, fresh poppy seed cake.  He brought it back to the great master, and the old man weakly took it in his hand and slowly began to eat it.  Then the young man, seeing how weak his master was, cried out, “Master, what is the greatest lesson you can teach me before you leave this earth?”  The master looked at the young man and with a smile on his face, and with as much strength as he could muster from his weakened body, he said, “This poppy seed cake is delicious!”  (Bits and Pieces, December 2010)

In that last sentence is the greatest piece of advice that the old master could give his young disciple.  Recognize and savor the value of every moment of your life.  We may reflect on the past, we may think about the future, but what is most important is the present moment, what we are doing right now, because the “now” is the only time in life that is absolutely guaranteed to us.  One of my most treasured memories is the advice I received from my mother.  Whenever I would share with her my concerns over past events, or my worries about what might happen, she would always calmly say, “Son, just live one day at a time.”

Jesus calls us to a deep and radical conversion of mind and heart; to a fuller appreciation of the infinite treasure that exists in every moment of life.  Every one of those seconds we’ve been given in life is a gift.  And we have complete freedom to spend this gift any way we choose.  We can spend it wisely, or we can be extravagant and throw it away on worries, fears, anxieties or destructive behavior.

I pray that this New Year may bring you peace!  May you discover the treasure that exists in every moment!  And may you spend every second of this New Year trusting in the presence and the love of God in your life.

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Written by
Deacon Donald Cox

REVEREND MR. DONALD COX is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. On June 9, 1979, Deacon Don was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden, an important American Father of the Second Vatican Council. He is currently assigned to St. Cornelius parish in Dryden, Michigan. Married and the father of three children and grandfather to four children, Deacon Don was born and raised in Detroit, and educated at St. Brigid Elementary School, Mackenzie High School, and Lawrence Technological University. His theological training was taken at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

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Written by Deacon Donald Cox