A married couple in Illinois named Ken and Anita had six children. Though Anita raised her children as Christians, Ken himself was not at all religious—though he was otherwise a good man—and Anita prayed every day that the Lord would reveal Himself to her husband. One summer afternoon Ken took the entire family to Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs play the Cincinnati Reds. They sat in two rows in the outfield bleachers, with four-year-old Janet directly in front of Ken. Just after the game started, Ken heard very clearly in his mind the words “Janet is going to be hit on her forehead by a fly ball; if you don’t take action, she will be seriously injured or killed.” Ken was stunned; he didn’t know if the message had come from God or from an angel, but he was sure he hadn’t imagined it, and he had no doubt this warning must be taken seriously. The question was: what should he do in response? The message hadn’t said when this would happen; the family would understandably complain if he made them all leave to go home in the 1st inning, and it wasn’t practical for him to grab Janet and walk around the stadium with her for the next few hours just to keep her safe. “Maybe,” Ken thought, “I could rehearse for a fly ball by reaching in front of Janet and shielding her face with my arm.” He tried it, and found it would work—but could he do this fast enough? For the next few minutes he drilled himself, quickly placing his arm in front of Janet’s head—causing the fans around him to look at him strangely, his family to look embarrassed, and little Janet to complain, “Daddy, what are you doing? I can’t see!”
A moment later Pete Rose swung and hit the baseball on a laser-like trajectory into the outfield seats, right at Janet’s head. Knowing what was going to happen, Ken reacted without thinking and threw his left arm over his daughter’s forehead. His arm caught the full impact of the ball, and soon began swelling up and hurting terribly—but Ken didn’t care, as he had saved his daughter. That night, unable to sleep because of the throbbing of his arm, Ken lay awake and wondered what had happened. Was it a warning from his daughter’s guardian angel, or his own, or just a father’s intuition? Then he remembered an incident from a few years earlier, in which, warned ahead of time by a dream, he alertly saved his little son from drowning just in the nick of time. Ken suddenly realized that God had been caring for him and his family all along, and that this expression of love was a persistent invitation or summons by the Lord to love Him in return. Ken got the message, and in his gratitude, began placing a much higher priority on living out his faith (Joan Anderson, Where Miracles Happen, p. 92). Just as a father’s love prompted him to be ready to protect his children, our Heavenly Father wants us to be ready for whatever may come—and we do this by deepening our relationship with Him.
Jesus urges us in the Gospel to be prepared, for as He says, “at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come,” and St. Paul warns, “it is the hour for [us] to awake from sleep, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” So often we think about the end of the world in a spirit of worry or fear, but it doesn’t have to be that way; if we are living out our faith, we are indeed prepared to meet the Lord, and it will be a joyful experience for us. The prophet Isaiah uses images of peace and prosperity to describe the coming of God’s Kingdom, and St. Paul reassures us we can ready for this glorious event if we are living as children of the light. This is how we fulfill Our Lord’s command in the Gospel to “stay awake!,” and this is how we will be able to live in a spirit of gratitude and peace and trust, no matter what may be happening in the world around us.
A family was discussing at Sunday dinner the sermon they had heard in church that morning on the subject of the Lord’s Second Coming. The teenage son said he still had a lot of questions about Christ’s return at the end of the world, so the father tried his best to answer them, and concluded by saying, “We don’t have all the answers we might like, but we do have all we need to know: namely, the best preparation is simply to live each day as if it were our last.” The teenager promptly objected, “But Dad, I tried that once—and you grounded me for a month!” (Michael Hogdin, 1001 More Humorous Illustrations, #317). Being ready for the end of the world, or for our own deaths, doesn’t primarily mean, of course, squeezing in as many fun experiences as possible; while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with enjoying life or checking off items on our own “bucket list” before we die, each of us have much more important spiritual duties toward ourselves and our loved ones. Are we truly practicing our faith? Is God genuinely at the center of our lives? Are we giving our loved ones a good example, and influencing and helping them to follow Jesus ever more closely? Do we try to make some quiet time for the Lord each day? Are we sincerely sorry for our sins, and truly willing to forgive those who’ve sinned against us? If we can answer “yes” to these questions, we have nothing to fear regarding the future; if we’re falling short in one or more of these areas, the Lord gives us the opportunity—though of a limited and unknown duration—to repent and make ourselves ready for our encounter with Him.
Each year the Church offers us this holy season of Advent as an opportunity not only to prepare ourselves for Christmas, but also to think about our own future and reflect on the meaning or purpose of life. The world preaches materialism, pleasure, and self-fulfillment—but Jesus warns in the Gospel that many people will be so busy eating and drinking and working to acquire earthly wealth that they’ll be completely caught off guard by His return. We must not allow that to happen to us, and due to our access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the teachings and devotions and other spiritual resources of the Church, we as Catholics have no excuse for being unready. If a father could act upon a mysterious warning and a dream to save his children from injury or death, the way Ken did, how much more should we act upon the words of Jesus given to us in the Gospel today. At a time and on a day unknown to us, He is coming again—and our efforts to be prepared for our encounter with Him will almost certainly be numbered among the most important things we have ever done.