“Coming up Against Eternity and Eternity Entering into our Lives,” Lk 13 and Ex 3 (3/24/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
A conversion or a powerful encounter with God often involves one of two things. Often either we come up against eternity or eternity enters into our lives. Our Gospel points us in the first direction, our coming up against eternity. And our reading from Exodus points us in the second direction, eternity entering into our lives.
Let’s first consider our coming up against eternity. Jesus is told of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. When the blood begins to flow, we take things seriously because we know the end could be near for us too. And Jesus responds with the mention of the death of eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Were these or the ones whose blood Pilate shed more guilty than the others? “By no means” Jesus responds, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
Jesus is helping them to convert by reminding them how near death may be, how close eternity may be. He then tells them the story of the fig tree which points in the same direction. The fig tree is bearing no fruit and time is running out. The gardener begs the master to give it one more year. There’s a sense of urgency when we see time is running out for us. Something has to be done quickly. Conversion must happen now. Now or never for time is running out and we are coming up against eternity. This can wake people up and is one way conversions or powerful encounters with God can come about. We might say “Tomorrow…Eternity.” It can help change the way we live if we remember, tomorrow we may be leaving this life to enter into eternity. Tomorrow, Eternity.
The is how the conversion took place of Augustine Baker. He was a somewhat influential English Benedictine and spiritual writer of the 17th century. He was a fallen away Catholic, studying Law at school. At the side of his brother who was on his deathbed, Augustine was unable to even pray the Lord’s Prayer with his dying brother. A little time later, Augustine was crossing a bridge during a rain storm. The river overtook the bridge so it seemed Augustine would be swept away. He cried out to God and he was spared. He reflected: if God so took care of him while he had been so neglectful of God, how loving this God must be and how he, little man that he is, ought to devote himself more to this loving God.
It took Augustine Baker being on the brink of death, bumping against eternity, to wake up and convert to the Lord. And it worked and he lived a fervent Catholic life for the rest of his years within a reform movement in the Benedictines.
So these conversions or powerful encounters with God often happen when we come up against eternity. It can happen in dramatic ways like this or in a more causal way, recognizing that like the fig tree my time is marked out and eternity is not so far away.
So that’s our coming up against eternity. But it can happen the other way too. Eternity can enter into our lives and can also cause a powerful experience of God or a conversion. So in our reading from Exodus, Moses is tending the flock of his father-in-law. He’s going about his daily business. But then Eternity enters into his life and confronts him. The Divine enters his life. The bush is burning but is not consumed. It is the Lord, the eternal God that Moses meets. And this too changes Moses. The eternal God has entered his life and confronted him.
St Hilary of Poitiers, from the 4th century, had a similar experience when reading our passage from Exodus in our first reading. Hilary explains this experience in the 1st book of his Treatise on the Trinity (1.5-1.7). As a young man, he was searching for the noble life. He was trying to make sense of it all and find the meaning of life. And then the meaning of life finds him. The Lord confronts Hilary in his reading of this passage from Exodus. Hilary says in reading Exodus 3:14, he was illuminated when he read that God called himself “I am who am.” It was an epiphany of God for him. Hilary says, “I was filled with admiration at such a clear definition of God…It is known that there is nothing more characteristic of God than to be…that which combines eternity with the power of an unending happiness could never not have been and always will be.” It hits Hilary in a new way that God is infinite, eternal, the unbounded fullness of perfection, the unbounded fullness of being. These words from the Lord wake him up, “I am who am.” In this moment, the eternal enters into Hilary’s life and he is changed by this powerful encounter with the Lord.
And what about ourselves? In this time of Lent, we are a bit more focused on conversion. How can we help bring it about in ourselves? Well, one helpful thing is all that I have described. We can come up against eternity. We can reflect on the shortness of life. We can say, “Tomorrow, Eternity,” for it may be. What would we want to change about our lives in light of eternity? And does not hanging over the brink of eternity help motivate us to make some changes.
Or we can reflect on how eternity has entered into our lives. We can have a burning bush experience with Moses, realizing that the eternal God has entered into our midst. Our life is not a safe distance away from God, as if in a different realm. But God has entered into our own realm. Maybe too close for comfort. The God who said “I am who am” is as close to us as the present moment, the Eternal Now, where God dwells. How do my actions look when brought before Him? The eternal God and unbounded fullness of perfection and being. How do I look when brought before Him? Would I be happy with myself being this way for eternity?
Lord, have mercy. But now at least we have entered into the spirit of Lent.
The eternal God breaks into our lives in this very Eucharist. May it help us, for very soon our lives will break into eternity.