Of birds and bricks

I take the marker lodged in my book for the last Sunday of year C and move it to the first Sunday of year A. In the gesture of a moment, I have wiped out three years! I begin again the journey through the 156 Sundays of our triennial cycle. The good things I have done these past three years are all mixed up with the bad, the seeds with the weeds. What goes around comes around – but each time it is different.

We often give thanks for the gift of life. ‘Bliss was it that dawn to be alive but to be young was very heaven’ (Wordsworth). The gift means we have time and space to do things. Yet Pope Francis tells us that between these two – time and space – there is a tension (The Joy of the Gospel, #222). We want to get things done, to have something to show for our efforts, but we often find we have limited success. We say we need more time. Francis says we are called to ‘work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results’.

We are like the bricklayer whose task is to lay now one brick, now another. He does not see the finished building. His task is only the here and now; to use the time he has to do as good a job as he can.

In NE Turkey there is an area of wetland which is a haven for birds migrating from north to south and from east to west. It sings with insect life and of course, they are the birds’ food.  A Turkish American ornithologist visits these lands every year to monitor them and to study the huge number of birds that pass through. But now, he says, there is a threat.  The Turkish government wants to build a huge dam in the area and, if they do, it will at a stroke wipe out this sanctuary for the birds.

So this Turkish man is working hard to inform the public and the government of the impending disaster.  He is trying to set in motion processes that will eventually save the wetlands.  We now know that you cannot harm one area of nature without harming the whole.  We can easily imagine people being impatient with the idea of birds holding up human progress.  But today we are educated enough about climate change to know that a huge dam may solve an immediate problem but it may well also set in motion an irremediable catastrophe.

Perhaps this is an example of what Pope Francis means: the preference we unreflectively have to ‘get things done’ without being prepared for the long process of examining the implications and making the right choices, choices that will only be appreciated by people yet unborn.

Year A of Advent kicks off with the message ‘Stay awake’. In the next three years there are many ways in which we are called to be awake.

1 December 2019                    Advent Sunday 1 A

Isaiah 2:1-5                              Romans 13:11-14                    Matthew 24:37-44

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