The beautifully written conclusion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby tells us that “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning— …” Yes, one fine morning… one fine morning that never arrives.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. That old saying seems fitting as a theme for this weekend’s readings. We simply cannot wait for “one fine morning.” The Psalmist makes it clear: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Oftentimes, though, at least in my life, I find that I am not hardening my heart, but rather delaying a proper response. Yes, I’ll pray more… starting tomorrow, or beginning with Advent, or when things aren’t so busy. Yes, I know I should work against this particular vice, but it’s too much work right now. Yes, I know I could do more for people, work more often at the soup kitchen, take time to visit nursing home residents, or weed through my wardrobe to see what I could donate to those less fortunate. But I’m busy right now. I’ll do it soon. Maybe tomorrow. “One fine morning.”
At Boston College, one of my professors in theology introduced me to the sacramental practice of a memento mori, a reminder of death. Out of her Latina Catholic tradition, she displays a skull on her bookshelf. It is a daily reminder that death could come at any time. In the words of the Psalmist, “You make an end of them in their sleep;/ the next morning they are like the changing grass,/ Which at dawn springs up anew,/ but by evening wilts and fades.” And so, I have a little skeleton now that sits on my bookshelf. I call him Morrie, and I hope he does his job of reminding me to stop putting off the good works that I ought to do today, for it may be my only chance. Today is all we have.
Are you at all like me? What are you putting off that should be accomplished today? Are you withholding forgiveness? Forgive today! Are you planning a better prayer life later on? Pray today! Are you going to do all kinds of wonderful things once you retire? Do some wonderful things today! Are you caught up in material possessions and need to simplify to make room for God in your life? Simplify today! As for me, I am confident that I am preaching to myself right now. I hope I have the wisdom to put into practice what I write. But, it will not happen for you or for me except if we cooperate with the grace of God. And so, I encourage you to join me in making the Psalmist’s petition our own: “Teach us to number our days aright,/ that we may gain wisdom of heart.”
A few years back, I had the privilege of serving as the chair of the local library board. One thing I learned in my three-year tenure was that there are never enough funds for everything we want to do. Our budget ends up reflecting our values. When something was truly a priority, we found a way to budget for it. In a similar way, Jesus asks us to think about our priorities. What do we really value? Does our budgeting of time and money reflect this? Can we really say something is our highest priority if we don’t budget the time and the resources for it? In Jesus’ parable about the rich man, God says, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Reflecting on the parable, Jesus reminds us to focus on our priorities, how we budget life itself. “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves, but are not rich in what matters to God.”
This is a challenging set of readings for sure. Although I think my priorities are right, I am not so certain that my ability to procrastinate doesn’t get in the way. Spiritual procrastination allows me to budget my time on this earth as if it were limitless. I am like the Great Gatsby, thinking that “tomorrow we will run faster.” But all we have is today, not “one fine morning.” Someone far greater than Gatsby is gently giving us a memento mori. Are you hearing it, too? “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”