It’s easy to think, sometimes, that our lives are on a steady and pretty much predictable—even boring—course. That the days are standard-issue: we get out of bed, do our morning routines, go to work, see the same people, come home again. Our lives are punctuated by events—birthdays, moments of career advancement, new relationships, even expected deaths—that are themselves as routine as the contexts in which they nest. We even complain, sometimes, at how unexciting things can seem to be.
And then in a single searing moment that all changes.
I’ve been reminded of that lately when considering the news. Mass shootings at nightclubs, at places of worship, at a yoga studio: normal people living out normal lives that are unexpectedly and forever altered, shattered, even ended. Wildfires in California wiping out entire neighborhoods. The most active and powerful hurricane season ever in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.
And it only takes a moment, a second even, for everything to change—forever. Life is inalterably different. Whether it’s a road accident, a shooting, a sudden storm, a wildfire, you find yourself wanting to go back in time, take a different route to the grocery store, decide to not go dancing that evening after all, call in sick to work. How many times have you wished for a do-over, from the simplest of difficulties like biting down on the peanut that chipped your tooth, to the most horrible of scenarios, like the moment you found out your nephew overdosed and died? If I could just go back five minutes….
One of the hallmarks of life is it unpredictability, and part of that deal is we have to behave and think and do as if it weren’t going to happen—because no one can live in constant fear of what “might” be. We all have to get on with our lives; the rest is up to God. That’s what Luke is talking about in today’s Gospel reading. “As it was in the days of Noah,” Jesus says, “so it will be in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; on the day when Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all.”
That’s a pretty bleak picture, isn’t it? Everything was just fine… until it wasn’t. Eating and drinking, marrying, going about one’s usual everyday activities with no notion that it was all about to end. It’s a little like watching a horror film you’ve seen before: you’re willing the actor to not open that door, because you know what’s behind it.
But it’s not the same as the door in a horror film, is it? Because the second part of the passage tells us that there’s something far more important than the lives we’ve grown so attached to. When Jesus returns, it will be with that same suddenness. You won’t have time to go and pack a bag, or call a friend or relative: it will happen in an instant.
And that’s the real message: knowing as we do that anything can happen at any time—including the return of Christ—we need to be prepared. We might not be able to pack our clothing up, but there are things we can do to be ready. Is there someone you need to apologize to? Do it now; don’t wait. Does someone need to know you love them? Tell them now. Are you feeling angry about something that happened a long time ago? Let it go now.
And do the things that are what will help you be ready for whatever lies ahead. Pray. Go to Mass and confession. Read scripture. Follow the Gospel edicts and take care of the poor, the lonely, the hungry. Do all the things you keep telling yourself that you’ll get to eventually but never really seem to manage.
Because if the current news and the Gospel have one thing in common, it’s this: do it now. You may not be the person who decides at what point you won’t be able to do—or say—whatever you feel is unfinished. Accepting and living that acceptance is the best way to keep regret away and be as ready as possible for whatever the future holds.
Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.