Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Do it now

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 4, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Once again ’tis the season to be jolly, right? ’Tis also the season to get snarled in traffic and squashed in line at the cash register. Last week my Monday started off jolly, but by mid-afternoon I had a experienced traffic jam and register pile-up. So much for Christmas shopping!

I should have known better. The traffic snarl lasted a frustrating 15 minutes, but the line of shoppers at the cash register was something else. I tried to make the best of my time in line, observing the actions of customers as they paid for their items. After several people passed through the line, I noticed that each shopper could have fit into one of two categories, depending upon their response to the cashier’s innocent inquiry: “Cash or card?”

Some shoppers painfully slipped greenbacks out of wallet or purse. Parting with the bits of paper had a sense of intimacy. Those bills were but one step removed from personal labor. Handing them over to the cashier was much akin to handing over a piece of self. In some instances, I could see an actual grimace on the shopper’s face as money exchanged hands with deliberate reluctance. Paying in cash involved personal investment.

There also were shoppers who whipped out the plastic money – the infamous credit cards. For these, the impatience of waiting in line was only intensified by the extreme wait – a whole 60 seconds or so! – for the computer to validate the purchase. Cards were plucked quickly from wallet or purse, flipped on the counter with a near carefree spirit, and deftly squirreled away for future use.

A noticeable element of impersonalism was evident in the exchanges. Unlike cash, credit cards are rather distant from personal involvement. The relationship between purchaser and money is far from immediate. Credit cards not only have become symbols of a certain economic status, they also postpone the inevitable responsibility for payment. Their use comes easily – “far too easily,” we often hear card-holders complain. My observations offered choice material for an Advent reflection.

The Scripture readings during Advent once again will bring us face-to-face with John the Baptist and his call to conversion. “Repent! Change your ways! The Way of God is at hand!” – his stern, prophetic voice echoes through the centuries to our very own day. This beady-eyed man who lived off grasshoppers and wild honey spoke with a sense of urgency. Do it now!

Like shoppers eager for the gift of salvation, all of us, deep down, search for the Way of God in our lives. Our hunger is the deepest of human yearnings. We hear from catechism class, pulpits, and even TV evangelists that God is close, with an embrace of welcoming and saving love. God is there for the willful asking. But the summons to God’s life itself sets the framework for our spiritual struggle. Grace, or the relationship with God, does not come cheap.

Regardless how contemporary our era may be, the fundamental question presented by John the Baptist on the River Jordan’s bank remains central: conversion and repentance. When people responded to John’s call to conversion and were immersed in the waters of the Jordan, they were paying in cash. The gesture of their bath of conversion manifests personal openness of heart to the Way of God. Self-will and sin had to be set aside for God to be recognized and accepted as the true and lasting source of life. The scene in his day – and ours – was hardly a gleeful leap into bubbling water. Conversion is a conscious – and sometimes painful – decision to say “yes” to God’s invitation. The exchange is deeply personal and immediate. It calls for an investment of the soul. And the question must be dealt with now. It can be postponed, but only to our own detriment.

The prophet in hairshirt had to deal with those who tried to sneak by with only the pretense or show of repentance. “Brood of vipers!” he called them. Yes, there are always those who try to gain the Way of God on credit, putting off the real question until late; baptismal certificates and even church attendance can be championed as evidence of “having arrived.” They can even be offered as evidence of no further need for true repentance. They can be used as proof of sinlessness.

Our minds and hearts are preoccupied with the approaching feast of Christmas, when we celebrate God’s overwhelming and unconditionally generous love for us in Jesus. Let’s be honest. We probably do not appreciate some hairy-faced prophet’s nose in our face, calling us to conversion. Yet the proclamation of the Gospel is always preceded with the summons from John. Only those who need salvation, only those who recognize the genuine need in their broken and sinful lives for the embrace of a personal savior – only those willing to convert – will know the full meaning of the birthday story told yet again on Dec. 25.

Before Christmas can happen, the truth of the heart must be confessed. We hunger. We sin. We mess up. We need to be saved. There are only a few more conversion days before Christmas. Do it now...!

(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)

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