Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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
Time to account
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Nov. 12, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
Just recently, a priest friend of mine and I put our calendars together to enjoy an evening meal together. During the meal we could not help but notice the commotion raised by the party at the booth across from ours. A group of businessmen was already seated there when we arrived. Fully engaged in their meal, they seemed to be having a delightful time. All the “extras” seemed to come to the table, one after another. After some time, we overheard the request made to the waiter – “The bill, please.” With customary politeness, the waiter brought the bill, neatly packaged in its customary black folder of confidentiality.
The yelp “What?!” could have been heard from the street outside! The alarmed group called for the waiter and began questioning every detail of the bill. Keeping his professional cool, the waiter calmly observed, “Sirs, you merely got what you ordered. The bill is correct.”
Knowing the truth of his statement and realizing that they had no ultimate recourse (except maybe doing the dishes) the men paid the bill – but not without much grunting and grumbling. I even heard one mumble something about a lawsuit!
My friend quipped to me, “I hope they fare better at the Pearly Gates!” … and that led to an interesting conversation between the two of us about accountability for our actions before God.
Jokes abound about that proverbial moment when each of us must stand alone before the judgment seat of God. St. Peter often is pictured as the Great Gate-keeper. Angels guard the doors. (St. Michael, of course!) An element common to the scene is the imaginary Big Black Book in which are recorded all the good and bad we have done during the course of our lives – the final bill, as it were, after feasting at life’s generously spread table. In many jokes the scene moves to a final judgment: heaven for the righteous, hell for the big sinners, and maybe a time of purgation for the questionable.
The great moment of being held accountable. Do we embrace it or dread it? Not a bad question to raise during this month of November, when our Catholic piety bids us pray for the dead.
My friend and I mutually bemoaned the fact that we all seem to have lost somewhat a sense of ultimate accountability before God. We may sense accountability in relation to employers, the law, and perhaps family members, but what about accountability before God? Perhaps we are lulled into thinking that an all-loving God has dismantled the Pearly Gates themselves and put St. Peter to work in another part of the Kingdom.
Whether we like it or not, we do get what we choose. At the proverbial Pearly Gates there will be no surprises – unless we have grown dull to the ramification of our choices and actions. Morally speaking, we can live according to the classical Roman adage, famous for its emptiness: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Like the men who were surprised at the amount of their restaurant bill, we can cry out What?! all we want. There is no one to blame but ourselves. We merely get what we have ordered. Things add up – for good or for bad.
Although images of St. Peter, archangels and Pearly Gates religiously color our description of the moment of ultimate accountability, deep within our self-awareness, we do know that it is a reality-to-come. Each of our actions – large or small – carries an inherent dimension of accountability. Through our actions and choices we both give expression to who we are and at the same time create the kind of person we are becoming. We bear in our identity (“on our soul”) the menu we have selected. There is a dimension of “blessing” or “punishment” which accompanies all we do.
Morally speaking, we are capable of walking life’s path toward heavenly glory or to a self-centered hell of loneliness and isolation from all that is good, including God. As sons and daughters of God we are created good and know in the depths of our being the vocation to full and everlasting life in God. Heaven isn’t a place; it’s state of being – fully happy, at that. Our conscience persistently obliges us to do good and pursue it. It also obliges us to avoid evil. Whenever we submit to evil’s temping delights through sin, we harm our God-given dignity. Sin in any form is sub-human. In any degree of its intensity or manifestation it holds no acceptable place in the course of truly human actions and choices.
The only way we will not spend eternity in everlasting bliss is if we reject God’s invitation to fullness of life. Each of our actions (implicitly or explicitly) reflects our response to that saving and loving grace-full call to holiness. Only a false sense of conscience brags of an independence from being held accountable before the ultimate Source of our being, before God. Sooner or later – and always sooner than we expect – our earthly life ends and we are who we have chosen to become. The bill must be paid.
There are no surprises for us at the Pearly Gates. At any moment we can tell how we stand before God, and how well we are doing. Like the carefree businessmen at the restaurant, we may neglect what we are ordering (choosing) along the way, but in the end everything adds up – not in quantity but in the measure of the kind of person we have become as the result of our free choices. In the end, God does not weigh the package and make some calculated decision. At all moments in time, we know that the bill is coming, as it were. It is ours to choose if we will live with heavenly prudence or with the pretence that there is no ultimate accountability. For those who strive to make good choices and live according to the light of God’s truth, there need be no fear in asking, “The bill, please.”
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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