Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

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

Bucket lists

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the February 20, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky If people said it once, they must have said it 15 times on newscasts in the hype that led up to the recent Super Bowl battle between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. Theirs was an impassioned proclamation that making it to the event was on their privileged “to-do” list before they died. To each his (her) own, a listener might muse at such an outcry, but to the one who gives voice to it, the phrase communicates an exciting sense of anticipated satisfaction all its own.

Not everything makes it onto someone’s proverbial bucket list. That page is reserved for those extra-special events or experiences which purportedly will round out someone’s life before they die. Little children and young people do not talk about bucket lists; we tend to create such things as we gain in elderly status. Given the growing consciousness that one’s life span has a finite number of years, for some a genuine rush gets underway to work through the list before the bell tolls.

“Bucket list” is a cousin reference to a more original phrase, “to kick the bucket.” Although a Google search of the phrase produces some interesting conjectures, the actual origin of the phrase is lost to history. Regardless, nowadays to “kick the bucket” is a well-recognized reference to the more blunt reality: “to die.” As popular as it is, the phrase is rather intriguing from the perspective of Christian faith. Upon carefully pondering its wording, one can wonder if its use is borne of living faith.

Such a musing came to mind earlier this this month when the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord liturgically trumped the weekend Masses for what would have been the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time. February 2 is the date set in the Church’s liturgical calendar for the feast, so it fell this year on a Sunday – and, in the culture of the United States – on Super Bowl Sunday. The Feast of the Presentation won the liturgical arm wrestle, providing the universal Church an unusual opportunity to focus its prayer on that often forgotten moment when the child Jesus is brought to the temple for his dedication. In the Gospel reading for the feast, Joseph and Mary manifest their faithfulness to Jewish religiosity and the prescripts of the Torah. That law required that the first male born into a family be dedicated to the Lord’s service. St. Luke tells us that the impoverished couple could only afford a pair of turtle doves as a stipend to the priests for the occasion.

Framing the scene of the Presentation are the elderly figures of Simeon and Anna. Both are pictured as having spent a good number of years praying for the coming of the Messiah, the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel. If anyone should have had a “bucket list,” why not these two? They clearly had put in the years and the prayer time to be accorded a few special religious experiences before they died.

Given the hype of the television newscasts, I found myself wondering if Simeon and Anna would have created for themselves the equivalent of a “bucket list.” I readily concluded that that they would not have had anything close to such a list. The proverbial bucket list identifies what individuals claim will round out the purpose of their lives, enriching them with an extra measure of meaningfulness. The implication, I guess, is that if one does not check off everything on the list, life is less rich than it could have been. Does that mean that if someone dies before anything at all is checked off the list, that his or her life is void of value?!

Looked at from this perspective, there is a curious absence of faith in the phrase. After all, what gives life its purpose and meaning? Events and experiences – small or large? Status or goals achieved before one dies? Championships or travel experiences? Should we not rather recognize that, like Simeon and Anna, being held in the embrace of God’s loving plan is itself the graced experience of the fullness that makes life’s journey meaningful and rich?

There is not the slightest hint in the Gospel scene that living long enough to give the Messiah of God a hug or kiss – or something similar – was on Simeon or Anna’s bucket list. Yes, for centuries before them, Israel had yearned and hoped for the coming of the Messiah. His appearance in human history, however, was not a just a special event to be checked off a list, but a moment of grace whose timing was totally in the heart of the God whom Israel worshipped ever so faithfully.

Why this man and woman of faith could enter the bosom of Abraham in peace – to paraphrase Simeon’s “Nunc Dimitis” – was not because they had accomplished a final dream; it was because in their own lifespan God had been faithful to a promise made consistently to those who followed in faith. At his own choosing – and not theirs – God’s word became Emmanuel, God among us. In Jesus, the child presented at the temple, that word is given in person.

In Luke’s narration of the Gospel, Simeon and Anna replicate Israel of old. Their persistent openness to God’s unfolding plan of salvation is what made their lives meaningful. One has the sense that, like so many others before them who hoped and prayed for the Day of Salvation to arrive, they died with that hope and yearning still alive in their hearts. Their hands outstretched in openness to the will of God, they “kicked the bucket” with profound peace. Simeon and Anna are figures of rich faith who call us to imitation. In emulating them, we, too, recognize that what makes our lives meaningful is what God does for and with us, not what we accomplish before we see our Maker face-to-face.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa, and also serves the diocese as Moderator of the Curia.)

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