My wife, Eva, and I often have reflected that when looking forward we have always had a difficult time discerning the direction we should go. However, when we look back over our lives, the path we have chosen in retrospect seems clear and consistent with a purposeful design perceptible.
The psalmist prays, “Make me know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.” This should be our daily prayer as well. It calls us to critically reflect on our lives and the challenges we continually confront.
A rare few individuals we have known seem to have received a life call so clear that they stepped unhesitatingly into their futures and follow what seemed to be a preordained path. In Mark's Gospel we see Simon, Andrew, James and John immediately leaving their nets and abandoning their lives as ordinary fishermen to follow Jesus. He called them on that fateful day on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and they joined him on a world-changing but difficult path.
Had they known him before? Had they heard him preach? Would they have so readily followed if they had known what was in store?
Maybe we shouldn't see their experience as that unusual. When we come to think of it aren't we all called constantly, at every stage of our lives, in subtle and dramatic ways, to reflect on our lives and to choose different directions or make a life-altering changes? The thing that is different is that the apostles in this reading responded to their call. How often do we close our ears and minds to our calls and even fear the implications of truly knowing the ways of the Lord.
“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” The prophet Jonah's words provoked an immediate reaction. A people repented and God spared them.
Don't think of the story of Nineveh and the calamity they were threatened with when Jonah proclaimed God's word in their midst as being meant for them alone. We certainly as a collective global community have fundamentally strayed from God's path. The signs are all about us: war, pestilence, ecological collapse being among the indicators. In the face of myriad signals of looming judgement do we believe we really don't have to change; that we have no need for sackcloth now?
There are multitudinous intermeshing factors tied together by our greed-based economic system that threaten all of us with ultimate destruction. Take, for example, the result of over 300 million tonnes of plastics being produced each year with the vast majority not recycled after first use. In one study reported in the July 2017 edition of Scientific Advances (“Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made” by Roland Geyer et al): “8,300 million metric tons (Mt) of virgin plastics have been produced to date.” One consequence of this is that micro-plastics caused by the breaking down of this industrial product can now be found in the drinking water supplies of all major North American cities. We just don't know what the impact will be of all this material pouring out of our taps and into our bodies. Nor what happens from the human consumption of many animal and marine foods similarly exposed.
We hear occasionally of the huge ocean-borne mats of this human detritus. I saw some troubling pictures of sea-borne waste resulting from hurricanes Irma and Martha a few months ago in the Caribbean. But hidden below the surface of apparently pristine harbours all along our coasts out of public sight, investigators find vast underwater dumpsites.
On and on the story goes, right around our planet. What would Jonah say? Should we don our contemporary sackcloth and desperately attempt to make amends? Or do we just go on ignoring the signs around us and await or our judgement in “forty days.”
As I write this I am travelling up the Alaska Highway toward Whitehorse, Yukon, by bus. Surrounded by the immensity of the northern British Columbian wilderness and soon to be embraced by the remote grandeur of the terminal range of the Rockies, it might be hard to believe the hard facts of a world spiralling toward disaster. Our recent weather extremes in part due to a climate change destabilized polar vortex might serve to remind us of our common vulnerability.
Paul tells the Corinthians that, “the appointed time has grown short . . . For the present form of this world is passing away.” In the middle of the first century early followers of Jesus believed his imminent return, the parousia, would occur in their lifetimes. As Christianity developed the faithful always held on to this belief. Every generation holds out hope for the Second Coming. Does ours?
Doing so implies that we, as Christians, live accordingly. Do we understand that this world, the world we have become comfortable in, is passing away? What will replace it? Will it be a just, equitable, non-violent and environmentally sustainable planet for our descendants? Or will selfishness, greed, and wilful blindness to the wounds we are causing to the life-sustaining systems protecting us all spell our future collective demise?
Whom do we follow? What path do we chose? No one of us bears this impossible burden alone. But we all have our roles to play in fashioning the long dreamed of New Jerusalem.
Dougherty is co-chair of the Social Justice Committee at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse, Yukon.