Of Fig Trees & Flat Tires – Am I Ready?

Today I had an object lesson in readiness that has me pondering the “bigger picture” conveyed in today’s Gospel message from Mark’s 13th chapter, where we read:

 “But of that day or hour, no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

My little lesson happened along a rural road on the outskirts of Fresno. Our son Adam has a friend visiting from out of town, so after Mass this morning, Greg and I had the bright idea to take the kids for a spin in the foothills in our Volkswagen bus. Longtime friends of my work have met “Arnold” in the past: he’s our ’74 work of art who’s named after his original owner. Arnold, the owner, a former mechanic, lovingly cared for the bus until his death a few years back. His son sold Greg and I the bus for a song and we’ve had fun retooling it a bit. We often mentally thank Arnold the mechanic for the fine care he took of our bright red treasure. It’s our traditional ride to Mass on Sundays — when you drive Arnold the bus, you can always expect a smile and a story about someone’s bus experience. It seems most of us born before 1980 have memories of cool bus-moments (many of which we don’t dare share with our kids…)

So all was well on the country meander this morning until a biker couple passed us on the road and gave a thumbs down signal, pointing to the left rear driver’s side tire. We waved, obliviously until another car came up on their tail, gesticulating frantically and pointing at that same spot on Arnold’s rear end. At about that moment, we began to smell burning rubber as Arnold began to sway.

By the time we found a safe spot to stop, we had smoldering rubber, two less than thrilled teens (who had plans that didn’t involve being broken down with mom and dad on the side of the road), and a plan to call AAA.

But I’m married to a “do it yourself” guy, a champ really, who began foraging around in the back of the bus and came up with Arnold’s original jack and spare tire we’ve had a few years. Skeptically, I dialed the Auto club, assuring myself that the tow guy would arrive in time to help Greg figure out how to work the jack.

In the end, I was wrong – it was our 18-year-old Adam who solved the problem of the jack (motivated to get off the side of the road, no doubt). The flat was changed, the call for help cancelled, and Arnold’s now parked safely in his spot at home awaiting a new tire.

So what does this tale of woe have to do with today’s Gospel passage? Aside from the fact that we’re surrounded by fig trees here in Fresno, I’m left pondering that “No one knows” phrase. We may see the signs arrayed before us, we may smell a tad of burning rubber, and we continue to drive along in oblivion, ignoring the problem until we’ve got a festering blowout on our hands.

At Mass today, our Deacon preached on the need for Penance and reconciliation in our lives. His words took me mentally back to Cardinal Dolan’s opening address at last week’s USCCB General Assembly:

The New Evangelization reminds us that the very agents of evangelization – you and me — will never achieve that abundant harvest Blessed John XXIII described unless we are willing and eager to first be evangelized themselves. Only those themselves first evangelized can then evangelize. As St. Bernard put it so well, “If you want to be a channel, you must first be a reservoir.”

I would suggest this morning that this reservoir of our lives and ministry, when it comes especially to the New Evangelization, must first be filled with the spirit of interior conversion born of our own renewal. That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a penitential heart, and our own full embrace of the Sacrament of Penance.

The signs of our times may not always be so straightforward as today’s flat tire. But I know in my heart that my readiness level is not where it should be. I don’t have a proper spiritual “spare tire” and — to tell you the truth — I have no idea how to work the jack! The good news is that the Gospels serve as a road manual for life, and together with the Catechism they provide all I need to do my very best to “be prepared”.

What am I waiting for?

"Only good things are to come!! Saying yes is the best. See you around, friend."

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