The Back to the Future movies creatively and humorously play around with the notion of time travel, showcasing the outcomes of small and seemingly inconsequential events on history. In this image above, Doc Brown explains to Marty how one singular moment in time not only changed the course of both of their lives, but also the lives of many others. Based on whether one specific moment ultimately occurs, there can be either a wonderful outcome or a terrible and tragic one. Though this fictional account uses the metaphor of time travel, the underlying theme and message is quite relevant to all of us: singular moments in time can change the outcome of our lives as well as the lives of others.
I’d like to invite you to think about such moments in your life. I’m sure you have several when something happened that changed everything from that point forward. I think about the night I decided to accept my friend Richard’s last-minute invitation to join him and some friends for dinner. That’s the night I met Laura, now my wife of some nearly 38 years. Up one of Doc Brown’s chalkboard lines, I see my entire life and those of my children and grandchildren. Up the other line, the one when I didn’t join Richard for dinner… well, who knows what that one might look like? Similarly, I think about the trials, the moments that I wish had never taken place, the ones that weren’t so wonderful at all. I’m sure you have some of those as well.
Anyone familiar with the Exercises of Saint Ignatius will be familiar with the concept of the the Daily Examen. The basic idea is that towards the end of each day, we are to think about the day’s events and discern the presence of God in those moments. Those who make this a practice are told to prayerfully look upon those moments with gratitude.
I believe it makes good sense to conduct an occasional Lifetime Examen, no matter how old we are, to think about the moments which seem particularly wonderful and even the ones that do not, and then to prayerfully consider all of them. For example, I’ve been thinking about the night I met Laura and so it’s not difficult for me to be filled with gratitude about that moment. But then… and this is not very easy… I have been thinking about the other moments, the ones I wish had never happened, and praying about those as well. All these moments are the ones that made me. What are your moments? And then… where was God in them?
If we take a step back and look at the Gospel story, we can see that it’s a series of such moments for those impacted by them. For the women by the side of a well, for the men who were casting nets by the side of a boat, for the lepers walking down the road, for the one blind from birth… and for so many who encountered Jesus, these were the moments that made them.
As disciples of Jesus, we are now asked to carry on his work. You and I, as followers and descendants of those impacted by these Gospel stories, can become such moments for others. We can listen when no one else will. We can forgive when it is incredibly difficult to do so. We can be present to the lonely. We can talk about our faith openly in a world where that feels out of place or even misguided. We can live our lives of faith with confidence and optimism and show that the Good News of Christ is quite good indeed.
But here’s the thing: many of the moments we help make will seem small and inconsequential, forgettable and without any impact. To us. But we never know just how our actions can impact the lives of others. Saint Mother Teresa once said: “We must deliberately renounce all desires to see the fruits of our labor, doing all we can as best as we can, leaving the rest in the hands of God.”
Jesus gave us a model to follow. The rest is “in the hands of God.”
One would have to be VERY humble to follow what Mother Theresa said…