Imagine a student at a medium-sized Catholic university somewhere in thePacific Northwest who, after living in a student residence hall for threeyears, decides to spend his senior year off-campus. When he has found asuitable apartment, his mother flies into town to help him move in. She isdetermined that everything about the apartment should be perfect. Shefinds comfortable furniture, equips the kitchen, and with infinite care,attends to the details of decoration. Finally, having filled the cupboardsand refrigerator with good food, his favorite snacks, and even a case ofbeer, she kisses her son goodbye and leaves him to his studies.
Our student is delighted with his new place. Unfortunately, he hasalways been something of a slob, and after a few weeks the apartment isunrecognizable. Soiled laundry is draped over the furniture. Everysurface is covered with dirty dishes, discarded pizza boxes and emptybeer cans. The air smells of stale cigar smoke. The kitchen floor, whichused to be beige, is now brown. The healthy food is rotting in therefrigerator.
One morning, while he is searching the apartment for two socksthat match, his mother rings to say she is coming the next week for avisit. While he is on the phone with her, our student notices as if for thefirst time, the devastation around him. Embarrassed and conscience stricken,he resolves to put things right before she arrives. By dint oftitanic effort, he manages in the course of a few days to restore theapartment to its original condition. Now his mother rings again, her voicefilled with disappointment. Something has come up at home and shewon’t be able to visit as planned, but he’s not to feel bad. The visit isn’tcancelled, only postponed. She can’t say exactly when, but she isdetermined to visit soon.
Now our student has a problem. How can he return to hiscustomary squalor when he has no idea when his mother will appear? Hewouldn’t put it past her to just arrive smiling on his doorstep one daywithout warning. In the end, he is driven to the desperate expedient ofchanging his lifestyle. He will have to keep the apartment in order untilshe comes. He undertakes a new regimen of regularly washing dishes,doing laundry, and even occasionally mopping the kitchen floor. In comingdays and weeks he is surprised to discover that he likes living in a cleanwell-ordered place. In the end, he is a slob no more.
Our Gospel is intended to spur an analogous change in us. We are servants who know that our master will return, but we don’t know when. In order to be ready when he comes, we need to be good stewards of God’s Creation. We need to overcome the temptation to live lives of dissipation, living just, well ordered lives instead. Then, in the course of preparing a world worthy of Christ’s return, we may be surprised to discover that we have made a world worth our living in.
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”