Look up and look within: the necessity of watchful awareness

Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

During the past weeks of staying at home because of Covid restrictions, I found the time to watch a movie, Don’t Look Up (2021). It narrates the story of two low-level astronomers who discover a huge comet set to collide with Earth in six months, with the potential to destroy human civilization. In this window of time, they try to warn the government and the general public so that they can take the necessary precautions to avert a catastrophe, but in vain. In the movie, scientific data is lost in superficial propaganda used for political purposes. “Don’t look up”, the title of the movie, is the slogan of the political party in power, used to justify their inaction. Unfortunately, denial does not stop the comet from continuing on its course and finally impacting  Earth. The failure to “look up” prevents people from “looking within” their conscience  in order to make the right choices.

The movie underlines the irrational hardening of one’s attitude of denial when facing one’s responsibilities. We often collectively fail to understand that our choices do have consequences, both in the social sphere and in the natural world. Yet, one day we will have to face them, especially in the final day of reckoning, often described as the “arrival of the master.”

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus spoke about the necessity of becoming “rich toward God” and not to be overly absorbed by our material possessions like the “rich fool”. The invitation was to be wise in how we invest our time, energy and resources.

Jesus continues in the same line in this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 12:32-48) but with a startling affirmation about God’s own investment: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32). By sending Jesus, God generously shares with us the treasurers of his mercy and his love, as in a joint venture. It is a risky investment, whose outcome will depend on the human willingness to steward God’s gifts with love, justice and mercy. Naturally, the time will come when each one of us will have to give an account of how we have managed the resources God entrusted to us.

Through parables, Jesus describes some possible outcomes of this reckoning. The main characters are the master and the servants in charge of overseeing their master’s possessions during his absence. One parable has a violent ending. While the master is absent, the supervisor began to beat the other slaves and overindulge in food and drink. Jesus concludes: “The master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces” (Lk 12:46). The lesson of the parable is clear: we will be held accountable for the way we have spent our lives, used our resources and treated other people because we are not the absolute owners of our lives and whatever we have is God’s gift.

The parable vividly describes the servant’s punishment not to underline God’s violent revenge, but to remind us that our wrong choices do have painful and unavoidable consequences, both for our lives and the lives of those around us. Those who refuse to imitate the gratuitous, unearned love of God choose instead to fuel the cycle of violence in the environment where they live and in the society at large and, by their choice, become victims of this violence themselves.

On the contrary, Jesus says, “blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them” (Lk 12:37). The opposite of denial is awareness. Only awareness can help us on one hand to make the right choices for ourselves and for others, and on the other hand to realize the true nature of God. He is the Master who only desires to serve us. He is the owner who only desires to make us partakers of His Glory (cf. 2 Pt 1:3-4).

In the movie I mention at the beginning, it was striking to see how the majority of people, especially those entrusted with greater responsibilities, were unable to conduct an honest examination of conscience, and they faced death in total oblivion. This is why the Church keeps repeating that “it is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection” (CCC 1779). St. Augustine exhorted: “Return to your conscience, question it…. Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.”

In other words, we often need to “look up” to God and “look inside” our conscience to reach this watchful awareness, make good choices for ourselves and for others to finally enjoy the blessings God has promised us.

(Image: EvgeniT @pixabay.com)