Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 11, 2019.)

Hibernia is an oil platform located in the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately 190 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. One of the challenges for the engineers of the huge, six-billion-dollar structure (which was built in the late 1990s) were icebergs.

There are many such mountains of ice in the surrounding waters, and the rig had to be designed and built to withstand a direct hit. Knowing that someday the “big one” will come, the engineers designed the platform to withstand a one-million-ton iceberg, something that appears once every 500 years. 

In addition to its structural protection, the platform has a crew of radio operators who monitor, round the clock, all icebergs within twenty-seven miles of the platform. A ship is stationed to help redirect small icebergs away from the platform.

The work on building and protecting the Hibernia provides several examples of vigilance. The engineers who designed it, the radio operators who monitor the waters, the pilots who steer the iceberg deflection ship — all are on guard for any iceberg that could endanger the platform and those on it. The vigilance started with the planning and continues 24/7 with the day-to-day operations.

We are reminded today that vigilance is needed in living the Christian life. Before speaking of vigilance, though, Jesus reminds us that there is no need of fear. “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”

The Father loves us so much that he confers on us his kingdom. He is the King, and because he is the King, there is no reason to fear. Jesus then speaks of vigilance, but it is in this context of security. Fear is not the driving force for vigilance as it might be in the case of the Hibernia. Rather, love is the basis for vigilance.

Jesus reveals to us God’s vision for life and creation, which is his kingdom. Accepting that as a foundation, we disciples try to live that vision as we have received it from the Lord. Challenges will occur which may distract us, raise doubts or sometimes cause fear or anxiety. We may get lazy or slothful, which can also pose some serious problems with regard to living a good life. Hence Jesus calls for vigilance.

He gives us three points to ponder as we consider vigilance. First, be clear on what is of real value in life. This follows on last week’s Gospel passage, where Jesus tells us “one’s life does not consist of possessions” and to be rich in what matters to God.

Second, be prepared. Our ultimate goal in life is union with God. He will come as he has promised. We need to be prepared and ready for his arrival. This is a joyful expectation. We might think of it in terms of a loved one being away for sometime. We miss them and long for them to come home. When we know they are coming we ready ourselves for their arrival, even if we do not know the exact time. We are excited for the return and want everything to be “right” for when they walk through the door. Jesus urges us to think this way about our vigilance for the Lord’s coming.

Third, remain faithful. Jesus has given us the gift of the kingdom. This is the most valuable gift, for it is the gift of life. Keeping focused on this gift and the thanksgiving that is faithfulness will help us avoid falling into the trap of distraction.

The numerous people who worked and continue to work on the Hibernia have a good understanding of vigilance. The incredible effort and resources put into building and maintaining that platform amaze us. Jesus calls us to put our resources into the vigilance of life. Keeping that vigil entails knowing the things in life that are of God, being prepared for His coming and remaining faithful to the gift that has been given us.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.