The pop culture icon Andy Warhol is famous for his observation that we all get our 15 minutes of fame. Well, that was in the primordial era of broadcasting – with the Internet we can get famous in 15 minutes or seconds, or nano-seconds. But fame is fragile, and the entertainment landscape is littered with has-beens who lost their sense of purpose not to mention their identity when the spot-light burned out.
St Paul, writing to his disciple Timothy whom he had consecrated as Bishop for the church in Ephesus, urges us to pray so that – “we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2)
The sage advice of St Paul is crucial in this age of celebrity and calls us to quiet reflection in the cacophony of noise generated by the culture it propels. Under the inspiration of the holy Spirit, the Apostle invites us not to “quiet lives of desperation” but to find the meaning and purpose of what I call “quiet lives of dedication.” These are the lives lived by our greatest saints, many of whom were unknown while alive, undistinguished, even despised for their simplicity. And these are the lives lived by most of us – we’re not made of the stuff that commands attention, makes the news, or qualifies for our own reality cable program.
What is this quiet and tranquil life?
1. The Greek term used is eremos, from which we get our word “hermit”: Paul certainly doesn’t mean we should all live as hermits. But what is characteristic of a hermitage? It speaks of a life of quiet, unnoticed faithfulness to God, to family, to community and to country. A quiet life is one that lives out Christian values humbly and without notice.
2. The word translated tranquil is hesuchios: literally meaning “to keep one’s seat” by implication “undisturbed”, peaceable, steady. These are the people whose interests, loves and commitments don’t keep changing, shifting. When they make a commitment they keep it, unless it was a bad one or one that needs strengthening, then they stick to their core commitment, only changing up what needs strengthening.
We know Christian people who live lives like this: A loving wife and mother who always puts her kids needs first. A faithful husband and father who slugs it out on a job he’d rather not have but endures conscientiously to meet his family’s needs and make sure they receive what they need to succeed in life. A faithful priest who gives up a life of plenty and personal companionship to share his love with God’s whole family, the Church. A faithful employee who honestly works hard so that his employer might succeed, and joins in that success to be sure others have the same opportunity. Those who treat others fairly even when she isn’t treated right because its the right thing to do by God and others.
These are the people who pray, treat their neighbors fairly, and work to support themselves and others. They love their spouses and children, honor their parents and obey the laws of church and society. They do it because they know it’s right, not because they want attention. When they do wrong they confess it to God and make it right by their neighbor as best they can.
As a priest, I love the confessional because I’m praying with these folks more than any others.
The American essayist Henry David Thoreau wrote that most men live “quiet lives of desperation” I disagree. Why? Because of my experience in the confessional. I’d change that statement to be, “Most people live quiet lives of faithful devotion” to their families, their vocation and to God. How do I know? I hear them in the Confessional!
“What do you mean”, you say? “They’re confessing their sins.” Well, I see the confessional differently. In the confessional I see people striving to do better, to be better. I hear people renewing their commitments, strengthening their bonds. I see hearts of love, wanting to love God more and love people better. That’s why I love the Confessional, because it fills me with hope for a better world.
But these are not Bishop TuTu’s, or Bono’s or Angelina Jolie’s with entourages and camera crews in tow. They are quiet folks, living quiet lives of faithfulness: to God, to their spouses, children and Grandchildren, to their neighbors’ well being and to their country.
This is the necessary foundation for a caring community where everybody can become the persons God created them to be: mirrors of goodness reflecting the brightness of God’s love for them toward others and lighting up the dark shadows of sin and loss.
So this is what Paul urges: pray that those who are responsible to us as public officials, who set policies and serve the people in government will not get in the way of us quietly observing God’s law, loving others and seeking what’s best for them, treating others with justice and fairness, and building a civilization of love and life one foundation stone at a time.
The real problem with grand public schemes of social justice is that the fanfare and publicity attached to them (not to mention the egos) crowd out the quiet folk who do this good work daily, year in and year out, their whole lives long. The “Big Plans” announced out of the State House or Capital, the White House, Congress or Federal Courts are short-lived and by their nature impersonal and often cause more harm than good.
The Church teaches that the best care is provided by the people and services closest to those in need. This begins within families and between neighbors, and so on. Example: if you’re late leaving work and your child needs to be picked up at school, instinctively who are you going to call – A government agent on Capitol Hill to fly in and pick up your child? No, you’re going to turn first to family, if they’re not available to a neighbor, if not the neighbor a colleague and so on. You’d go to the government last. Why? Because you know those closest to you are best disposed to helping you. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
When we live quiet lives of caring for one another we’re doing what God expects – and we’re doing it the way he expects us to.
We don’t have to do extravagant things to be faithful to God and His will for us. The Gospel sums it up in a single sentence: “The person who is trustworthy (faithful) in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.” (Luke 16:10)
That is the true dignity of a quiet life! Let us choose to walk in this way and find the peace it offers those who embrace the invitation.