The Power of the Present Moment
The recent tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant and my sister reminded me how short life is. It also revealed why it’s important to seek the Divine in the Present Moment. This is what this post is all about: the Sacrament of the Present Moment.
I’m the youngest of three children. The eldest sibling, Nancy, died from cancer in 2005 at the age of 45. My other sibling, Rose, died on Nov. 1, 2019, at the age of 59 in a brutal accident. I share more on this in what I write below.
Rest in peace, Rose, and may perpetual light shine upon you….
Click the following link to listen to my eulogy from my sister’s funeral.
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No military leader ever wants to say that phrase. It implies loss. Giving up. Bowing down to someone more powerful.
That phrase also frightens many Christians. It means they have to follow God’s will. It means God is in charge, and many of us, as fallen creatures, don’t like to trust God to be in control. That phase, in theory, was one I wanted to follow but didn’t because of excessive fear and pride.
In the summer of 2018, I learned the key to surrendering to God’s will. I share this story to inspire you to understand the Sacrament of the Present Moment. And I share it with you to understand that a vital part of living is to know that we are mortal. And, like Kobe’s death at a way-too-early age, our mortality can change in an instant. So how do we live with that knowledge? How do we live, fully, in order to prepare to die?
Jesus answered it this way, from John 10:10: “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
So the key to a life of abundance is through Christ, through a relationship with Him. And that means we are all faced with a major question:
The way to get to know Christ is to align ourselves to His will, which is what the Sacrament of the Present Moment is all about. It is learning how to surrender to His will, each moment of the day, because we are keeping our eyes, hearts, minds and souls open to loving Him and seeking His presence in all the events that happen during the day. This is important because, ultimately, our lives on earth are but a millisecond when compared to eternity.
The event that truly kickstarted my surrender was my wife being diagnosed with a terminal illness, called Huntington’s disease, a rare neurodegenerative illness with no cure. If you are related to someone who has it — my wife’s father died from it, as did multiple relatives on his side of the family — you have a 50-percent chance of getting it.
A common description of the illness is, imagine if you have Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The disease attacks your nervous system, at a certain point rendering you incapable of controlling your muscles, eventually leading to your muscles twitching in a spasmodic fashion. Because we have muscles in our throat, one day those muscles for those with Huntington’s will not be able to be controlled. This means they will not be able to swallow food, which means they will no longer be able to eat.
Another way the disease works is that it attacks the brain. It essentially makes you psychotic; reality, in other words, becomes severely distorted.
A genetic test in the summer of 2018 revealed my wife had it. Our 23-year-old daughter also tested positive for the gene last spring.
As you can imagine, this news was devastating. In prayer, I learned that I needed to turn to Christ. His life and mindset modeled surrender. Only He could give me the love and peace I needed to accept God’s will, and only He could fill me with the kind of patience and love I need as a caregiver.
In the months since, I have learned that surrendering to God’s will requires living in, and acknowledging, the Sacrament of the Present Moment, a phrase most famously used by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J., more than 250 years ago in his classic book called Abandonment to Divine Providence.
This phrase means we need to lovingly accept what God is allowing in His Divine will each moment of the day. My path as a missionary disciple — which, I pray, is a path leading to holiness — depends on seeing God in each moment, being holy indifferent to what I may perceive as “bad” things in life, such as something not going my way or a suffering that I wish I, or someone I love, didn’t have to endure.
Our holiness means we live each moment as a blessing from God, confident and full of faith and love for His love and mercy for us — and not anxious about the future or bogged down by the past but surrendering each moment with love to the One who is Love.
To show you the power of this surrender, here is a concrete example. On Nov. 1, 2019, my sister, Rose, died in a tragic accident. During a horrible storm, a tree fell on the car she was in — she was waiting for the storm to pass in the car with her son in her driveway after they had attended a faith-related event that evening. The limb of the red oak tree intersected perfectly on the passenger side of the car, landing on top of where she was sitting and crushing her. It severed her spinal cord and caused traumatic brain injuries. She died shortly afterward. Her son, sitting in the driver’s side, was untouched.
Here is what the car looked like the next morning:
As fate would have it, my nephew (her son) and I had, on a daily basis, for months prior to the accident, been praying a prayer of abandonment by Blessed Charles de Foucauld. Here are several of the lines:
I abandon myself to You. Do with me whatever you please. Whatever You do with me, I thank you. I am ready for anything; I accept everything…
This is what surrendering does. You accept everything, even an unimaginable tragedy.
A week later, on the night before her funeral, my nephew, a friend of my late sister and I attended a talk on surrendering to God. The speaker, a priest by the name of Father Jeffrey Kirby, had written an excellent book called Be Not Troubled, based on Father de Caussade’s book.
That evening, I drove to the airport to pick up three of my sister’s friends who were arriving to attend the funeral. I was in an old Crown Victoria, a car much larger and older than my car back home. I was not used to the brakes; you had to really push down on it to get any kind of decent braking action.
The roads were slick, the night cold. I was unfamiliar with the route. My vision at night is also terrible. The time I was driving was the time that the tree fell on my sister exactly a week before. All these factors combined to make me anxious.
I stayed anxious for about three minutes.
Then I remembered Father Kirby’s talk and his book, which I had just read that week. I also thought about how, in the previous months, I had been training myself to be in the present moment. How I’ve been working on accepting God’s will through frequent prayer and repeating over and over again: “Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you.”
This is the kind of intensive training that Kobe, who was known for his intensive training, would have appreciated. It is what gives you that extra edge when you need that extra edge.
My anxiety disappeared. I was in the moment. And God was with me, so all was good. If something bad was going to happen, I was at peace because I trusted in God. And this trust was not based on the fact that good things will always happen to me in life, but in the fact that, if bad things do happen, then the following statement from what Father de Caussade wrote makes total sense: “Each circumstance is as a stone towards the construction of the heavenly Jerusalem, and all helps to build a dwelling for us in that marvelous city.”
After my anxiety disappeared, I picked up my sister’s friends at the airport. And then, while driving 60 MPH on I-95, I noticed a deer crossing the highway, ahead of where my car was and to my left. The deer, all approximately 200 pounds of it, had managed to cross two lanes of the highway without being hit and was about to intersect in front of my car in the lane that I was in.
I had heard about the expression — “deer in the headlights” — and I actually experienced that because the deer saw me, saw my car — its eyes shining brightly — and paused slightly. But it was on a mission, and its mission was to cross that highway. It kept moving forward after a slight pause, and then my instincts kicked in, causing me to swerve slightly to the right, braking as I did so, hoping to avoid hitting the frightened animal.
But the deer kept coming, and, within milliseconds, it did intersect with the car. It bounced off the side, shearing off the left rear-view mirror, all within about two seconds of me seeing it in my peripheral vision.
Here is what the car looked like the next morning:
My reaction before, during and after the deer striking the car: I was as calm as I was before I noticed it. I’m not kidding you. I was literally as calm as I was before I saw the deer. My sister’s friends were astounded. I was in the present moment.
God was there; thanks be to God.
My sister’s friends asked me how I was able to remain so calm. I told them how I had been training, for months, to stay in the present moment, and I told them about Father Kirby’s talk earlier that evening.
If we are trying to live an abundant life, we don’t need to be afraid because, as Father de Caussade wrote:
Thus, full of faith and love and using a laser focus on the present moment, we can be like our Master, Jesus, who constantly modeled faith and love by His reliance on surrendering to the Will of His Father. In the process, we are also paving a path to heaven, which is part of Jesus’ wise command to “seek ye first the Kingdom.”
In his book, Father Kirby wrote:
“Holiness is found here and now. Holiness is looking for God’s presence where we are and not where we would prefer to be. It is seeing God’s goodness in circumstances or people we would rather not. Holiness is leaving the world of fantasy and wishful thinking and being in the present moment. It is being attentive to where we are and doing what we are doing. Not existing in the future… but accepting God’s providence that is at our fingertips.”
This is the kind of holiness that is only the result of training ourselves to surrender. This takes time — and effort. Kobe poured a tremendous amount of energy to train himself to be a champion on the basketball court. It showed; he is remembered as one of the all-time greats. His focus on the court should be an inspiration to us to know that we can be champions in life in getting to know the Lord. It all begins with learning how to surrender.
I am surrendering.