As the Japanese people continue their recovery efforts, following the devastations that overpowered parts of their nation, they are undoubtedly wondering how or whether they could have done anything differently, to either prevent it, or at least diminish its terrible effectiveness. They are an intelligent, industrious and resilient people. But we ask: are these endowments equal to the task of giving an affirmative answer to this question? One thinks of the tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004, recalling that the wildlife, the animals, knew ahead of time that the tsunami was moving their way, and they were already escaping to higher ground. They were better equipped to deal with the imminent danger than human beings were. Was that the case in Japan?
Heading to higher ground to avoid the threats of danger is an apt Lenten program. Both Daniel and Luke help us in this trek. Daniel exposes his awareness of a "higher power" at his beck and call: "Ah, Lord, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you….Justice, O Lord, is on your side….". He also enjoys the kind of self-knowledge that makes him aware of a besetting problem: "We have sinned, been wicked and done evil…" He knew where his weakness lay, in view of future onslaughts: "We are shamefaced…for having sinned against you." With such attributes working for him, Daniel, rational animal that he was, was in position to compete with other animals of his environs to gain higher ground.
Luke recalls Jesus supporting this pursuit of self-preservation. Jesus notes the waste of time and energy spent in judging others in a time of peril. He urges His followers with vignettes that have proved helpful in gaining success: "Give and gifts will be given to you…poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you." Here Jesus provides the formula of success: giving more than getting. This makes us masters of our own destiny. For we know ahead of time exactly how we will manage in time of need, aware that the resources we have at hand are factored into our savings account by what we have given out to others.
Lent is the time before the storm, when we seek higher ground to escape the tsunami heading toward shore. Veterans of past mistakes deterring us from the effort at climbing, we can now learn how to fashion our own future survival before the storms that lie ahead, by generously reaching out to help others in their upward climb. If other animals have learned to move to higher ground, we can imitate them by mastering our own destinies through generously measuring out to others, what is ours.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.