In the scripture readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I'm reminded of one of the basic lessons from my Army War College days: the basic mission of the peacetime Army is readiness. We read in Luke 12 that "...if the master had known when the thief was coming, he would long have let his house be broken into." Good words, but the question for us is "how do maintain the motivation to be prepared when there is no urgent challenge?" This is especially true when we don't even see a challenge on the horizon.
The challenge isn't on the horizon; it is inside of us. In The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation Thomas Keating tells of hearing a woman holocaust survivor tell how her experience led her to found a humanitarian organization to prevent such horrors from being repeated. She remarked "You know, I couldn't have started that organization unless I knew that, with the situation just a little different, I could have done the same thing the Nazi's did to my parents and others in the concentration camps." I was reminded of my struggle to understand a shooter could have murdered 32 others at Virginia Tech on April 16th, 2007. Somewhere in the aftermath I ran across this quote from Alexander Sozhenitsyn: "...the dividing line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being...."
Keating goes on to describe how regular prayer and reflection will help us locate that line. When we do, we can become aware of our constant need to seek help and maintain readiness. We realize our basic goodness as well as the tremendous energy that resides in our "shadow side." The possibilities for spiritual (and physical) progress are immense.
As the Sunday's gospel reminds us, we need to seek progress not perfection. If we think we've achieved perfection our effort will slacken. Then the thief will show up and we won't be ready.