Fr. Rutler on Procrastination

by Fr. George Rutler

The first protocol of any bureaucracy is to delay action. “Someday” is the bureaucrat’s avoidance of “today.” Our Lord is not a bureaucrat. His demands are immediate: “Today if you will hear his voice . . .” (Hebrews 3:15). He told Zacchaeus that they would dine not someday, but “today” (Luke 19:5). As one maxim has it, “someday” is not a day of the week. There is only one way to follow Christ, and that is right now: the apostles followed Christ “immediately” (Matthew 4:20, 22).

As Our Lord passes by, He calls each of us by name. He does not loiter, and if we do, His figure grows fainter and farther away. As “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), so the peremptory appeal of Christ eliminates the two causes of procrastination: fear of failure and fear of success. If a man fears failure, he may not lose, but neither will he gain, and if he fears success, he may bask in complacency but never change and grow.

The educational establishment is not innocent of bureaucracy and seems increasingly interested in preparing for someday instead of today. A dean at a prominent Catholic university recently said an astonishing thing: “Our job as educators and as priests is not to bring God to people, or even to bring people to God. God’s already there, and the people are already there. Our job, our way of living out our educational vocation is to ask the right questions and to help young people ask those questions.” That seems consoling at first, but then it becomes more like the Wonderland world of the White Queen, where the rule is “jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.” Christ did ask questions, but always with answers. His cross looks more like an exclamation point than a question mark.

Pope Benedict XVI has said that it is time for pruning away the hesitant Christianity that has forgotten its purpose, fears action and avoids decisions. Cardinal Newman, no bureaucrat, preached: “Our duty lies in risking upon Christ’s word what we have, for what we have not; and doing so in a noble, generous way, not indeed rashly or lightly, still without knowing accurately what we are doing, not knowing either what we give up, nor again what we shall gain; uncertain about our reward, uncertain about our extent of sacrifice, in all respects leaning, waiting upon Him, trusting Him to fulfill His promise . . . in all respects proceeding without carefulness or anxiety about the future.”

The politician and novelist, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, with his prodigious and sometimes mocked gift for turning a phrase, said that punctuality is “the graceful courtesy of princes.” The Prince of Peace is the most gracious of princes, and thus the most punctual. He is always on time for us, and He only asks that we be on time for Him, not someday but today.


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