When I was in the third grade, I got Edward Milton’s name in the Christmas Gift Swap. Edward had always been mean to me, so I wrote “RATS” on the slip of paper with Edward’s name on it. 

But then I thought Edward might see what I had it written and beat me up, so I tried to erase it. Later, Mom saw what I’d written and erased, and she said, “Well, I think it would be very nice to give a nice gift to Edward.” So we went to the dime store and bought Edward a policeman set with a cap gun revolver and badge for $1.98.

Seeing Edward walking around at our Christmas party holding his chest out so the other kids could see his badge made me feel good, at least for a little while. Edward never said thank you to me, and he was always still mean to me. 

Just a Matter of Time?

There was a New Yorker cartoon where two society-type ladies were at lunch somewhere, and one of them said to the other, “I wish I had time to write like Norman Mailer.” 

I think we all realize that being a great writer, or a great athlete, or a great musician or a great anything requires a lot more than simply clearing our calendars of more pressing tasks. 

But then again, maybe the old girl is onto something. 

What does it take to become a great saint? Maybe what makes a saint a saint is just clearing your schedule so you can get out there and do God’s work.

We think of saints as having some special set of skills. Or maybe we think of them as being set up in a special situation where anybody in that same situation would end up being a saint, too. But I think there’s more to it.

Jesus’ parable uses the image of the householder returning to find his house had been broken into and robbed. 

We all know there is only so much a person — or even a group of people — can do to take keep their home safe from burglary. If the robbers dig a tunnel into the basement, then steal everything that way, that’s one thing. But if the servants leave the front door wide open and go to the bowling alley, all the while wishing they had more time to take care of the master’s house, that’s another. How you use your time matters. 

So fine, faith is not the same as wishing. That leads me to my great temptation: just holing up in my house and garden with my fabulous bride, my dogs, cats, TV and internet connection, saying, “I’m gonna have faith! I’m not gonna wish for anything; I’m not gonna engage in any feasts and complicated laws and fancy prayers. Matter of fact, by golly, I’m not going to do anything. I’m gonna sit here and be superior to all those folks worrying about feasts and laws and prayers!” 

If I can do the work of God just by keeping silent and waiting for indisputable proof that Christ is calling upon me to act, that sounds good to me. 

But I can’t get away with that one. There is just too much need in this world for any of us to be doing nothing. 

Less Wishing, More Doing

We may wish we had time to be saints. We may wish God would speak to us with some great message only we can hear and give us some great mission only we can accomplish. But wishing isn’t the same as having faith. 

In the meantime, He tells us to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” 

We can’t fritter away our time at the bowling alley while also bemoaning the existence of poverty and injustice. That’s not how it works.  

You can’t just sit around thinking about faith. You have to go out and live it. As the Benedictine monks say, “Work is prayer.” And as the management at McDonald’s says, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”

People giving and receiving gifts often say, “It’s the thought that counts.” And that is true. But if I had said to Edward Milton, “Hey, I didn’t get you a prize for Christmas, but, y’know, anyways, it’s the thought that counts,” he would have beaten me up even worse than usual.

Yes, it’s true, it is the thought that counts. But first, you have to go out and buy the gift.