It makes sense to be prepared. All of us have prepared for exams, reviewed agendas prior to attending a meeting, or followed a physician’s orders prior to undergoing test to determine the state of our health. Daily life is about preparation.
Several Fridays past, two confreres from my community and I decided to attend the movie, “Sully.” Tom Hanks was starring in the role of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who guided is crippled aircraft safely into the icy waters of the Hudson River after a catastrophic engine failure. The following week I received a telephone call from a former work colleague, Don, who asked if I would see a movie with him, “Sully.” Why not? Don and I had careers at Northwest Airlines. Don was employed as the manager of pilot crew scheduling worldwide for 30 years, and I worked in the reservations division for 23 years. Don, in particular was interested in attending the movie as he had become acquainted with many pilots during his career, and he had stated to me several times over the years how calm and methodical pilots were even during immensely stressful situations; an emergency landing, medical emergency, etc. The landing of the aircraft was incredible, the sort of story Hollywood would dream about, as he and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, successfully guided the aircraft into the river. All 152 people on the aircraft were rescued; no fatalities. Many people at the time believed that Captain Sullenberger worked a miracle saving everyone aboard the aircraft; he believed he was simply doing what he had been trained to do.
Captain Sullenberger had been preparing himself for just this type of catastrophe for years. He was not only a commercial airline pilot with many hours of experience, he also flew gliders during his free time. So when the engines failed he realized that he was piloting a giant glider. His preparations dictated to him that attempting a landing at an airport was impossible as his aircraft did not have sufficient altitude to make it safely to one of the area airports. He was piloting this aircraft above the most densely populated region of the United States, so attempting a landing on the ground would result with numerous casualties. A water landing was the sole option. Captain Sullenberger and Co-pilot Skiles began preparations for safely ditching the aircraft into the Hudson River by sealing valves, turning off unneeded systems, and positioning the plane to land flatly on the water’s surface. He and his crew accomplished all of this in minutes, and they assisted passengers into rafts and onto the wings. He was the last to leave the plane. For him and his crew, this all came naturally because each one of them had been prepared to manage an emergency through many hours of training.
We are entering our own period of preparation; the season of Advent. It’s a time to prepare for Christmas, but our first preparations can be shopping, meal planning, decorating, and baking treats. Yet Advent is more than holiday preparations. It’s the time to remind us of the coming of Jesus Christ, not only as a baby born to a young Jewish couple, but a daily coming. We often overlook the ways Jesus is present to us. Where is He?
For me Jesus is present in my confreres in the community setting, on outings such as the movies with my former colleagues, with Don, the parish community which I serve, the people in the movie theater. For you maybe it’s with family members, visits with your neighbors, friends, discussions with coworkers.
The gospel tells of the coming of the Son of Man. It will be an event that will take many people by surprise like the flood story in Genesis. Jesus does not want His disciples to be surprised; Jesus desires us to be prepared. So what do we do to prepare? This preparation is not a complicated formula. We have the ability to prepare with each encounter that we have with others. Getting out of ourselves and being present, truly present, to others just as Jesus is so often present to the suffering, the lonely, the joyful. What else? Prayer, generosity to the less fortunate, empathy, compassion, patience, all of these virtues are keys to preparing for Jesus’ coming at the end of time. Jesus, the man, lived these virtues daily. He gave Himself to those who were giving in to despair, outcasts, widows, anyone who did not count in society. We know these virtues through our experiences and our interactions with others, but practicing virtuous living can be trying, but it is necessary for us to make an honest effort daily. Advent is a time to prepare for coming trials, even catastrophes. Is our faith strong enough to handle the loss of property, the loss of income, the loss of health, or even the loss of a loved one? Even if we feel we are ready, we should still reinforce our faith so that not only are we ready but we have the required faith to help others through crises. Being prepared is a task for everyone who desires to follow Jesus.
Captain Sullengerger spent countless hours preparing for an event he never expected to happen, but an event he knew could happen. We should prepare ourselves for whatever the future holds. In this way we will not be caught unaware or unprepared when the Day of the Lord arrives unexpectedly.