Few things in this world are as powerful as a deadline. I would even propose that a deadline is the most powerfully motivating construct of Western Civilization, although that would probably be taking things a little too far. Truthfully, no single date is innately more muscular than another just by virtue of having been randomly picked to host a deadline, and yet, a single date such as January 1 has the power to motivate us to make resolutions and manufacture deadlines for improving ourselves in the coming year. The year, however, is a cycle, so why not choose, say, July 16 to make annual resolutions instead of January 1? April 15 is another date with deadline power. Having the same 24 hours in it as all the other 364 days of the year, April 15 has the ability to strike fear in our hearts, especially if we have not adequately prepared for its coming. You see, April 15 is so powerful that I didn’t even have to explain its significance! You just knew. So, what is the secret behind such power?
Well, using simple logic, I have figured out the obvious. The muscle behind a deadline is not actually the deadline itself, but the consequences that accompany it. Deadlines without consequences are about as powerful as flabby triceps under a 250-pound bench press. On top of this, the most forceful deadlines are those for which someone else administers the consequences. Triceps under the supervision of a personal trainer are much less likely to remain flabby than those left to the whim of their owner and a dusty set of free weights in a corner of the basement.
There are many parenting applications of the power of a deadline, but as a Catholic parent, I specifically want to know how I can harness this remarkable power in order to strengthen my faith and that of my family in the upcoming year. Well, the good and the bad news is that, as far as I can logically figure, there is only one true deadline and only one lasting consequence of our faith lives. That deadline is our death, and its consequence is either eternity in heaven or eternity in hell. Kind of intense, I know.
The good news, however, is that due to God’s longsuffering love and graciousness he has made a way for us through Jesus’ death and resurrection to avoid hell, the ultimate consequence of our sin. This means we get second chances for every faith-based deadline, other than our death. We can get baptized, receive First Communion, be confirmed as adults, or get married in the Church even if we did not comply with the ordinary deadlines for these sacraments. We can repent, and our actual sins will be forgiven, although the earthly consequences will likely still be felt.
All of this negotiability can be bad news for us, however, because it diminishes the power of a deadline. Even if we have already decided to become followers of Jesus, having only one real deadline for our faith often causes us lazy human beings to presume on God’s goodness, to defer and to neglect actually practicing and strengthening our faith in favor of what seem to be more urgent earthly deadlines, like April 15.
Now, if we were each given the exact time of our own inevitable expiration date, things might be different. We might be forgiven for weighing the urgency of choosing Jesus and strengthening our faith against the urgency of other earthly deadlines. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know exactly when we will die, and so without the power of a deadline, even with the best of intentions, and almost as quickly as we resolve to engage in faith-strengthening activities, we often abandon them like the set of free weights in our basements.
So what can we do? We can shock the socks off our parish priest by asking him to be our spiritual coach! He may refer us to someone else or to some established program, and that is okay. The important thing is to get some accountability in developing personal, spiritual deadlines in order to experience the positive, earthly consequences of living as a believer in Jesus. Will these deadlines be random, artificially manufactured, and really hold no more value than any other day of the year? Absolutely! But that has never stopped the IRS, so if I may presume to randomly insert myself into your life, you have until the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, February 25 to search out a spiritual coach and determine a plan of spiritual exercise for 2009. Just a hint — if you want to start off on the good side of your parish priest, don’t wait until 11:59 p.m. on February 24 to contact him.