failure to plan is planning to fail

Eliezer ben Hurcanus was a first and second century rabbi who was known to tell his disciples “Repent one day before your death.” And when asked, “How will we know when that day is?” he would reply, “All the more reason to repent today, lest you die tomorrow.”

Each of us is called to seek the wisdom of God, to seek divine understanding. God should be the source and center of all our wisdom. Wisdom is no longer in vogue. We have no need of it, just as we have no need of God, just as we have no need of any other but the self.

Knowledge is brain food but wisdom is soul food.  The gift of wisdom in Latin is ‘sapida scientia’ which means tasted knowledge. Wisdom cannot be obtained from a book or learned in a classroom. Rather it comes from within, from the soul. Wisdom is not “knowing what one values” but rather “valuing that which is worth knowing.”

But just what is Wisdom? Is it sound judgment or a sharp intellect? I personally believe it is the act of making wise choices, choosing between what is good and right rather than what is opportunistic and self-indulgent. Wisdom presumes that we are prepared for the unexpected, to anticipate and put ourselves in the best position to act wisely when the unexpected happens, to wait with sure confidence that we have done all that we could have and should have done.

Wisdom comes when we overcome our desire for power, possessions, and pleasure and learn to live as Christ commands: loving God with every fiber of our being, heart, mind, and soul and then loving our neighbors as we love our self. The more we seek a perfect relationship with God the more His wisdom will hasten to us and the more wisdom we will receive.

All too often we fail to prepare ourselves for the unexpected, we live “in the moment” without any thought for tomorrow. We believe we have all the time in the world to reach a goal, break or make a habit, build a relationship, eat right, exercise more, or to do all those things that we would love to do but haven’t taken the occasion to accomplish. As Benjamin Franklin once observed, “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”

Many of us have developed ‘bucket lists’, things to do before we die. And yet, how many items have we managed to check off, how much have we accomplished?

We hear Jesus admonishing us to always be prepared, to “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Only God knows when that time will arrive, and he isn’t talking.  Despite wishful thinking, the fact is that we cannot know the time or place for ourselves or for anyone else.

Visit any assisted living facility where the residents generally are eighty years old and older. Ask any one of them how much longer until they see the Lord. Believe me, no one there has a clue when that hour might be.

My parents died in an automobile accident when they were fifty-eight and fifty-nine years old. They were healthy and expected to live many more years; after all they still had children at home.

My youngest daughter, Charlene, once asked me to offer prayers for someone she knew. She wrote “Andrew is someone I work with who was recently released from the hospital on hospice care with colon cancer. He is 38 years old and has two boys Ben and Cooper, ages 9 and 7.  Dad, I know you’ve said life’s not fair, but it’s really not fair that a 38-year old has to say goodbye to his wife and two boys.”

My father’s oldest brother, and my namesake, was killed at the age of twelve in a hunting accident.

We all know someone, young and old, who have died; never when or as they expected, seldom under circumstances of their choosing.

We all have things we regret or wish we could “do over.” We have many opportunities to do the right thing and to correct the mistakes we have made, but too often we miss the moment and simply let things slide.  After all, there is always tomorrow.

No one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time at work; no one regrets not having kept a cleaner house.  What we do regret is far more important and far less tangible. We regret not saying “I’m sorry.” We regret not saying “I love you.”  We regret not stopping to “smell the roses”, not spending time with those we love, helping those who are in need, giving the gift of time to others, or spending time with God.  Like the foolish young women in the Gospel, we burn our oil on things that do not matter and fail to pack extra flasks of oil for contingencies. We fail to plan, we fail to prepare for the inevitable, and thus, in truth, we plan to fail.

Have you ever been so tired you simply could not keep your eyes open? Sitting in a comfortable recliner there is little to be concerned if you fall asleep. Falling asleep while sitting behind the wheel of an automobile traveling a lonely mountain highway in the dead of night is a far different and deadly situation, isn’t it? We hear Jesus constantly telling us to be vigilant, to “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” How can he expect us to always be on high alert, to constantly stay focused on that unknown hour, to always stay awake? It makes no sense, for we all must sleep sometime.

All of us know how difficult it is for us to be inside the present moment, to not be asleep to the real riches inside our own lives. The distractions and worries of daily life tend to so consume us that we habitually take for granted what’s most precious to us, our health, the miracle of our senses, the love and friendships that surround us, and the gift of life itself. We go through our daily lives not only with a lack of reflectiveness and lack of gratitude but with a habitual touch of resentment as well, a chronic, grey depression, Robert Moore calls it. We are very much asleep, both to God and to our own lives.1

How are we supposed to stay awake? There is a plethora of literature offering advice on how get into the moment and experience the richness of our lives. We are told to live each day as if it were our last. That might be useful advice for a day or two, but no one can possibly live their entire life as if each day was their last. Can we?

Spiritual wisdom offers a nuanced answer here: We can and we can’t!  On the one hand, the distractions, cares, and pressures of everyday life will invariably have their way with us and we will, in effect, fall asleep to what’s deeper and more important inside of life. But it’s for this reason that every major spiritual tradition has daily rituals designed precisely to wake us from spiritual sleep, akin an alarm clock waking us from physical sleep.

It’s for this reason we need to begin each day with prayer. What happens if we don’t pray on a given morning is not that we incur God’s wrath, but rather that we tend to miss the morning, spending the hours until noon trapped inside a certain dullness of heart. The same can be said about praying before meals. We don’t displease God by not first centering ourselves in gratitude before eating, but we miss out on the richness of what we’re doing. Liturgical prayer and the Eucharist have the same intent, among their other intentions. They’re meant to, regularly, call us out of a certain sleep.

None of us lives each day of our lives as if it was his or her last day. Our heartaches, headaches, distractions, and busyness invariably lull us to sleep. That’s forgivable; it’s what it means to be human. So, we should ensure that we have regular spiritual rituals, spiritual alarm clocks, to jolt us back awake—so that it doesn’t take a heart attack, a stroke, cancer, or death to wake us up.

We need to remain watchful while we wait.  The key is to be prepared—and that is wisdom. While we can determine neither the day nor the hour we must be ready for it every moment of our lives. To be wise, then, is not to try to calculate the appointed day or time but to spend the present moment—now—as if it was your last; to ask the question “Am I ready to meet God?” Or perhaps more importantly “Am I ready for God to meet me?


Homily #148
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Wisdom 6:12-16
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13


1 Ron Rolheiser, In Exile: Staying Awake, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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