"Sunset" by Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Sunset is such a special time of the day. When the sun begins to go down the shadows deepen and the hues mellow. Have you ever taken a good look what happens to the flowers in your garden when the sun goes down? The colors mellow but they also become, for a short time, more vivid. Many years ago, when I was living in New York, I dabbled with photography, particularly of wildlife.
I remember a picture taken at sunset of a Kestrel (one of the small hawks) sitting on a stump, and its colors, tawny brown with gray on the head and back, were very soft and diffused but at the same time, they stood out from everything in the background. Well, it's a little like that with us too. When the sun goes down, when we're ready to kick off our shoes, oftentimes we begin to review the day. What have we done to enhance other peoples' lives; what did we do to bring Jesus to them? As members of the Body of Christ, we are His representatives. Did we play this role well or were we mediocre? Did we treat others in an even-handed way, or were we arbitrary, treating people somehow differently?
As colder temperatures are approaching leaves are daily falling in great numbers, leaving trees barer each day, there is a kind of a 'sunset' in the changing of the seasons. That stand of birch* in the rear of our 10-acre property that still has some golden leaves in the crowns, against a backdrop of dark-green pines, seem somehow accentuated, as the sun shines on them. Not far from the birches, there are some trees and shrubs that are bare already and they stand against the dear blue sky in stark reflection of the changing of the guard. Every year, we become older, and hopefully, wiser. The older one gets, the more one thinks, at least this monk* does, of the time to come, the time I hope to spend with Jesus in all eternity. No, I'm not thinking of a physical death, but I am thinking of a sort of spiritual death, dying to the 'self.'
This is a very different sunset, and one that requires much thought and grace. As I go into chapel early in the morning when the house is fairly cold, it strikes me sometimes that, when we stand before the Lord to be judged by Him, we stand there naked. We stand there naked because we will know all our faults and the time for excuses is over. We stand there all alone, with no one to help us, not our husbands, wives, friends nor our parents. I've got the feeling deep inside that now's the time to examine what our life has been like and to see if we're worthy to take that step to be judged. Are you going to gamble with your life in the Lord, and invent more excuses for doing what you shouldn't be doing, or are you finally going to get more serious about the whole thingl That whole thing we're taking about is the difference between life and death. I'm getting prepared ... everything else is irrelevant!
Sunsets--they are wonderful during summertime, when sunsets occur in the middle of the evening, you can still take a stroll outside to stretch your legs, although we wouldn't be doing this in the monastery; there we'd be praying Night Prayer! In the fall when sunsets occur earlier in the evening, we'd be in our study period or in class, and you'd probably be watching TV. What I think of TV may not agree with what you think of it. I only watch stuff that's PG, or "PG13 and I really make sure what I am watching does not lead me into temptation. When you do that, you will soon find out that there's not much on TV that's worth watching. Nothing of "social redeeming value." During wintertime sunsets come even earlier, probably when we're sitting down for the evening meal. Maybe that's a good time for some family spirit-some togetherness and love. Our community always eats together and, though sometimes we are silent or listen to spiritual tapes, there are other times that we speak with one another.
For Jesus there was a sunset too; that was when He died on the Cross for us, to save us, to set us free. Let us make the most of the time we have left-not the most as in material things, but the most as in living a pious life, totally dedicated to our Lord Jesus Christ!
During autumn we had gloriously-colored leaves in reds, yellows, brown, rusty, etc. It didn't last long, in fact the peak was between Oct. 3-10, At sunset, all those colorful trees swaying in the wind-what a marvelous spectacle ... a little comer of Heaven!
Sometime, when you have nothing else to do during a sunset, especially in Vero Beach by the seashore, take a walk along the boardwalk and carefully examine the waves as they gently, or not so gently come rolling in... and then, in the approaching dusk, imagine a fisherman standing by the edge of the water. As you meditate on that, allow the colors you see to become more vivid-and soon you will see Jesus standing at the edge of the water. May He bless you and keep you and give you peace!
I wrote this reflection about 18 years ago. Though I am retired in Vero Beach, I still watch what I look at in Vero Beach on and off TV. That is a good habit. Keeps you out of trouble. Really, not that much is changed. I'm a Secular Franciscan instead of a monk. Praise God!
(* This essay was written when I was a monk in Petersham, MA.)
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Officers as of 1/10/2016
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS
Donna Haro, OFS
Joanne Giordano, OFS
Fred Schaeffer, OFS