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A Pastor's Groundhog Day Lesson On Life And Love

Father Michael Brunner shared a message with several takeaways about life.

The following message was shared in the bulletin of St. Anselm Parish in Creve Coeur by Pastor Michael Brunner. It is republished here with permission:

February 2, at the end of this week, is Groundhog Day, one of my favorite days of the year. It gives me real hope and provides a scientific basis for my greatest physical and psychological need this time of year, that winter will soon end . . . or not. If not soon, then at least an ending point is pointed out. There is light at the end of the tunnel.  

This tradition comes to us from the German settlers in Pennsylvania, and stems from beliefs associated with Candlemas Day, February 2nd’s feast of the Purification in the church calendar, that was for centuries the day the clergy blessed candles and distributed them to the people. 

Perhaps you have seen the movie Groundhog Day, which takes place in Punxsutawney, PA. If not, I highly recommend it. The protagonist is an unpleasant and egotistical news broadcaster, who suffers an accidental death in the midst of the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, PA. He enters a time warp in which he lives this same day over and over again, meeting the same people, confronting the same choices until he gets it right, until he learns to act right. 

Life is like that somewhat. There are lessons that we must learn, and if we don’t life throws them at us again and again. If you want to make friends and influence people, you can’t be a sarcastic nabob of negativity. If you want to run a marathon and finish, you must be able to make it around a track a few times. Spiritual life is like that too. There are lessons we must learn in order to move forward, lessons we must learn . . . for love . . . for eternal life. 

There are two big lessons, which are tough to master. And the movie Groundhog Day illustrates them well. I know I’m still learning and working on them. One lesson is to live in the present moment. I so hate Winter that I instinctively shut down and try to ignore it. From November until April I dream of and long for Spring. Dreaming and planning has its place in life, but doesn’t take the place of the present moment and the reality that confronts us NOW. The present is what God gives us; the present is what we have, all we have. The past is irretrievable. The future is not promised nor guaranteed. The present is our choice . . . right now . . . Right now you can participate in the Mass or you can tune it out. Where we are now. The people around us now. What we can do now. What we can learn and put to use now. All this is critical to our happiness and salvation.  

The second lesson we have a hard time learning is related. It is about the self . . . the self, my own self to me, your own self to you . . .is either an impediment and obstacle to our taking advantage of the present moment and opportunities we have . . . or it is the vehicle in which our soul cruises through the turbulence of life by acting lovingly and selflessly like God.  If we don’t get that one, we’ll never be lucky in love.  

We work so hard to build up ourselves, to protect ourselves. Everything we add to our self, that we come to take pride in, is a burden to be carried and protected and maintained. We can add so much to our self that we are crushed.  

When we come to die, as you and I will . . . we will not look back and think the high point of my life was the year I made the most money. It won’t be the PhD I earned or the business I started or anything like that. The high point of your life, what will have given your life meaning, will be what you loved . . . truly loved. As St. Paul tells us, love never fails. 

This moment . . . today . . . is 5 days before Groundhog Day. Tomorrow is not promised.  

There’s a pretty good chance the prognosticating ground hogs won’t see their shadows at dawn on Friday. I can only hope, but if I’ve learned any lessons then I know it doesn’t matter. I have today to love . . . to love God, to love you, and to enjoy God’s love for me expressed in so many ways, in my friends and family, in my life in this place. And if God wills, I’ll have tomorrow and Friday too . . . shadow or not. 

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