“I could have been a contender” says Sylvester Stallone in the film “Rocky”. And most of us know what he means.Did you spot the ‘deliberate’ mistake? D’oh! I really meant Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront’
One of our team, trained long ago as a zoologist, was reading the TV guide this afternoon and sighing wistfully at the thought of a new David Attenborough extravaganza about creepy crawlies—“That could have been me”, he muttered. I don’t think he meant the insects…
For my own part I remember as a teenager watching Jacob Bronowski’s “Ascent of Man” and thinking “that’s who I want to be”. Well I’m not. And the regret’s real—but so is the relief: I didn’t get to be a second Bronowski—I got to be me.
For most of us, life doesn’t turn out how our younger selves imagine it should. We lack the talent. We dodge the luck. We open door A and not B.
And then there’s disaster. I remember meeting a priest just back from a ten-year reunion with the students he’d been chaplain to at university. He was sad and shaken. “How come I didn’t prepare them for divorce, and unemployment, and disease?” That’s what he wanted to know.
And sometimes we get to follow our bliss and still it leads us places we neither imagine nor instinctively desire. I wonder how long into his ministry it was before Jesus realized his future held no grand reforms and no grandchildren for his knee?
Miguel Pro was exiled from his native Mexico and only returned because his doctors thought the air of home would cure his stomach problems. In a way it did. He got to be a martyr, someone else than he expected. His martyrdom is a strange thing because we have photographs of it. The regime wanted his death recorded as a warning. So we see him brought before the firing squad. We see him praying. And we see him arms outstretched crying “Viva Christo Rey!”—Long Live Christ the King. He found an eloquence and a wisdom that even the bullets couldn’t contradict.
The thing that moves me though is that—as Luke says today—he met a tragedy and took it as an opportunity. An opportunity not just to bear witness but to be a witness. He didn’t get to be the person his younger self imagined but he was surprised by something better.
Apparently he was something of a joker. Once, when the house was raided where he was saying mass, he managed to slip out in time, only to come back disguised as a police officer to berate the constables for not having caught him yet. I like that style!
The gospel says, “your endurance will win you your lives” but that seems far too serious. There’s something here about taking the opportunities life presents and living them … eloquently. And letting our lives surprise us and continue to surprise us—because we are unfinished as yet, the canvas not dry, the witness we bear still not fully born.