Fr. Dean McFalls / St. Mary’s Church / Special to Bilingual Weekly
Wednesday morning, Shreveport got an extra dose of nationwide attention.
During the Air Force’s late-game victory over Georgia Tech, one of the military’s falcon mascots took off flying. In fact, it just kept on flying right out of the stadium. ESPN’s cameras caught it winging its way to freedom.
And what else could they expect, in a stadium called “Independence”?
The news anchor then asked Lieutenant Col. Don Rhymer the inevitable question: “Why, in your opinion, did the falcon fly out of the stadium?”
Beside me in the locker room, there were two others. One stood there, half dressed, gaping up at the monitor. “Hey, I’ll tell you why it flew out of the stadium, you idiot!” he yelled. “It flew out because it’s a ———— bird!”
I almost split my side laughing. As the anchor went on to ask a series of really dumb questions, with the embarrassed lieutenant answering the best he could, I wondered whether there weren’t more important issues to highlight on live national television than a bird of prey loose in Louisiana.
It was December 28th, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when we mourn the massacre of Bethlehem’s infant boys at the hands of Herod’s soldiers.
While we meditated on the tragedy of so many children put to death, the Church reminded us of their ultimate victory. Psalm 124 offered this refrain: “Our soul has escaped like a bird from the hunter’s net.” Other translations would render it: “like a bird from the snare of the fowler.”
In the end, that wayward falcon was found in the most logical place: at a downtown Shreveport casino. The Air Force had based itself there during the game. It was a no-brainer that the bird would have liked his lodgings.
Like any human, he’d prefer to fly the coop to a place of hope and promise.
Meanwhile, I was contemplating the relationship of his escape to that of the soul captive in the battlefield arena of this dangerous world. In a funeral that same morning, I compared the bird’s exit to the passing away of a 53-year-old woman who had suffered for nearly ten years. A series of health complications left her weaker and weaker, until the wings she had been sprouting throughout that time of testing opened wide and lifted her up, ’way above this valley of tears into the turquoise-blue skies of eternity.
But with the year fast running out like sand in an hourglass, I could hardly miss the connections. No one can deny that, this year as much as any other, time has flown. Watching that falcon soar over the edge of Independence Stadium, I couldn’t help but feel that quiet sadness inside: another year is already passing away. Slowly but surely, my time on earth is running out.
Psalm 139 acknowledges that God has each one of us securely in his hands and has even numbered our days from the beginning: “Your eyes have seen my actions; in your book they are all written; my days were limited before one of them existed…” (v. 16). And Psalm 90 puts it beautifully:
“O Lord, you have been our refuge through all generations.
Before the mountains were begotten
and the earth and the world were brought forth,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn men back to dust, saying, ‘Return, O children of men.’
For a thousand years in your sign are as yesterday,
now that is its past, or as a watch of the night.
You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades…
Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong, And
most of them are fruitless toil, for they pass quickly and we drift away…
Teach us to number our days aright, that we might gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we might shout for joy and gladness all our days.
Make us glad, for the days when you afflicted us,
for the years when we saw evil.
Let your work be seen by your servants and your glory by their children;
and may the gracious care of the Lord our God be ours;
Prosper the work of our hands; prosper the work of our hands!”
As the year gone by takes flight from the arena of battle in which we found ourselves in so many ways, may it find a place of comfort and warmth in our memories. May those who have passed from this world to the next also find a place of peace and harmony, and the reward of all their labors.
As for us who remain in the stadium of this world, may we see fulfilled the blessing of Aaron in our lives throughout this coming year: “May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! May the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”
And may we be victorious in the battles of our lives, until we too are called to wing our way upwards, back to that place of greater hope and promise.