Milestones & Millstones

Another New Year. Another January. For some, it’s a time for looking back at the events of the year past, both the good and the bad. For others, it’s a time for looking forward, to put last year behind us. Either way, whether looking forward or backwards — what is at the center of our attention — are the milestones.

Miles ran or swam or cycled or rode. Cities visited. Awards won. Contracts signed. Bonus earned. Customers gained. Projects completed. Even in charity work, it’s about the numbers: how many people did we help this year? How many boxes of food did we distribute? Did we do better this year than last year and how can we do better next year? What milestone did we set and did we reach it? What milestone should we set for this year and how will we get there?

As Christianity spread, do you think they set objectives for each year? Did St. Francis Xavier count how many steps he walked barefoot across Japan as he spread the Gospel in the dead of winter, wearing little more than tattered rags for clothes? Do you think the other missionaries like him were assigned goals for how many people they needed to baptize? Were there quotas for how many towns each missionary had to convert, and bonuses awarded for going over that number?

It seems that today, with ever-increasing regularity, we are obsessed with milestones. We assign them to our lives for almost everything: health and wealth, years and careers, education and recreation. Our lives, then, consist of counting steps and closing progress circles, of charting our miles and our piles of money, of turning everything in our lives into a competition, even if only a competition with ourselves. In our state of perpetual discontent, so often we turn milestones into millstones.

What’s more, in all our fretting about achieving the next milestone, it is rare that we identify a millstone in our life. Not just a millstone that is keeping us from achieving the next milestone, but a millstone that is keeping us back from an even greater, and more Divine happiness. In our obsession with milestones, how often do we realize the millstones around our necks? How often do we realize our vices and our sins that hold us back? Even if we do identify them, how much effort do we exert in removing the millstones from our necks, the ones that keep us held down in rebellion against God?

On the road to unity with God, the apostles and missionaries and saints of old realized something: eventually, all milestones become millstones. They realized what mattered wasn’t the steps they took but the mission they were on. Counting the steps and the souls was rather pointless. It was the mission that mattered. So, motivated out of love of God and love of neighbor, after they removed both millstones and milestones from their own lives, they dedicated their lives to do the same for others. And isn’t that the mission of all followers of Christ? A mission infused in us at our baptism?

How many of our milestones have become our millstones?

How many millstones do we each need to remove from our necks?

And who are you called to help free from the oppression of both?