The First Rocks

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One day an old professor was asked to speak as an expert to some large corporations on personal time management. He decided to try an experiment. Standing before a group ready to take notes, he pulled out from under the table a large, empty glass vase. He placed a dozen tennis-ball-size rocks in the vase until it was full. When he was not able to add more rocks he asked those present: “Does the vase seem full to you?” and they all answered “Yes!” He waited a moment and then asked: “Are you sure?”

He again bent down and pulled a box full of pebbles from under the table and carefully poured the pebbles into the vase, moving the vase a little so that the pebbles could reach the rocks at the very bottom. He asked: “Is the vase full this time?” His audience, having become more prudent, began to understand and said: “Perhaps not yet.” “Very good!” the old professor replied.

Again he bent down and this time picked up a bag of sand and poured it into the vase with care. The sand filled all the spaces between the rocks and the pebbles.  He then asked again: “Is the vase full now?” And they all answered without hesitation: “No!” “Indeed,” the old professor said and, as they expected, took the pitcher of water from the table and poured it into the vase up to the brim.

At this point he looked up at his audience and asked: “What great truth does this experiment show us?” The bravest of the group, reflecting on the theme of the course — time management — replied: “This shows us that even when our schedule is full, with a little effort we can always add some other task, some other thing to do.”

“No,” the professor answered, “It’s not that. The experiment shows us something else. If you don’t put the big rocks in the vase first, then you will never be able to put them in afterward.”

In tomorrow’s Gospel, Jesus tells us what the biggest rocks of all are:  love of God and love of neighbor. These have to be put into our lives first or else nothing will fit in right. Love of God and love of neighbor have to be first.

How do we do this?  If we want to love God more, we should love our neighbor more. If we want to love our neighbor more we should love God more.

Let me give you two examples:

1. John Paul II once said that our vocations are God’s way of teaching us how to love. Our vocations, if lived correctly, stretch us. They are meant to pull us out of laziness, to break the habit of continually wanting to be at ease with life. As we are faithful to the demands of our vocations, choosing to deny ourselves for others over and over again, we mysteriously grow in love for God. Our vocations, lived well, continually call us to greater love, greater self-sacrifice, and our love for God increases.

2. At the same time, we grow in love for God through continual prayer, faithful attendance at Mass, especially through communion, and meditation on God’s word.  When we spend time with God, we mysteriously we grow in love for others. It becomes easier to bear with others’ faults. We become more desirous of doing good for others and willing to sacrifice ourselves for others.

So, do you want to love others more?  Then love God more.

Do you want to love God more?  Then love others more.

These two “big rocks” must be the first things in our lives, and then everything else will fit in.

Fr. Mark Gurtner

About Fr. Mark Gurtner

Fr. Mark Gurtner, J.C.L., is Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fr. Mark is also an Adjunct Assistant Professional Specialist in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.