Eternity

If you have not yet been to Mass, or have forgotten the readings for today’s Mass, then read them again, in particular the first reading from the prophecy of Habakkuk, and the gospel from St Luke.

One thread running between the two readings is the need to keep before our eyes the big picture, the fuller perspective within which the events of our lives play themselves out. If we refrain from reacting rashly and have faith in God’s will for our ultimate good then we can go about our lives with some degree of contentment. Faith, even in the midst of the most bitter trials, is the key to rising above our trials and not wilting beneath their weight. Faith gives us access to the big picture in which our lives are a scene among many. The big picture is eternity.

Stace caught in the act for the only time

In Sydney, Australia, one man’s mission for almost 40 years was reminding people, in the simplest of ways, of the reality of eternity. From the early 1930s to the 1960s the word “Eternity” would mysteriously appear overnight on Sydney’s footpaths, chalked in an elegant script. Over more than 35 years the word appeared almost 500,000 times on the streets of Sydney. The identity of the one responsible was unknown and became the subject of urban legend. The Sydney city council even sought to prosecute him for defacing the public footpaths. Yet it was not until 1963 that he was caught in the act by a photographer. But after 1967 there would be no more chalked reminders of eternity on the streets of Sydney. The writer had died.

An example of Stace's handiwork

The apostle of eternity was a man named Arthur Stace. Up to 1930 he had been an alcoholic and petty criminal. In 1930 he was converted to Christianity after hearing a sermon at St Barnabas’ church, in Broadway, inner Sydney. From this day he gave up drinking and crime. Not long after his conversion he heard a sermon in which the preacher exclaimed, according to one account, “Eternity! Eternity! I wish I could shout ‘Eternity’ through the streets of Sydney!” The words echoed in his head and he felt a call to do just what the preacher desired – to emblazon “Eternity” across the streets of Sydney, and so after the service he bent down and wrote the word on the pavement for the first of many more times. Remarkably Arthur was illiterate and could barely write his Christian name legibly, yet he wrote the word “Eternity” with the most elegant and consistent script, a phenomenon he could never explain. Several times he tried to expand his repertoire of messages, but they never lasted and he always returned to “Eternity”. It was truly his vocation to write that one word.

Arthur Stace’s life was one little life among millions that formed a part of the big picture that is eternity. Converted to Christianity from poverty, alcohol abuse and petty crime, he proved that it does not require great gifts of mind to grasp the reality of eternity which gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and within which our lives will be judged. A simple man with few skills, nevertheless he has left an enduring impact on a city of millions. On the eve of the Millennium in Sydney, his famous word in its classic script were lit up on the side of the Harbour Bridge.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, 31/12/1999

Perhaps we might spend a minute considering to what extent we live our lives with an eye on the bigger picture of eternity. After all, Arthur Stace spent more than 35 years pondering and proclaiming this mysterious truth of our existence.

On one of the few occasions that Arthur wrote something other than “Eternity”, he showed that he was not without a sense of humour:

Arthur is Jesus’ brother and is the poor devil who cops the lot.

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