Time: Tyranny or Opportunity?
By: Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
One of the great joys I have as a deacon is the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel at the Sacred Liturgy and breaking it open, as bread for the faithful, in a homily.
Our readings during this time in our liturgical year are all pointing us toward an "end" of time. In fact, the western Church year will end next week, the Thirty Fourth Sunday of the year, and our liturgical journey of faith will culminate with the Feast of Christ the King. On that marvelous Feast we will celebrate the return of the One through whom the entire universe was created; in whom it is being "recreated" through His saving action that we call the "Paschal mystery;' and by whom it will be completely reconstituted and handed back to the Father at the "end" of all time- which will be the beginning of a timeless new heaven and a new earth when "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death ..." (Revelations 21:4).
Our faith proclaims that Jesus Christ is the "Alpha", (the first letter of the Greek alphabet) and the "Omega" (the last letter), the beginning and the end. He is both the Giver and the Governor of time. As we have progressed through these last few weeks together we have been invited by our liturgical readings to reflect on what the tradition refers to as the "last things", death, judgment, heaven and hell.
Why? In order to more fully understand both faith, ourselves and the purpose and meaning of life.
For the Christian, time has purpose. It is profoundly important. It is a part of a redemptive loving plan of a timeless God who, in His Son, the Timeless One, came into time in order to transform it from within. He now offers us the privilege of participating in His plan for our own personal pilgrimage in this world and as a broader part of His ongoing redemptive plan for the entire cosmos through His Church. Time is the field through which this loving plan precedes and upon which we are invited to make our free choices.
Christians believe in a linear timeline in history. There is a beginning and an end, a fulfillment, which is, in fact, a new beginning. It truly is all heading somewhere, both the history of the world and our own personal history. In our continuing liturgical journey, we will soon celebrate the last Sunday of the Year, the feast of Christ the King, to be immediately followed by the First Sunday of Advent, when we prepare for the birth of Savior.
Human beings will always mark time by significant events. The question is not whether we will mark time but how. What events and what message are we proclaiming in the process of our calendaring time? The Christian understanding of time as having a redemptive purpose is why we Catholic Christians mark time by the great events of the faith in our Church calendar. Like so much else that is contained within the treasury of Catholic faith and life, the Church, who is, (as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council proclaimed) an "expert in humanity" helps us to redeem time and make it more meaningful as we follow the rhythm of the liturgical year we are called to conversion, to change.
Because we believe, we mark time by the great events of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and we move ahead toward His loving return. We mark our Christian culture with events of importance from the ongoing "family", history of the Church, that family which Jesus birthed from His wounded side on the Cross at Calvary's hill and which into he breathed His Spirit at Pentecost.
These are profound truths with ever increasing meaning for us as we grow in the life of grace. They are meant to change us and they invite us into a deeper walk with the Lord and with one another. It is up to us to respond to the invitation and to live by faith.
Let me reflect on two (of many) lessons of "father time" in the life of a Christian. For those with hope, those who have been set free by the Lord Jesus Christ, time is NOT A TYRANNY BUT AN OPPORTUNITY to learn in the classroom of faith.
1) Every End is a Beginning
As we move from one Church year to the next, let us not miss this point in our personal lives as well as in the Church year. The certainty of our death is meant to illuminate our life. For that to actually occur, we must truly believe. Death can become, as we move closer to it, a second birth. Francis of Assisi prayed in his most popular prayer "... it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." He referred to death as a "sister" implying that he had a relationship. So too did all the great heroes our Church, the saints.
Do we view death that way?
Is death a catastrophe to be avoided, a source of fear, the end of a terrestrial shopping spree...? Or, as we age, is death becoming a friend, a companion who beckons us on to a more meaningful, redemptive life? Is death becoming a "sister" whom we will welcome in due time? Do we believe that it is simply a change of lodging, a passage to a new birth in the Lord?
The author of the Book of Wisdom reminds us that "God did not make death and He does not delight in the death of the living" (Wisdom 1:13). We should recall the tender moment recorded for us in St John's Gospel where Jesus, brokenhearted at the death of his friend Lazarus, comforts his sister Martha with these words "... everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." (St. John 11: 25 and 26)
Do we believe this?
Jesus Christ abolished death and brought life by removing what St. Paul calls "it's sting"; its essential evil. He has robbed death of its power over us through His Resurrection. He made the tombstone a stepping stone, a portal to life. Jesus has converted death, once the "last enemy", into our friend and sister.
With a few exceptions, like John the Baptizer, for whom we celebrate both his birth and his death, we Christians celebrate the death of Saints. That is partly because our faith proclaims that death is not an end but a beginning.
In the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation we read: "Here is what sustains the holy ones who keep God's commandments and their faith in Jesus. I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," said the Spirit, "let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them. Then I looked and there was a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud one who looked like a son of man, with a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Another angel came out of the temple, crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting on the cloud, "Use your sickle and reap the harvest, for the time to reap has come, because the earth's harvest is fully ripe. So the one who was sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested." (Revelations 14: 12-15)
Are we preparing the harvest for the Lord?
2) Time is meant to be fruitful
As the Apostle records in his Revelation on the Island of Patmos, the last book of the Bible, our "use" of time is meant to bear good fruit which will accompany us into eternity. It will - if we have an intimate relationship from the One who both gives and governs time. Time is an opportunity for the Christian to bear that "fruit that remains" to which Jesus referred as recorded in St. John's gospel: "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another" (John 15: 16, 17)
It is we who choose whether we will use time for the bearing of good fruit or we will be used by time as a tyrant.
When time becomes a gift, an opportunity, we receive it in love and we come to understand that it is a field for choice and an environment for holiness and love.
The ancients were fond of a Latin phrase "Carpe Diem", which literally means "Seize the day." For we who are in Christ Jesus, that phrase takes on a whole new meaning in our journey toward the "Day of the Lord", when he will return as King. We are now invited to redeem time as a part of our participation in His ongoing redemptive mission.
The ancient Greek writer, Seneca, almost two thousand years ago wrote: "It is not that we have so little time, but that we have wasted so much of it"
St. Paul wrote to Christians in Ephesus: "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men (and women) but as wise making the most of the time..." (Ephesians 5: 15ff).
As we consider our personal timeline and the timeline of God's unfolding plan in the redemption of the whole cosmos, we are invited, by the God who gives and governs time, to re-dedicate ourselves to living our lives redemptively. We are invited to love life, to give the God who gave us life our abundant love and service; and to pour ourselves out as Jesus did for others. Then, as we face Him on that final day, we will do so with our arms full of gifts borne in time, gifts that paved the way to eternity.
There is another reality that time gives to each of us on this side of the passage to eternal life. That is aging, "growing old". Oh, we may try to fight it as well. However, we simply cannot turn back time. It always presses toward the future. In Jesus Christ, aging is also meant to be a gift to be received. When our minds are renewed, we begin to realize that eternity is real and that time is not a tyrant but a road on which we travel. That realization changes the way that we live.
The color of my hair dates me, as does the music I seem to recall at my own existential moments in life. I just encountered a beautiful one. I had the privilege of baptizing my first grandson, Aiden. What a joy it was to behold what the Psalmist David rightly referred to as a great blessing. I have lived to see "my children's children." However, the experience made me realize once again that I am growing old.
In some respects I am an old hippie still trying to find meaning in life. But the good news is that I have found such meaning- or rather, that meaning found me and called me to be His own.
Music has marked so many passages in life for me. I must confess that I not only mark time as a son of the Church, by the wonderful rhythm that is my participation in the life of the Church, but as a product of my age and its' music, I often mark it as well by the songs I "grew up" on. It happens naturally.
When we had the Baptismal reception for baby Aiden at our home, I had the words of a song by Bob Dylan flash through my mind from "It's Alright Ma" which he recorded in 1965, "...he not busy being born is busy dying." That experience set me on a musical memory path that entire day. I found myself thinking of songs from my youth that dealt with time. I remembered the Chambers Brothers classic tune "Time has come today" and the lyrics of the Rolling Stones "Time is on my side, yes, it is...Cause I got the real love, the kind that you need ...Now you were saying that you want to be free"
In their own way, each of these songwriters, like those throughout history, tried to find a meaning for time but they fell short.
As Christians we must not fall short.
Time truly is on our side because God is with us. The God, who created and governs time, came into time in order to bring we who are mere mortals into immortality. As we continue our journey to the end of the Church year and the beginning of Advent, let us choose to "Seize the day" by embracing time as an opportunity, making it our friend and our teacher unto eternal life!
Deacon Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with approval. He is a human rights lawyer and a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is a co-founder of the Your Catholic Voice Movement and the founder and President of Common Good.
Your Catholic Voice Movement
http://www.yourcatholicvoice.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Founder, 757 546-9580
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