What time is it?

I would like to take the opportunity at the beginning of this post to give you a preview of the prayers and readings for this Sunday, the First Sunday in Advent.

In the Collect (i.e. opening prayer), we ask God to grant us the “resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”  The first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, begins with, “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.”  Saint Paul prays for the Church in Thessalonica, in the second reading, so the believers there will “increase and abound in love for one another” in order to “be blamless…at the coming of our Lord Jesus.”  Finally, from the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus tells his disciples of the warning signs that will occur prior to the “Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

What came to my mind as I read over these various passages was their relationship to time and space. The Church provides her faithful the liturgical seasons to help them keep track of the time. But what does that mean, “to keep track of the time?” It’s an expression most often associated with being mindful of one’s surroundings or one’s actions, as they relate to time. For example, you might tell you son or daughter as they head out with friends, “Keep track of the time and make sure you are home by ten.” In a sense you are telling them that whatever they are doing, they need to be ready to come home by the time you have given them.

Similarly, Jesus cautions his disciples, and us, in this Sunday’s Gospel reading to, “Be vigilant at all times.”  That is much harder to do than to just be ready at a given day and hour (cf. Lk 21:36 and Mt 24:36).  But if we knew the exact day and hour of Jesus’ return, what would we do with our time in between now and then?  Would we spend it increasing our love for one another, as Saint Paul admonishes us to, or would we spend it frivolously and try to “get ready” in the final hours before Jesus’ expected return.

Time and space are critical elements to who we are as believers.  Pope Benedict XVI, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, teaches us:

“Today” embraces the whole time of the Church.  And so in the Christian liturgy we not only receive something from the past but become contemporaries with what lies at the foundation of that liturgy.  Here is the real heart and true grandeur of the celebration of the Eucharist, which is more, much more than a meal.  In the Eucharist we are caught up and made contemporary with the Paschal Mystery of Christ, in his passing from the tabernacle of the transitory to the presence and sight of God (Spirit of the Liturgy, pg 57).

This is arguably one of the most stunning realizations a Catholic could grasp when attending Mass.  That while sitting there in the pew, in the midst of crying children and whispering adults, we are mystically made present with Christ.  If we could grasp that, even a tiny piece of it, we would be laying hold of what Pope Benedict calls, “the real heart and true grandeur of the celebration of the Eucharist.”

In his book, Faith and History, American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr provides an excellent meditation on God’s relationship to time and space (i.e. history):

In Biblical thought God is not, however, pure mystery.  There is a provisional and residual mystery in the divine, but God makes Himself known.  His sovereignty over history is disclosed in specific events and acts which are revelatory of the meaning of the whole process.  But these revelations of sovereignty presuppose the divine power over the whole created world; and in the Biblical idea of the world’s creation by God the emphasis is upon mystery. It calls attention to a depth of reality where mystery impinges upon meaning (pg 41).

When we ponder all that God has created we cannot help but stand in awe of his majesty and power.  However, this is not where the work of God ended and humanity took over. God continues to intervene in our lives in a variety of profound ways.  Admittedly, his interventions are not always to our design and so we don’t see them or we refuse to acknowledge them, but that is a problem on our end, not God’s.  We still should thank him for his interventions – everyday – even if in some ways, they remain a mystery.

There is a story of a pilgrim walking in the country side when he encounters a monk watching several other monks who are working on a stone structure.  The pilgrim says to the watchful monk, “Ah, I see you are building an abbey; are you the abbot?”  ”I am,” says the attentive monk, “but my monks are not building an abbey, they are tearing this one down.”  ”For heaven’s sake!  Why are they doing that?”  The abbot replied, “So we can all see the sun rise tomorrow.”

As the Season of Advent approaches, be like the monks in the story and tear down the structures in your life that prevent you from clearly seeing Jesus, the true son.  Look at the Mass with a fresh perspective, with all its profundity and beauty, and allow yourself to be taken to “the presence and sight of God.”  Lastly, “keep track of the time” and be sure to “be vigilant at all times” so that upon Christ’s return you can “run forth to meet Christ at his coming.”

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Mr. Christopher Smith, OP (3 Posts)

I was born and raised in a town of about 800 people in Northern Michigan. A couple of months after graduating high school, I joined the United States Navy. I spent almost 21 years on active duty, serving on surface ships, submarines, and even embedded with the Army in Baghdad, Iraq. I retired from the Navy in March 2010 and now work as an consultant in the IT industry specializing in cyber security and cloud computing near Baltimore, Maryland. I received a BA degree in Religious Studies (AOC: Christian Studies) from Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2005 and a MA degree in Theology (AOC: Moral Theology) from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland in 2010. I was received into the Dominican Order in June 2007 as a member of the Immaculate Conception Chapter of Third Order Dominicans located at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C. My lovely wife Jennifer and I have two sons, Logan and Noah, and seem to spend countless hours going to and from soccer games. In between soccer games, I enjoy good books, good wine, and an occasional good cigar.


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