Time and Timelessness
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky. "Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
A good teacher lets his students know the time of their tests. He may on occasion surprise them with a pop quiz, but he will make certain they know the date and time of the final exam. Our Lord, however, does just the opposite. Regarding His second coming and the last judgment (a final exam if ever there was one), He says “of that day or hour, no one knows” (Mk 13:32). Now, this seems like the kind of thing He should want us to know, so that we can prepare. So why does He not reveal the day or the hour?
He remains silent on this issue because our fallen human nature needs this strong medicine. Original sin has produced in us the tendency to procrastinate – that is, to prefer the immediate pleasure of some diversion to the labor that produces a future good. We would rather play video games than do homework, check our Facebook page than pray, watch football than rake the leaves.
And we should not think that we would treat Our Lord’s return any differently. If we knew the precise day and hour of His coming, would we spend the time between now and then preparing for it. Would we strive to increase in grace and good works in anticipation of His arrival? No, probably not. If we knew the time of His coming, we would most likely leave our repentance and prayer for the day before . . . at the earliest.
St. Augustine, who knew a thing or two about delay, warns us: “God has promised forgiveness to our repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” Jesus keeps the day and hour hidden from us so that we will always be on the watch and (one hopes) always prepared – indeed, always preparing. He has not promised us tomorrow precisely so that we will prepare now, not at the eleventh hour. It is strong medicine against our procrastination. He keeps us ignorant of His coming so that we always will be preparing for it.
Our ignorance of His return also brings us a great good. It frees us from slavery to the world’s schedule. Few things control our lives more than the schedule, calendar and time-clock. We need to free ourselves from these. Certainly, we must keep a good calendar, be punctual and all the rest. Problem is, we get overwhelmed by the tyranny of time, allowing the world instead of Our Lord to determine our schedule. Without a fixed point of reference or purpose, we easily collapse under time’s relentless march.
The possibility of Jesus coming at any moment relativizes temporal matters and reveals Him as Lord of all time. Time only has meaning in relation to Him and should be arranged with Him in view. As the church prays at the Easter Vigil, “All time belongs to Him and all the ages.” Our vigilance for His arrival puts the world’s schedule in perspective. All time gives way to His return. For that reason, we should schedule into our daily routine set moments of prayer – the morning offering, the Angelus, the rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, etc. These pauses in our day allow Our Lord to break into our time and they remind us that the world’s schedule does not rule us. They are ways of putting time in its proper place – in service of Him.
“Of that day or hour, no one knows.” The sober awareness of Our Lord’s sudden and unexpected return cures our procrastination and frees us to live for eternity. We continue to schedule appointments, keep the calendar and observe our routine. All the while, however, we remain free from time’s tyranny, ready to cancel all else and prepared for that most important appointment – the moment of His return.
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