Time and Eternity – the Blessing of One More Day
“If only I had more time – another day in the week or more hours in the day to get done all that I need to do!” This is a common refrain of busy parents, students facing project deadlines and pastors at busy parishes. Probably all of us at one time or another have wished for more time.
Well, today, February 29, we have that one more day! Today is Leap Day, which happens every four years as a mechanism to keep our Gregorian calendar synchronized with the earth’s revolutions around the sun.
It does not happen often that we get more time. We know how precious time is, not just from the lack of it when facing a long “to-do” list, but also the beauty of it as we watch our children grow, celebrate another birthday or marriage anniversary or enjoy the change of seasons.
Time is also important to the celebration of our faith. At present, we are moving through the forty-day period of Lent in preparation for the great feast of Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection over a fifty-day period leading up to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Easter always falls on the Sunday after the full moon of Passover, the first full moon of the spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Easter therefore can arrive as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.
The structure of the calendar is an intricate, complex, and beautiful technology. As we see in the relationship of the Jewish calendar to the Christian calendar, it is the work of many hands and minds trained to deal with holy things. The seasons turn and the feasts interplay like the gears of a priceless clock. They regulate our religious life and enrich our spiritual experience.
Lent is also a good time to think about the gift of time from a spiritual perspective as it relates to God’s time. As we are reminded on Ash Wednesday, we are dust and to dust we shall return. Yet, we Christians know that our time does not come to an end with death, we are not ruled by a finite sense of life. To be sure, our time on earth comes to an end in death, but the very celebration of Easter is a reminder that “the Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step toward him and an entrance into everlasting life” (CCC 1020).
As Christians, we also know that ultimately we are not ruled by time. When we depart this earth, we leave behind the temporal and enter into the eternal. If the next life were lived in time as it is now on earth, Pope Benedict XVI observes in his encyclical on Christian hope, “this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable” (Spe Salvi, 10). Then the Holy Father goes on to describe eternal life in this beautiful way:
“To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality – this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time – the before and after – no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy” (Spe Salvi, 12).
The Resurrection is a promise that we too will be raised into eternity with Jesus. In the meantime, in the liturgy, as we enter into communion with the Lord, we are at the crossroads of time and eternity. The span of the liturgical cycle of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time in a special way marks seasons of the spiritual life that, if entered into fully, enable us to see the passage of earthly time as marking our journey toward heaven.
Lent invites us not to waste any more time with the things that keep us from growing in love of our eternal Lord. Lent is the time to lay aside the burden of guilt and experience God’s gift of mercy. It is the time to consider how we are spending the days God has given us here on earth from the perspective of what God has planned for us in eternity.
Today we are given more time, we are given an extra day. How can this day and those to follow be more spiritually fruitful and more in harmony with God’s time?