What is time? On the one hand time is self-evident. This happens and that that happens and then the next thing happens. We are moving through time. However, physicists say that time only exists on the psychological level, not in reality. Philosophers have been wrestling with the meaning of time without any resolution for thousands of years. Einstein famously declared that time is relative – which any six year old can testify is true when time slows down dramatically as you are waiting for Christmas day to arrive. Won’t it ever get here? Rather than get bogged down in the scientific or philosophical notions of time we should stick to our common sense understanding of time as divided into three parts: the past, the present and the future. That seems to have been Jesus’ approach to time in St. Luke’s gospel. He acknowledged the past in the adornments which had been done to the temple. He acknowledged the coming future – not painting a very rosy picture of it either with wars and insurrections and earthquakes and famines and plagues and persecution. By urging his followers to persevere, to live with courage and fidelity in the midst of woes, he kept them in the present. That should be our strategy for living as well. Let’s look at what living with an awareness of time – past, present and future — looks like in three arenas: in the national realm, in the realm of the Church, and in the personal realm.
In the arena of national policy one of the hot topics is climate change. The best response to this issue is to stay in the present tense. It does no good to obsess about the past. “Hey boomer, thanks for ruining the world for us. You poisoned our atmosphere by burning coal. You wanted easy transportation so everyone has a polluting car. You fill the air with methane because of your craving for meat.” Not helpful pointing all that out. Nor is it useful to obsess about the future. Ach, the sea levels are rising. Ach, arctic ice caps are melting. Ach, the storms are getting more powerful. The future is coming whether we like it or not so it is not helpful to worry about it. What is helpful is living in the present. I will do what I can to lower my carbon footprint. I will play my part by shopping smarter to eliminate plastic. I will become informed and vote for those candidates who care about the planet. Not the past, not the future but the present is the realm of action.
Think about the Church, about our Church, St. James. We can get all worked up about our past. They took our stained glass windows. They tore down our beautiful old church. They promised that we would get a new building. That was then. Or we can become anxious about the future when we hear how things are happening in Renew My Church. Are they going to make us merge with another parish? Are they going to shut us down because we are small? Are they going to destroy the community we have built here? We don’t know what the future holds but it does little good to become worried when we think about the possibilities. What is helpful is attending to the present. We must live as a community of prayer and deep spirituality. We must grow in our sense of hospitality and welcome. We must invite others to come and walk in faith. We must serve the community around us with great charity. We must have a personal sense of responsibility for the life that we share as a parish. Not in the past, not in the future, but in the present is the realm where we are called to be Church.
Finally when we think about our own lives we must live in the present tense as well. Everyone over the age of about six has regrets from the past – things we have done, things done to us, things we should have done, things we wish we had done, things we shouldn’t have done. But it does no good to stew over those things. Go to confession, get sins forgiven, and find a way to put the past to rest. We all probably also have worries about the future. Am I going to stay healthy? Is my memory starting to slip? Will I have enough money for retirement? Is this the right career path for me? Will there be someone I can share my life with? But as the old song goes, Que sera, sera. What will be, will be. Losing sleep over what might happen one day does not do a body good. What does do good is living in the present. Spend time each day in prayer. Eat the right thing and exercise. Work with the abilities that you possess. Make choices that reflect your values and ideals. Reach out a hand to help someone in need. Keep busy but don’t be a busybody, as St. Paul puts it in the epistle. If we live our present tense with love and faith, we can be sure that the grace and mercy of God will heal our past and that our future will be secure.
Jesus ended his warning to stay in the present tense undistracted by the events of the past and unafraid of what is coming in the future by saying, “By your perseverance you will save your lives.” Perseverance, hanging in the there, keeping on keeping on, grit, tenacity – that is what makes it possible not to give up even when everything seems to be falling down around you. According to the legend Thomas Edison found out more than 1,000 ways not to make a light bulb before he found one that worked. Because of his perseverance we don’t have to sit around in the dark. When we hang in there with God we too will find our way into the light.