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The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 52)

The Sanctification of Time
 
As we experience it, not all time is the same. We all know this well enough. One hour may grind on so slowly we fear it will never end. Another hour may fly by in what seems but a moment. It depends on what fills the hour. Not all days and dates are equal in importance, which is why we celebrate anniversaries. The date “9-11” is now seared in the memories of Americans; it would seem a sacrilege to forget to mark the day. Not all days are equal. Your birthday is like no other day, and it ought to be joyfully remembered.  
           
As the Church marks the passing of time, certain days and seasons are especially infused with meaning. All time, of course, can be made holy, as it is received as a gift from the Creator. But some days and seasons have been so filled up with God’s saving work that they are dense with holiness. Sunday, for example—the day in which time itself was redeemed by being filled with the presence of the risen Jesus.
           
Christians keep time sacramentally. We worship, not according to the seasons of the moon, but according to the days and events that marked the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Things are now changing in our culture. “Anno Domini” (A.D.) is being abandoned for “Common Era” (C.E.). Maybe our children’s children’s children will learn a calendar that no longer count years from “The Year of Our Lord.” But Christians can never forget that Christ's birth at Bethlehem was not only epoch-making, it was, as Dorothy Sayers said, “like a thunderbolt and split time into two halves.”
           
The Christian shares with all others the passage of time, and the passage of time leads to change and death. If we are to understand the frantic quality of modern life, we must discern the fear and dread with which human beings, caught in the race against death, fear time. In his Mediations on Liturgy, the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton has written about the anxiety of the “modern pagan,” the “child of technology,” who “lives not only below the level of grace, but below the level of nature—below his own humanity. . . . In such a world, a man's life is no longer even a seasonal cycle. It's a linear flight into nothingness, a flight from reality and from God, without purpose. . . except to keep moving, to keep from having to face reality” (p. 31).
           
In the Christian liturgical cycle, we are taken up into a new rhythm of life in which time is no longer the enemy. Christ has “tamed” time in his conquest of human death. In Christ, time is no longer simply a passing; it is filled with the spirit of pilgrimage. Time is no longer the thief that steals away our happiness; it is a herald announcing the approach of a destination. “Jesus has made this ebb and flow of light and darkness, activity and rest, birth and death, the sign of a higher life, a life which we live in him, a life which knows no decline, and a day which does not fall into darkness” (Merton, p. 29).
           
As we have entered the holy season of Advent, let's not allow the Advent days to fly by unclaimed. As sacramental time-keepers, “you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the days is at hand. Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves as properly, as in the day” (Rom. 13:11-14).


 
 
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