The gate of heaven

St. John Paul II: ‘Do not be afraid to give your time to Christ — ­it is never time lost but rather time gained’

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”— Luke 10:41-42

Many know I have a habit of running late. My excuse—I lose track of time, at least the way in which we measure it by a clock. Despite all the technology at our fingertips and “time management” practices, the “tyranny of time” continues to challenge and frustrate our schedules and efforts.

But if we do not want to be a slave of time, we need to embrace the “one thing” necessary: the present moment, the only time in which we can encounter God and invite eternity into our heart and day.

The present moment is the only time in which we can meet people and offer them the gift of our self and our love. And such is true in our relationship with God. We do not encounter God in the past, nor in the future, but only in the time and circumstances of our every present moment.

Before you think, “Time to turn the page on this column,” it is important to point out that the secret to time is not in battling it, but in sanctifying it—offering it to God so that it might be impregnated with eternity and become the bearer of His love, peace, and blessings in the unfolding of our day. As St. John Vianney reminds us, “All that we do without offering it to God is wasted.”

“Eternity entered human life when Christ became man,” Pope St. John Paul II reminds us. As such we are “called to make the journey with Christ from time to eternity.” And the way we do this is by inviting Christ into our time. For He “knows the secret of time and the secret of eternity” and “time given to Christ is never time lost but is rather time gained.” And in his excellent online article, “Time,” Dr. Peter Kreeft offers this truth for us to consider: “We think time determines prayer, but prayer determines time.”

So how can we possibly offer our present moments to God when they are so fleeting and filled with everything from the chaotic to the mundane? There is the quick morning cup of coffee and the heavy traffic of our commute and the long and hectic hours of our work.

There is the care of our children and diapers to change, meals to prepare, grocery shopping and laundry to do, the mowing of the lawn, and the quiet time before laying down to sleep after an exhausting day. But these are exactly the moments, with their crosses, disappointments, annoyances, and joys that God especially wants to bless and make holy.

Obviously, we should never do anything that we cannot offer to God. But that which we do offer, along with the many things we have no control of in the circumstances of our day, represents the “raw material” for what the saints call the “sacrament of the present moment.”

Every sacrament in its broad sense, as Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen states, “combines two elements: one visible, the other invisible—one that can be seen, or tasted, or touched, or heard; the other unseen to the eyes of the flesh.” So, if the present moment is to be a sacrament in this broad sense, then it must be invested with the eternal touch of God’s love.

Living in the present moment is to accept the various circumstances and crosses with our “yes” to God’s will in the unfolding of our day and to “lift up our heart” with a simple prayer such as “Come, Lord Jesus” or “Thy will be done” or “Jesus, I trust in you.” These short “exclamatory prayers,” as they are now called, are a powerful way of turning our work and activities into a prayer, even if we lose our consciousness of such as we commit ourselves to the task at hand. This is how we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

Exclamatory prayers are typically a brief verse from or inspired by Scripture, which in sowing them frequently into our day, bear eternal fruits. They are a most effective “dart” or “fiery arrow” against temptations, as the saints will attest, and a critical part of our arsenal for spiritual warfare.

While the Liturgy of the Hours is a most powerful means for sanctifying the day (which priests have a special obligation to pray in its entirety), not everyone is able to pray it.  But we can all easily and frequently throughout our day pray the opening verse from Psalm 70, which serves as the “gateway” for each of the “hours” of the Church’s official prayer—”O God, come to my assistance; Lord make haste to help me.” It reminds us, as Christ taught us, that “apart from [Him], we can do nothing” (John 15:51).

Many may be familiar with the “Jesus Prayer,” which the Christian East considers a most important prayer for sanctifying our day—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Much has been written of this prayer, which I encourage you to reflect upon.

For the “Gethsemane” moments of our life, we have Christ’s prayer in the garden—”Not my will, but Your will be done” (Luke 22:42). We also have Mary’s response at the Annunciation that helps us to embrace God’s will for us as it unveils itself, be it in the form of a cross or something else: “Be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The simple prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit,” is another beautiful way of exercising our baptismal priesthood in these moments.

Exclamatory prayers also help to clear the clouds of the frequent distractions we are barraged with daily. The two greatest distractions, though, are those that Father Richer-Marie Beaubien, OFM, likens to “thieves” saying, “Like the executioners, who crucified Christ, we ‘crucify’ the present between the two thieves of Yesterday and Tomorrow.

We attach our memories and our regrets to a past which no longer belongs to us, and we hitch the wagon of our dreams and cares to a future that may never be ours. And these two thieves rob us of our only treasure that is ours to use—the present moment” (Your Mass and Your Life).

We should also divide our day into small oases of prayer with some favored devotions and practices (all of which can be found online). Of fundamental importance, as it represents our desire to sanctify all the hours of our day, is the Morning Offering. We can renew this desire at midday with Mary’s fiat celebrated in the Angelus. We also can entrust our past and future to God’s mercy with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at midafternoon. The rosary and Mary’s Magnificat is a beautiful way to sanctify our evening.

And we should try to give thanks for our day and commend our sleep to God with our night prayer and a brief examination of conscience and Act of Contrition. And throughout your day, bless yourself with holy water.

So much more can be said, but I close with some recommended readings. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s superb article, Sanctify the Present Moment and Dr. Peter Kreeft’s Time are both available online as well as Monsignor Romano Guardini’s booklet Sacred Signs and its chapter “Time Sanctified.”

I would also highly recommend two books: Father Jean-Pierre Caussade’s timeless classic Abandonment to Divine Providence, and Archimandrite Meletios Webber’s excellent book Bread & Water, Wine & Oil.

It is our forgetfulness of God, to paraphrase Father Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, that causes us to be immersed in the horizontal line of time and prevents us from seeing the vertical line between the present moment and “immobile eternity” and living it as a sacrament.

Like the Patriarch Jacob who was surprised to discover God’s strong presence where he least expected it exclaiming, “The Lord is in this place and I did not know it,” may we too rejoice in the present moments of our day, which as Jacob learned are the very “gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16, 17).

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