Sister Joan Marie Stelman – Time and Eternity

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Sister Joan Marie Stelman – Time and Eternity

Advent is a time of waiting – waiting which compels us to contemplate  the mysteries of time and of eternity.In the Old Testament readings for the first Sunday of Advent, the prophet and the psalmist implore God’s help – they beg God to come down and restore all that has gone astray in the world and in our hearts.  The psalmist wants justice and protection: the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel.  The prophet Isaiah also asks for justice, but he emphasizes that the reward promised by God, that which “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard” will come only to those who wait for him and who are found just when the wait is finally over.In the Gospel, Jesus speaks forcefully about time when he warns his disciples, past and present –

Be watchful!  Be alert!You do not know when the time will come.

Time is a mystery from which we finite creatures can never be completely free.  All of us can remember occasions when time seemed to crawl by at an excruciatingly slow pace.  Maybe we were ill, or worried, or bored, but we have all at one time or another wished time away – whether the days of slow recovery, minutes until the end of a meeting or work day, or as children wishing years away so we could already be grown up or incessantly asking on a journey “are we there yet?”In our culture, we are not a patient people.  What we want, we want now.  What we find distasteful, we are apt to consider a “waste” of our time.  We are lost without our calendars – we make plans and schedules we expect to be kept, and when, inevitably, things go awry, we are intolerant of delays.We yearn to control time, yet our bondage to decay is bondage to time which wears out our perishable bodies and possessions.Time is such a slippery thing to get hold of – how can minutes crawl by and yet years fly by with mind-boggling speed?  I know that for me, this rapid passage of time seems to be increasing exponentially as I age!  I sometimes want desparately to hit some sort of “Pause” button on life.  We have had many painful reminders this past year of how quickly time can pass, as we have dealt with the loss of so many dear Sisters.  I wish I could put my arms around Sister Joan again, or see Sister Celine’s beautiful gentle dark eyes, or hear Sister Tim’s tenor, or be on the receiving end of one of Sister Mary O’s quick bright smiles.  I wish I could say that I always cherished all the moments I had with the people I have loved, but I know that inevitably, as St. Paul said, I do not do all the good I want to do.Given our human failings and limitations, waiting both productively and patiently for Christ can seem like an impossible task, but St. Paul provides some consolation in the second reading for tomorrow.  While Isaiah emphasizes our failure to be ready, Paul reassures the Corinthians that they have what they need to succeed – “not lacking in any spiritual gift” as they “wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He goes on to say that Christ “will keep them (and us) firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord….”We can’t control time by impatiently rushing forward or by retreating into the past.  Then, what sort of relationship with time are we called to cultivate as followers of Christ?  I don’t think the answer is as simple as living in each present moment because we are also called to meet the challenges of the future and to honor the blessings and traditions of the past.As Christians, our call is far more radical.  Although we are bound to time, we are called to live beyond time – not simply in the present.  The astonishing reality is that we are called even now to live in eternity because we are called to “abide” in Christ himself.During this season we prepare to celebrate one of the most amazing moments of all time – the moment when eternity and limited human time intersected and God took on our humanity.  The incarnation frees us from our captivity and allows us to transcend time.  This is indeed a “wondrous mystery!”  Even though it is a mystery which we can only grasp imperfectly now, we feel its truth.We see an imperfect mirror image of eternity in the pivotal moments of our own lives.  Reflect on your life and find the moments that come to mind with startling clarity.  Savour these moments that changed you forever.  Don’t they seem lifted out of time – etched upon your heart’s memory – vivid and breath-taking, even in retrospect?Perhaps this is what St. Augustine meant when he said that “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”  Freed from the tyranny of time, we can truly rest abiding in Christ, and whatever is wanting in our time of waiting will be made whole in our love for him and the mystery of his love for us.

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“Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life...all of our life.”
–Henri Nouwen