Encounters with God are experienced in the moment, in time
Real quick: what year is it? What month? Is it winter, spring, summer or fall? What day of the week is it?
Pretty simple, right?
Again, real quick: what season of the Church year are we in? What week of that Church season are we in? Which cycle of the Sunday lectionary are we in? Which year of the daily lectionary are we in? What week of the psalter in the Liturgy of the Hours are we in?
We all know civil time, but Church time? Who cares?
We Catholics are a sacramental people. We frequently experience sacraments, especially Eucharist. The problem is that we don’t thinksacramentally. In many ways, that is to be expected. The United States is a nominally Protestant country, and with a few exceptions (Lutherans and Episcopalians, for example), most Protestants do not deal in a sacramental system. Thus, why think that way? Also, our culture is becoming more and more secular.
Since thinking in a sacramental way involves a religious outlook, sacramental thinking is not on the radar of most people. Combine those two things - a nominally Protestant country within a culture rapidly secular - and the odds of folks having a sacramental outlook on life are downright nil.
So what does it mean to think sacramentally?
It means we experience God in the stuff. Stuff like oil, water, fire, bread and wine. But it means more than that. Thinking sacramentally means God makes himself presentin the stuff. Since on this side of existence we cannot see God as he truly is, God comes to us in the stuff with which we are very familiar: bread, wine, oil, water, fire.
But another component of that stuffis time.
Look at the Old Testament. Yes, the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8) is a major component of the book. However, the Old Testament is far more concerned with the succeeding generations of God’s people; is far more centered on the history of God’s people. And what is “succeeding generations” and “history of people” other than the passage of time? Furthermore, in the Ten Commandments the third commandment, keep holy the Sabbath, is the only commandment that mentions the “holy,” and it is about time.
Look at the New Testament. Jesus says “Now is the timeof fulfillment. The kingdom of God is athand” (Mk 1:15); “My timeis not yet here, but the timeis always right for you” (Jn 7:6); “Father, the hourhas come” (Jn 17:1).
In other words, our lives are filled with sacred moments. Time is not just the succession of a sequence of random events. For us Catholics time is sacred, and we believe God enters into time.
That is why you and I need to think sacramentally: because in time and stuff,God is present, and it is there that we experience God; it is there that we experience the holy.
But how do we make ourselves more cognizant of Church time? Well, how about praying the Liturgy of the Hours (LOH), the prayer book of the Church?
In order to pray the LOH you must be very conscious of time. First, you must be conscious of the time of day, for the times of prayer (the Hour) are scattered throughout the day: morning, midday, evening and night. Second, praying the LOH requires you to know what season of the Church year we are in: Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter. Third, since the LOH prays the entire psalter over a period of four weeks, you need to know which week of the psalter we are in; are we in week I, week II, week III or week IV?
The whole point of being cognizant of time is to better enable us to encounter God in the moment. Yes, I’m writing this on Sunday August 23, 2015 at 12:15 p.m. But I’m also writing this on the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time shortly after midday prayer in cycle B of the Sunday lectionary and week I of the LOH.
Try thinking in God’s time. Try seeing God in the moment. The main events of salvation history take place in the dimension of time.
And, oh, Happy Thanksgiving to all my faithful readers.