Below is a link to a commercial that must have taken weeks to film. Regardless of its intent (selling home insurance), there is something of an admonition in both the visuals and the music, that life and the things of life slip away.
While the music sets forth the theme, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow; don’t stop, it’ll soon be here,” the objects in the house start to get up and leave the house and its owners. The owners themselves begin to be swept away as well. By the end of the commercial, all that was within, and all who were within, have been swept outside.
This is a paradigm for life. No thing and no person in this world will survive the passage of time. All will be swept away; all will pass. Even lofty mountains were once on the sea floor, and to that floor they will eventually erode and return. Jesus said, Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Mat 24:35).
Scripture also says,
For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Heb 13:14).
The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray (1 Peter 4:7).
But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).
This commercial is not morbid, but rather almost joyful. Indeed, though earthly glories fade, Scripture says (in many different passages) that trouble doesn’t last always (cf Psalm 30:6).
The commercial ends with a photograph being taken. Ultimately, each moment in life is but a snapshot in time. Time itself and all things are moving downstream and slipping away. God alone remains forever. Our only hope is to be anchored to Him. He is our rock, our firm foundation. His Kingdom is our lasting city. All else fails and slips away.
The photo at the right, which I took in the attic of our parish school, reminds me of the ancient Latin phrase Sic transit gloria mundi (Thus passes the glory of the world). These are the symbols of victory in sports events, much trained for and fought for. Once they were proudly displayed in the trophy case of the main hallway. Over time they were shifted behind the newer trophies, then relocated to less prominent locations in the school, then to the closet, and finally to the attic.
My old “letter jacket” from high school still hangs in my closet, but it stopped fitting me decades ago. I also have a few tarnished medals I won running the mile. They once graced my “letter sweater,” with the big red, white, and blue letters “GF” (Garfield High School) sewn on. That sweater is long gone. I once strutted in it proudly as the medals and gold bars gleamed; now the races that merited them are but dim memories.
For we have here no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14).
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:18).
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; but the wind passes over it, and he is gone, and his place knows him no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him (Psalm 103:15-17).
There’s an old hymn that says,
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Lord who changes not, abide with me.
Yes, earth’s glories pass away, but the glory of the Lord endures forever. If we are faithful, it is into that glory that we will enter. The Lamb is the light of the City of God!
I suppose there is a sadness in seeing all those rusting and bent trophies in the school attic, but there is also something freeing. The transitory nature of earth’s glories helps us to be less obsessed with them. The praise of men has its place, but the praise of God and His rewards will last eternally.
Another old hymn says, “Only what you do for Christ will last.” Whatever glory the trophies in that attic once signified, only the self-discipline and teamwork—if done in Christ—will last.
These are just some things I thought about as I stumbled upon the faded glory of some old trophies.
In the Book of Ecclesiastes from today’s Mass, something is said that is quite powerful if we meditate upon it.
I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done (Eccles 3:10-11).
Somewhere in our hearts is something that the world cannot, and did not give us. It is something that is nowhere evident in the world, and yet, though not perceiving it, we still know it. This passage from Ecclesiastes calls it “the timeless.” We also often refer to it as eternity, or even infinity.
But where did this come from? The world is finite. Time on earth is serial. Things have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We do not experience anything here of the timeless. Rather, everything is governed by the steady, unrelenting ticking of the clock. Things begin and end. Every verb we speak is time-based, rooted at some point in time but never able to break free of it. Everything is rooted in chronological time. But somewhere in our hearts we can grasp the timeless. It is hard to put into words for we know it at a very deep level. But, we do know it.
The experience of “forever” does not exist in this world, but it is there in our mind and heart. There is no way to engage in time travel here in this world. Yet instinctively we know that somehow we can. Science fiction and fantasy often feature going back to the past or forward into the future. The world could not possibly teach us this for we are locked into the present and have never actually traveled in time. But somehow we know we can do it.
Eternity comes from the Greek word “aeon,” which means the fullness of time. It is not just a long time, it is all time: past, present, and future all at once. Look at the dot in the center of your watch and notice how 10am may be in the past, 6pm in the future, and 2pm now, but at the center dot they are all really the same. This is aeon; this is eternity, the fullness of time; this is a picture of timelessness.
Where did we get it? The world cannot give it, for the world does not have it. The world is finite, limited; it is time-bound, not timeless. Where did we get it?
Maybe it’s from God.
This song speaks of another aspect of time that the Greeks called “kairos” which is that experience of the fittingness of certain things to certain times. Chronos is the Greek for “clock time” but kairos grasps that other mysterious dimension of time that somehow we know when “the time is right.”
Today’s reading at Mass from the Book of Ecclesiastes says something that is quite powerful if we meditate upon it.
I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. (Eccles 3:10-11)
Somewhere in our hearts is something that the world cannot, and did not give us. This passage calls it “the timeless.” We also often refer to it as eternity, or even, infinity.
But where did this come from? The world is finite. Time here is serial. Things have a beginning, a middle and an end. We do not experience anything here of the timeless. Rather everything is governed by the steady ticking of the clock of time. Every verb we speak is time-based. Everything is rooted in chronological time. But somewhere in our hearts we can grasp the timeless. It is hard to put in words for we know it deeply. Yes, we do know it.
The experience of “forever” does not exist in this world, but it is there in our mind and hearts. There is no way to time travel here in this world. Yet instinctively we know we can, somehow. Science fiction and fantasy often feature going to the past or into the future. The world could not teach us this for we are locked into the present and we have never actually travelled in time. But somehow we know we can do it.
Eternity comes from a Greek word “Aeon” which means the fullness of time. It is not just a long time, it is all time: past, present and future all at once. Look to the center dot on your watch and behold how 10am may be past, 6pm the future, and 2pm now, but at the center dot they are all really the same. This is Aeon, this is eternity, the fullness of time, this is timelessness.
Where did we get it? The world cannot give it, for the world does not have it. It is finite, it is limited, it is time-bound, not timeless. Where did we get it?
In yesterday’s blog (I Don’t See Ghosts. But God Does) I mentioned eternity and that it was the fullness of time wherein the past present and future were all at once for God. God does not have to wait for things to happen nor does he have to reminisce about the past. It is all before him as one moment.
I would like to say a little more about this. First, I would like to attempt to better define eternity. And then I’d like to ponder some possible implications and see what you think.
“Defining” The Mystery of Eternity – I have put the word “defining” in quotes purposefully since, simply defining eternity is quite impossible. By analogy, what if I were to ask you to “Define the universe and give three examples.” Such a request would be silly since the universe cannot simply be defined. It is just too big to be contained by words. And so it is with eternity. Ultimately eternity is a mystery in that, whatever we can say about it, more remains un-sayable. So, in proposing to “define” eternity I am not arrogantly thinking I can contain the concept in the mere confines of words. But since we need some parameters for our discussion, some definitions, (parameters) really are needed.
What Do we mean by Eternity? Most people misunderstand the word eternity simply to mean “a long, long, time.” But that is not what is meant by the word. When the Greeks coined the word eternity, (Aeon) they meant by it “the fullness of time.” That is to say, Eternity is the past, present and future all being experienced at once.
I cannot tell you what this is like, but I can illustrate it. Look at the clock to the upper right. The time is 1:15 in the afternoon. That means that 10:00 AM is in the past and 6:00 PM is in the future. But consider the dot at the center of the clock and see that, at that spot, 10 AM, 1:15 PM, and 6 PM are all the same, they are equally present to the dot in the center. In fact every possible time that can be registered on the outer edges of the clock is equally present to the center dot. At the center dot there is no substantial difference to any outer edge time indication. There is no future, no past, all is present, all is equally accessible to the center dot. This is eternity and this is where God lives.
God Lives in eternity – We live our life in serial time, on the outer edge of the clock. But God does not. God lives in eternity. God lives in the fullness of time. For God, past, and future are the same as the present. God is not “waiting” for things to happen. All things just are. God is not waiting and wondering if you or I will get to heaven. He is not watching history unfold like a movie. In eternity, 10,000 years ago is just as present as 10,000 years from now. Eternity includes all pasts and futures in the living present.
Scripture hints at God’s eternity in numerous passages. For example,
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. (2 Peter 3:8).
Psalm 139 says, Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. (Ps 139, 15).
Psalm 90 says, For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (Ps 90:4).
And then there is simply the God’s name: “I AM” In this Name, there is no past, no future, just an eternal now, the present tense.
Jesus declared to the crowds, “Before Abraham ever was, I AM.” (John 8:58).
So here is the most awesome mystery of time, the fullness of time, eternity. Some implications from this are interesting to ponder.
1. God is not waiting for anything. He did not wait for you or me to be born, he is not waiting for us to die. He is not waiting to judge us. He is not waiting for us to enter heaven (or Hell!). He is not waiting for us to emerge from purgatory. He is not waiting for the end of the world. Everything is accomplished. Everything is done. And yet every thing is also underway. The day of my birth is present to God. They day of my death is present to him. The full sweep of history is before God in one glance, one comprehensive NOW. We may say, “Why is God taking so long to answer my prayer?” The fact is he has already provided. The Lord answers prayers, sooner than right now, faster than immediately.
2. This does not mean that everything is predetermined in such a way as to make our freedom meaningless. That God already knows and and has always known every decision we make does not mean that we do not in fact freely make it. God’s knowledge does not cancel our freedom.
3. At some point we will move to the eternal center with God. It does not seem likely that we will ever comprehend time and things as comprehensively as God. And yet the fact that we move to eternity, to the fullness of time, would suggest that the whole course of our life will somehow, mysteriously be present to us. I say “suggest,” since none of this is perfectly laid out for us to know here. This is speculation based on what eternity seems to be. Since, by definition the past will be present, some how it would seem that the whole of our past life will be present and available to us in heaven. Somehow my high school graduation, my first date 🙂 , my ordination, even this typing session will be present. How and it what manner or mode it is experienced is not clear. Sometimes people ask if their pets will be in heaven. If the past is accessible it would seem that pets somehow are with us there. How and to what degree we would want to go back and “visit” the past is not possible to say. Saying what eternity seems to include is one thing, describing how it is experienced there is something altogether different and beyond the realm of what we can likely know here.
4. Why bother praying? Some my say if everything already is, what difference does prayer make? But this question presumes that God has not always known you would pray and already set forth the answer based on that. For us, time and decisions must unfold. Though God has always known what we would do or not do, we are NOT in that position and thus must decide to pray. That God has always known what we would do is beside the point from our perspective. We must decide to pray and know that God has always known if we would pray and had already acted accordingly.
5. Are the Souls in heaven waiting for anything? – If eternity is the fullness of time and if past and future are contained in a perfect now it would seem they are not waiting. My parents, who have both died are not likely waiting for me to join them since the future is already present to them. They are not waiting for their bodies to rise for in eternity that is accomplished. From our perspective these things are not accomplished and must unfold, but in eternity it would seem that they are already present. Or so it would seem.
Please note that I offer these implications (speculations really) very humbly. Note how often I have used the word “seem.” That is intentional. Eternity is a very deep mystery. We can define it (sort of) but grasping how it is experienced is quite another matter. I’d like to know what you think. Analogies are always appreciated and large doses of humility are necessary. We must remember that we are talking about something we have never experienced. Further we are using mere words to describe what cannot really be reduced to words. Words are necessary, but remember, they are inadequate.
The Parish where I serve has a history stretching back to 1893. Though our current buildings reach back only to 1938, even that is a stretch of over 70 years. As I walk these buildings, especially in the quiet of the night I sense a connection. I surely have never seen a ghost but in my mind’s eye I sense those who once walked the aisles of my Church, who sat in the pews. I ponder the many, many baptisms, at our font. The thousands of brides who walked our beautiful aisle. The thousands of first communions, confirmations, the thump as penitents knelt in the confessionals still in use after all these years. And yes, the many funerals.
How many times have those venerable old doors opened to admit a soul loved by God? How many tens of thousands, maybe over a hundred thousand have cumulatively prayed in my parish.
Late at night, I often visit the Church which is connected to the rectory, and I can almost see them. Perhaps too a faint echo of organ or choral music from the deep past echoing faintly in the shadows of the hallowed hall we call our Church.
In the rectory too, I wonder at the many dozens of priests who once occupied my room, who once sat at my dining room table. Most of them long dead, some still living. At times I sense their presence. I remember one priest who is dead now. Some years ago in the early 1990s when I was assigned here for the first time I occupied the rooms he once did. I felt a strong mandate from the Holy Spirit to pray for him. He was quite old but still living at the time and had left in 1970s for a schismatic church. Three years ago he died. Recently a brother priest told he that he had reconciled him to the Church just weeks before he died. Praise God. And now here I am again, back living in the same pastor’s quarters he once lived in. I feel a connection to him and the other priests who once walked these halls and lived in these rooms.
Somehow the past reaches forward and touches me and I know it is real. For the past is just as present to God as the present moment is and every future moment. It’s all knit together by God who is eternal. For eternal means the fullness of time. It means that the past, present and future are all the same to God, each equally present to him. So in God all those church events of the past are just as present to him as I am now. And tomorrow’s sermons is already accomplished for God as are all my sermons and Masses. And every priest who will one day come after me, and all that they will do, is already present to God. It’s all equally present to Him.
I don’t see Ghosts, but God does. And they are just as present and real to him as I am. And God sees those who will come after me too. The great mystery of time and God’s eternity unfold in these hallowed halls and in yours too.
The picture at the upper right is my parish in 1956.
This video is an unusual one. It depicts three priests singing of the history of a parish. And as they sing that history becomes present. There are men and women depicted going back to the 16th century. Sacraments are celebrated, people pray, and light candles. And gradually the people look more and more modern and then are of the present. Every parish holds the past as well as the present. For since God is present, so is the past, and so is the future.