A Meditation on the Delay and Silence of God

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but God doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry about most things. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn.

We live in a loud, fast-paced world, one of constantly “breaking news,” in which crisis and urgency are the predominant mode. Instant communication and quick responses are expected, even demanded.

At the national level, there is hardly any reporting at all by the media before there is a rush to analyze, comment, and demand a reaction and plan of action from public officials.

At the personal level, someone will often express irritation at not hearing back from me within the day, or even within minutes. “I sent you a text! Did you get it?” If I do not answer a text quickly enough I may get another one that simply says “Father …?” An email may begin with a subject like this: “** Second Attempt **” if the previous email went unanswered for even a day.

In many companies, voice mail has been discontinued because it’s “too slow.” Many younger people seldom answer their phones let alone initiate phone calls. Communication is more commonly accomplished through instant messages, texts, and tweets. This results in a clipped quality to conversations that limits thoughtful discussion.

Yes, we are in a big hurry. But back to my question: Have you noticed that God doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry? God could easily solve everything instantly with a mere snap of His fingers; one word and it would be fixed. He does not do this, however, and He has His reasons. Perhaps it is important for us to live some of our questions in order to appreciate their depths. Perhaps the problems we want solved are themselves part of a deeper solution that God is working to make us humbler, wiser, and /or stronger.

Beyond puzzling, God’s slow pace can also be dismaying. Why does God allow the wicked to inflict so much damage for so long? Why does He allow error and heresy to go unchecked? Why does He permit sinners to remain unpunished and uncorrected?

The Church too is often rather slow to respond or act. We will go on for decades, even centuries, pondering and reflecting while the world rushes forward at light speed into error, darkness, and confusion. We often want the Church to have quick answers and effective responses to all of this; we want the Church to turn on a dime but that’s like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around.

Though at times imponderable, God’s delay is sinless. The Church’s delay, however, may be admixed with sin, sloth, and resistance. This does not mean that all the delay of the Church is sinful. Especially in today’s world of quick, often rash reaction, there is still the need for careful, thoughtful, prayerful deliberation. Our faith doesn’t reduce easily to sound bites. The Gospel does not fit on a bumper sticker. The Church should not be reduced to a fire department, but she should keep her identity as a careful medical practice. The urgent should not eclipse the important.

Yes, all of this has been a hard lesson for me to learn. I am impatient by nature; I tap my foot incessantly in meetings, thinking, let’s get to work already! I am a bit like the impatient field hand in the Gospel (Mat 13:24ff), who wanted to tear out the weeds from amongst the wheat. The Lord cautioned against doing so might because it might harm the wheat. He said that they should be allowed to grow together until the harvest; the day of judgement will come, but not yet.

Indeed, rash actions can cause harm, even if unintentionally. Quick or draconian measures to eliminate error and sin may harm the saints and ration the Spirit. Conflicts have their place. They can call the question and sharpen the distinction between the good and the wicked; darkness can allow the light shine even more gloriously.

But Father, but Father! What about the many souls who are lost and confused in the silence while the Church delays, reflecting and pondering? I know, I know; I have no simple answer, except to point back to God. While the Church’s delay may be prudent or imprudent, in these hurried times of instant communication and demanded answers, God’s sinless delay and lengthy silences still shine before us and challenge our often-rash instincts.

God takes His time. The Jewish people were 400 years in slavery and 40 years in the desert. From then it was 1800 years to the Christ, who spent thirty of His thirty-three years in seclusion and silence.

Yes, for reasons of His own, God is not in a big hurry. For my part, I must learn this hard lesson and be careful to enter into the silence of God through prayer. Having prayed in that silence I must emerge to patiently, teaching and preaching the faith that God has revealed. I can do no more, but I can do no less.

Cardinal Robert Sarah’s words are a fitting conclusion to this hard lesson for us modern compulsives:

Silence is of capital importance because it enables the Church to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating his thirty silent years of Nazareth….and his intimate dialogue with the Father in the solitude and silence of the desert….

Light makes no noise. If we want to approach this luminous source, we must assume an attitude of contemplation and silence….The true nature of the Church is not found in what she does but in what she testifies. Christ asked us to be light. He ordered us not to conquer the world, but to show men the way, the truth and the life.

I know well that God’s silence constantly runs into man’s impatience…[but] nowadays man fosters a kind of compulsive relationship with time. One day we will understand everything. Until then it is necessary to seek without making noise.  

Who can understand God?…As with all questions connected with God, there is a stage when the search can go no farther. The only thing to do is to raise our eyes, to stretch out our hands toward God, and to pray in silence while awaiting the dawn…. [Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, pp. 219-221]

While Earth Rolls Onward into Light – A Beautiful Meditation on Time from an Old Hymn

ClocksMy blog is usually posted in the evening at about 21:00 (9:00 PM) U.S. Eastern Time. But in Sydney, Australia, it is 1:00 in the afternoon of the following day. As I prepare for bed, they are eating lunch on a day that has not even begun for me. And proceeding farther west from there, in the Philippines and Japan the afternoon is winding down and the workday is coming to an end!

Time. What could be simpler than for me to look at the clock and say that it is 9:00 PM on Wednesday, February 17th? But on the other hand, what could be more mysterious? Time is a human reckoning of a mysterious passage.

And yet the mystery is also beautiful. At any given time, some people are asleep in the night, while others are at midday. There is a wonderful verse in an old English hymn that says,

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

Here are two other beautiful verses from the same hymn:

We thank Thee that thy Church unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night

As o’er each continent and island,
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
nor dies the strain of praise away

Magnificent lines! The hymn contains a beautiful and poetic description of the Church: always praising, always sighing, always at worship. Although some are asleep, the praises continue. One of the Psalms says, Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations (Psalm 113:2-4). The praises never end, for the sun is always rising somewhere even as it is setting somewhere else.

Malachi, prophesying the glory of the Mass celebrated worldwide says, My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty (Mal 1:11). At any given time, Mass is surely being offered somewhere on this earth. The Liturgy of the Hours, too, always uttering forth from the lips of the faithful somewhere. Yes, in the mystery of time, this planet of ours is a place of perpetual praise. And our praises join the perpetual praises of Heaven, for as the Liturgy proclaims (in the words of the new translation), And so, Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the host and Powers of heaven, as we sing the hymn of your glory, without end we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts

Yes, the mystery of time and our praises caught up in the ever moving sweep of time. What St. Paul says to us as individuals is fulfilled by the worldwide Church. His advice is so simple and yet so profound. St. Paul says, Pray always (1 Thess 5:17).

Here is a rendition of the entirety of the hymn (The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended) that was quoted above. The complete lyrics are available here: The Day Thou Gavest.


Will the Real January 1st Please Stand Up? A Homily for New Year’s Day

123114This feast day of January 1st is a very complex tapestry, both culturally and liturgically. Perhaps we can use the second reading by St. Paul to the Galatians as a way to weave through some of the many details. We can look at it in three parts.

I. The chronology of our celebration – The text from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians says, When the fullness of time had come …

Most people in the wider culture and in the Church are going about today saying, “Happy New Year!” And rightfully so, for it is the beginning of the new year. But most people think of New Year’s Day in almost wholly secular terms. Sadly, it is best known for excessive drinking and rather loud parties.

Yet it is a mistake to see New Year’s Day simply as a secular holiday. St. Paul reminds us, in speaking of “the fullness of time,” that all time and all ages belong to God.

It is not simply 2015; it is 2015 Anno Domini (A.D.). Even the most secular and unbelieving of people in the Western world locate their place in time in relation to Jesus Christ. It is 2014 years since the birth of Christ. Every time we write the date on a check or at the top of the letter, every time we see the date at the top of the newspaper or on our computer screen, that number, 2015, points back to Christ. He is the Lord of history. Jesus sets the date; He is the clock we go by. All time belongs to Him.

Jesus says in the book of Revelation,I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, The beginning and the end. He who is, and who was, and who is to come” (Revelation 22:13).

If it is true that 2015 references the birth of Christ, the question arises as to why Christmas Day is not also New Year’s Day. But this actually makes a lot of sense if we understand liturgical and spiritual sensibilities.

In the Church, and stretching back into Jewish times, it was customary to celebrate the high feasts of faith over the period of a week. In Christian tradition this came to be known as the “octave.”  Though we think of a week as seven days, it does not take long to consider that we celebrated Christmas last week on Thursday. Now this week we celebrate New Year’s Day on Thursday, and Thursday to Thursday inclusive is eight days.

Thursday, January 1, 2015 is the eighth day of Christmas. In the Christian tradition the octave is considered really as one long day that lasts eight days. Therefore, Thursday, January 1, 2015 completes Christmas day; Christmas day is fulfilled. Or as St. Paul says, the “fullness of time” in terms of Christmas day has come. And thus the calendars flip from one year to the next. Now, at the end of Christmas day, our calendars go from 2014 to 2015 A.D.

The rest of the secular world has largely moved on already, barely thinking of Christmas anymore. As I walk in my neighborhood, I see the strange spectacle of Christmas trees already set out at the curb waiting to be picked up by the recycling trucks. Yes, for many in our hurried world, Christmas is over. But we in the Church continue to celebrate the great Christmas feast and cycle. Having completed the octave, we move on to Epiphany week.

Thus, this New Year, we contemplate the “fullness of time.” The passage of another year reminds us of the magnificent truth that to God all time, past, present, and future, is equally present. He holds all things together in Himself. He is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. And whenever He acts, He always acts in our time, out of the fullness of time. This is a very deep mystery and we should ponder in silence the mystery that for God, all things ARE. He is not waiting for things to happen. For Him, everything is accomplished. I will write more on this in tomorrow’s blog.

II. The content of our celebration – St. Paul goes on to say, God sent forth his son born of a woman. And with this statement we are again reminded that we are still in the Christmas cycle.

We’ve already discussed the concept of the eighth day, of the octave. And while it is New Year’s Day, there is also a complex tapestry of religious meanings to this day as well.

As we’ve already seen, it is still Christmas day, the eighth day of the one long day that we call Christmas Day.

Historically, this is also the day of Christ’s circumcision. And for a long period in Church history that was the name given to this feast day, “The Circumcision of the Lord.” As I have written previously, I personally regret the loss of this feast, at least in terms of its title.

This is the day when Joseph and Mary brought Christ to be circumcised. In this, Jesus as man and also as God reverences the covenant He has made with His people. It is a beautiful truth that God seeks relationship with His people. And in this covenantal act of the circumcision is the moving truth that, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers (Heb 2:11).

There is here the first shedding of blood by Jesus. It is also a sign of His love for us.

Another truth about the content of this feast is the Holy Name of Jesus. For not only was a Jewish boy circumcised on the eighth day, but he was also given his name, and all hear that name for the first time.

The name, Jesus, means “God saves.” And indeed this most Holy Name of Jesus, when used in reverence, has saving power. We are baptized in His Holy Name along with that of the Father and the Holy Spirit. And all of our prayers conclude with His Holy Name. Scripture says of His great and holy name,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2: 9-11).

And yet another identity and content of this feast day is shown in its current, formal title, “The Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.” This title replaced the title of the Feast of the Circumcision back in 1970. However, it is the most ancient title for this feast day. Again, you can read more on this issue in a previous blog post.

We note in the reading that Paul says that God sent forth his Son, born of a woman. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father; He is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. Jesus is God, and since Mary gives birth to Jesus, Mary is the Mother of God, because Jesus is not two different persons.

Mary did not just give birth to part of Jesus, she gives birth to Jesus. And thus the title “Mother of God” speaks to us as much about Jesus as it does about Mary. It is a title that she has because of the Church’s insistence that Jesus cannot be divided up into two different people. We cannot say that Mary gives birth to one Jesus but not “the other one.” There is only one Jesus, though He has two natures, human and divine.

And thus, on this feast of Christmas, on this eighth day of Christmas, we are reminded and solemnly taught that Jesus is human and also divine. In taking a human nature to Himself from his mother Mary, He remains one person. God has sent forth his son born of woman.

III. The consolation of our celebration – St. Paul goes on to say, Born under the law to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son in our hearts crying out Abba, Father! So you are no longer a slave,  but a son, and, if a son, also an heir through God.

Note three things about this text:

A. Our Adoption – We have already noted that on the eighth day Jesus is circumcised and enters into the Covenant,  into the Law. In the Incarnation He joins the human family; in the Covenant He joins our family of faith. He will fulfill the old Covenant and inaugurate the new one. And by this New Covenant, by baptism into Him, we become members of His Body and thereby become adopted as sons.

We become sons in the Son. When God the Father looks to His Son, loving His Son, he is also looking at us and loving us, for we are in Christ Jesus, members of His Body through baptism. God is now our Father, not in some allegorical sense, but in a very real sense. We are in Jesus and therefore God really is our Father.

B. Our Acclamation – St. Paul says that the proof of our sonship is the movement of the Holy Spirit in us that cries out Abba! In Aramaic and Hebrew, Abba is the family term for father. It is not baby talk, like “Dada.” But just as most adults called their father “Dad” or some other endearment rather than “father,” so it is that Abba is the family term for father. It would be a daring thing for us to call God “Dad” unless we were permitted to do so, and instructed to do so by Christ.

St. Paul speaks of this word as proof that we are sons. In so doing, he emphasizes that it is not merely the saying of the word that he refers to. Even a parrot can be taught to say the word. Rather, St. Paul is referring to what the word represents: an inner movement of the Holy Spirit wherein we experience a deep affection for God the Father. By our adoption, our baptism into Christ, by our reception of the Holy Spirit, we love the Father! We develop a deep affection for Him and dread offending Him. By this gift of the Spirit, God is my Father whom I deeply love!

C. Our advancement – Notice that St. Paul then speaks of how we have moved from being a slave to being a son, an heir. In Jesus, we are not just any son, we are the only Son of the Father. And as Jesus has a kingdom from His Father, we too inherit it with Him! As sons in the Son, we are heirs with Jesus to the Kingdom!  Jesus speaks of His disciples as one day reigning with Him: And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me (Lk 22:29). In Jesus, all Heaven will be ours and we will reign with Christ forever. This is not our doing, not our glory; it is Christ’s doing and His glory in which we share.

And thus we have a very rich tapestry on this New Year’s Day, this feast of the Octave of Christmas, this Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, this Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, this Feast of Mary the Mother of God. And also we are given this feast wherein the glory of Christ is held before us and we who are  members of His body are told of the gifts that we receive by His Holy Incarnation and His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

It’s not a bad way to start the new year: reminded of God’s incredible love for us, of His rich blessings and promises.

God Has Put the Timeless into our Hearts – A Meditation on a Saying from Ecclesiastes

092514In 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.”

The Mystery of Time

Time, what could be more clear? What time is it? 10:00 pm! Next question. We think at times that nothing could be simpler than time. But time has mysteries about it.

Every New Year I ponder the mystery of time, I guess because time is so much on our mind. And as I ponder time, I am mindful that most of us think we know what time is, until we are actually asked to define it in some meaningful way. Something makes me think of what St Augustine once said about another mystery (the Trinity). And thus if someone asks me to define time I am tempted to say with Augustine: If you don’t ask me, I know. If you ask me, I don’t know. So time, while plain at one level is mysterious at other levels.

I cannot list all such mysteries, but consider a few puzzlements about time.

  1. The Mystery of Time’s Elasticity – We like to think that time is unvarying. 10 minutes here, is the same as 10 minutes there. But science has already disproved that. For example, as an object approaches the speed of light, time slows down. Further, strong gravitational forces also slows down time. On a very large planet with stronger gravitational forces I would age less rapidly than on a smaller planet. Granted, it would take a huge difference in speed or gravity to be able to observe a big difference, but the Law of Relativity does demonstrate that time does not pass equally everywhere. In a way it is almost symbolized by a large, lumbering elephant compared to a tiny little mouse. As the mouse scurries across the floor (pursued by my cat!) the speed is amazing, almost as if the mouse were in a different time frame.
  2. The Mystery of Lifespans – And speaking of animals, why are life spans so different? My cat Daniel is, like me a mammal. He has heart and lungs, very similar physiology in most respects. Yet his clock is set to 15 years, my clock is set to 80 years. Certain turtles can live up to 150 years, Many types of parrots can live to be over 100. Other birds live only 10 to 15 years. Most fish live only a few years, but Carp (a fish) live up to 100 years. And so on. We all see to have a clock, a designated life span. But that life span seems quite variable even among very similar species. We seem to carry the mystery of time in us. I have never heard a satisfying answer to the wide variability of life spans.
  3. The Mystery of Eternity – Lastly there is the mystery of what we call “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 center. 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. 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.

Ponder God’s glory and the mystery of time!

Here’s a remarkable video on the mystery of time.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? A Consideration of the Western Notion of Time, and How It is Different from Most of the World.

I assisted at a wedding this past weekend that encompassed both space and time. The groom was a White American, the Bride was Ethiopian. Now you will surely understand that space is involved, for Ethiopia is far from the USA. But time is also involved here, for the African notion of “Saturday at 10:00 AM” is not the same as the American one, at all.

Be on time. Not! – Yes, the wedding was scheduled for Saturday at 10:00 AM. The priest from Ethiopia cautioned the wedding party at the Friday rehearsal (which started late), “You must be on time tomorrow, for the organist is from America and must be somewhere else at noon. And the parish is American, and Americans go by the clock! So, be on time!”

Come Saturday morning and it is just before 10:00 AM. The groom’s side of the Church is filled with White Americans. On the bride’s side, not a soul!  The wedding finally began about 11:15 AM and many of the the lovely Ethiopian bridesmaids felt hurried, at that! “Why are you rushing us?” one said, “This is a moment to be enjoyed!” The priest from Ethiopia was embarrassed but not surprised. “Neither am I surprised” I reassured him. “If the organist must leave, I will supply the recessional .”

No I was not not surprised. For I have come to discover in various ways, that we Americans (and some Europeans) are really the few for who “the clock” has all that much to say. For most of the rest of the world, “the clock” is more like the speed limit sign is for us in America, a “suggestion,” a general “parameter,” more than something to be all that particular about.

A few stories to illustrate:

  1. A friend of mine went to the Dominican Republic a few years back. He called the local Catholic parish and inquired (in Spanish) of the priest: “What times are Masses this weekend?” After a pause the priest said, “Sunday.” “I know” said my friend, “But what time on Sunday?” Again a puzzled silence, and the priest said again, “Sunday.” “Hmm…?” pondered my friend…. Then, like a light going off the priest said, “Ah! I sense by your accent that you are an American, si?” “Yes” said my friend. “Well here in our Country,  you see,” said the priest, “We gather on Sunday morning, and when most have arrived, we begin…So, you see, Mass is Sunday morning, when all have arrived! Please come and join us on this Sunday morning, you are most welcome!”
  2. Once, at my last parish, we celebrated the First Mass of a new priest, Fr. Carlos. It was scheduled for 8:00 pm Saturday, and the whole extended Latino family had joyously decorated the hall that afternoon, after the Ordination. Silly me, I actually had the Church unlocked and ready to go at 8:00 pm. But there was not a soul in sight, nor a car in the parking lot. By 8:45 pm the first people began to arrive. Slowly folks trickled in. Now it is 9:15 pm and the new priest arrives. Along with him an entourage of other priests. By 9:30 pm I, the ugly American, am fully anxious. I gathered the priests and said, “Fathers, we must vest now! Please, come to the sacristy at once.” One of the older Latino priests looked at me and said, “Father! Do not worry of the time, we live in eternity!” “Fine Father,” I responded, “But I have to be up for 8:00 AM Mass! Let’s get this Mass underway.” The priests looked a me with pity and began to vest.
  3. In my own experience with the African American Community I have also come to experience the reality of what many playfully call “colored people time” (aka “CP Time”). Now we’re not as bad as being an hour or more late, but our 11:00 am Mass never begins at 11:00 am, usually 10 past, or even 15 past the hour. Neither do we have a fixed time when Mass has to be over. The 8:00 AM Mass usually goes toward 9:15 or 9:30. The 11:00 am Mass ends toward 1:00 pm. Why rush when you’re with the Lord? One time I got Mass done in under an hour, and a rather angry African American woman came to me and said, “Next time you don’t have enough to say Father, send the Deacon over.” For, a Mass in under hour, seems something of a disgrace to an African American matriarch.
  4. I once asked a Latino friend, “How do you catch a plane in your culture, what with time being so vague?” “Well,” said he, “We go to the airport, and if the plane has already left, (and they never leave on time), then we go to the lady at the booth and book another one. We are not anxious, these things happen.”

Yes, anxious, I guess that is the key word. We Americans do fret the clock. There is an old expression, Let not the sands of time get in your lunch. In other words, the moment is to be savored, there will be time to take care of other things. An old gospel song says, Don’t let this moment pass you by.

I am not convinced our American way is so bad. In our culture, timeliness is a way of  showing respect, and is experienced as a kind of charity. Being on time ensures everyone is both respected and treated with kindness. Further it means that things go smoothly and are well coordinated. Without this agreed upon framework, most Americans are bewildered and angry and feel personally disrespected.

But I have also come to experience that our close attention to clock time is not shared by most of the rest of the world. Further, they mean no disrespect when they are incredibly late by American standards. In fact, I usually get a blank look when I exhibit consternation that a someone is almost 1.5  hours late for a wedding. They just don’t “get it” when I say, “Why are you so late?!” I might as well be saying, “Why whirlwind major drum marcher flibberdy-jibbet?!” I just get a blank stare from them, as if to say, “Late?” They find my exasperation strange and unfathomable and look to others around them who just shrug.

We Americans control things by measuring them. In the careful measuring of time, land, money, assets, polls, statistics, and scientific data, we feel a sense of control, and often try to show superiority to others with command of such facts. There is something consoling about the notion that we know we are 93 million miles from the sun, our planet circles it in 365 .25 days, that this is Tuesday, and 95% of American have some belief in God. Further the average temperature in DC is 84 degrees for this day.  Yes, we feel better, some how in control, when we know these things and have them carefully measured.

And as for time, I surely feel in control when I know that I have a meeting at 10, and appointments at 2 and 3 pm. Now I know what my day will be like. Or so I think.

But it is fascinating to me that so many others in the world neither need or value this sort of control. For them it seems OK to have general plans and then, let things unfold, rather than attempt to control and manipulate all outcomes. Yes, a completely different way of living.

And we may boast that we have the strongest and most efficient economy in the world on account of this. The Chinese and Japanese also have strong economies and, as far as I know, they also have a precision about clock time.

But at what price do we have these things? Just over 40% of Americans are prescribed  psychotropic drugs to deal with the stress of our culture (Oh!, did I just quote a statistic? Sorry! Some how knowing numbers makes me feel in control).

I am not sure what is best, but huge numbers of Africans, Central and South Americans are just not obsessed with time like we are. Neither are Middle Easterners. It seems a little humbling to me that so many others live in a completely different world than I do, time wise. I am not saying we are wrong, only that billions live differently, and are more focused on the present, than what comes next, according to a mechanical clock. I frankly don’t know how they do it, so wedded am I to a clock. But they do.

God too reminds us that for him a thousand years are like a day, or a watch in the night. Further, eternity is not chronological time, it is the fulness of time. And for those of us who are obsessed with clock time, God cautions, wait, be still, have patience, be not anxious. The Lord  says he is coming soon, but he does not mean it according to our clocks. And to those who insist on knowing times and seasons, he says we know not the day or the hour, and it is not for us to know the times or the seasons of God’s plan (eg. Matt 24:36; Acts 1:7).

Does anybody really know what time it is? No, actually we do not. But time is something that surely divides us. Some of us see the clock as a precision instrument to be strictly followed, others of us see it as a sort of speed limit sign that is broadly interpreted.

I like our Western precision, but admit it comes at a price for indeed, too often the sands of time get in our lunch.

In this video, Fr. Francis Martin talks a it about the concept of time in the Middle East and the flexible notions of time that predominate in the Scriptures. The context of his reflection is the incident of the cleansing of the Temple. John says Jesus did that at the beginning of his ministry, and the synoptic Gospels place it at the end of Jesus’ ministry. The discrepancy about time bothers us Westerners, but time was less an obsession to the evangelists who used time creatively and theologically, and were less obsessed with measurements. This video is an excerpt. Please see all of Fr. Martin’s videos here: Fr Martin Videos

Photo Credit above: Slick.net

Nine Things That Will Disappear in Our Life Time

Scripture says, For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb 13:14). It also says, for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:18). And yet again, And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 Jn 2:17). And even yet still, For the present form of this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:31).

Well OK, I suppose you get it by now. But actually we DO struggle to get it. We get so attached to things here and think, “well here’s a howdy do” to the latest in things.

I still remember my first shiny new 8-Track player. The picture at the right is from the 1979 Sears Catalog and looks a lot like my dad’s machine. Funny how almost everything displayed on this 1979 stereo is gone now: record player, 8-Track, cassette, all gone.

Some years ago, I remember laughing at that old technology as I went into the record store and bought the latest CD recordings. “Now this is it,” I thought, “music has reached perfection.” And less than ten years after that I ripped my closet full of CDs to my iPod and carted those now “old fashioned things” out the door. How amazingly fungible our technology and culture has become. And while a little fascination is understandable at “something new,” we do well to remember it’s all passing away.

I ran across this list of Nine Things That will Disappear in Our Life. Let me give you the list and make some comments. I am less convinced as the list goes on, I must say, but here they are.

1. The Post Office . Get ready to imagine a world without the post office. They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term. E-mail, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of your mail everyday is junk mail and bills. Yes, and the bills are fast going away too, I am doing more on line. In fact almost none of my bills do I pay by check. I do all my major bills online and even many of the one-time bills. Only Charitable donations get the paper check these days. Even my parish tithe is taken right out of my account. The parish bills are another matter. We, are still using the old paper heavy approach to paying them. Accountants are slow to change their ways and auditors still want to see tons of paper when they make their triennial visit. There will continue to be some need and ability to post a paper letter, but there is no reason to have a whole Postal Service to do this.

2. The Check . Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check. This plays right into the death of the post office. If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business. This is already largely true for me, as I’ve said. However, I currently have no way to get funds to another person. Let’s say I wanted to send $100 to my nephew, how would I do it with out a paper check. If the check really is going to disappear as early as 2018 in England, I think we’ll have to have a pretty convenient way to transfer funds electronically, person to person. I would also add that cash itself will be greatly reduced as a daily reality. Right now, I carry almost no cash. And when I run out, it may take me days to notice and days more to replenish it. I pretty much live off my debit card. I can see that in the next 10 years even smaller scale venders (like hotdog sellers at the corner) will be expected to take plastic. There are already devices the size of a cell phone that let you swipe a card and send the transaction. Of course we may wonder what will happen to beggars if we go increasingly cashless.

3. The Newspaper . The younger generation simply doesn’t read the newspaper. They certainly don’t subscribe to a daily delivered print edition.That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services. Definitely see this too. When I was a kid we used to have milk delivered to our door. Supermarkets, and better, cheaper refrigeration put an end to that. Electronic versions of newspapers are already a reality and the paper versions are going bye bye. I must say though, there is more to the demise of the newspaper industry than technology. Many people have come to consider the traditional newspaper publishers arrogant and biased. Simply making electronic versions of these papers available is not going to stem their demise. People just want more variety and views with their news now and the newspapers stubbornly refused to do that for too long.

4. The Book . You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages. I said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes. I wanted my hard copy CD. But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music. The same thing will happen with books.You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy. And the price is less than half that of a real book. And think of the convenience! Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can’t wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you’re holding a gadget instead of a book. We’ve talked about this before. I still think there will continue to be need for physical books that feature a lot of art and drawings. But I’ll admit, my physical book collection is one third the size it used to be, and it is still shrinking. The first books to go were the large reference books, for the Internet took their place. Who needs the Catholic Encyclopedia when newadvent.org has it on line. More recently my Kindle has started filling and I do like reading text on it. The screen is very agreeable to my eyes. So other books are being “set loose” from my shelf. But for the record, I do not see the total demise of the book coming. It’s like the movie theater, in the era of DVDs. There’s still something special about seeing things on the wide screen. There are just going to be some books that need that physical edition to really show their stuff. Fewer to be sure, but still here in thirty years.

5. The Land Line Telephone . Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don’t need it anymore. Most people keep it simply because they’ve always had it. But you are paying double charges for that extra service. All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes. Yes, businesses still have the land line needs though. I have yet to see a cell phone switchboard and some of the easy switching back and forth between multiple lines that land lines offer. But for personal stuff, I live on my cell phone. I would like to see cell phones integrated in business settings so that, when I get to my desk I can just plug that baby into a larger module and have easier dialing, intercom options, and other lines available to me. It’ll come, but I don’t see it yet. Also, when I do radio interviews they always want me on a land line. Simple reason, the quality is better and the technology is more reliable. So, before land lines disappear altogether, things like this will have to be addressed.

6. Music . This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of illegal downloading. It’s the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption is the problem. The record labels and the radio conglomerates are simply self-destructing. Over 40% of the music purchased today is “catalog items,” meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with. Older established artists. This is also true on the live concert circuit. To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, “Appetite for Self-Destruction” by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, “Before the Music Dies.” This is crazy, music will never die. How we share music surely has changed. And all the corruption in the industry and people stealing music is a problem. But in the end, the soul has to exhale. Musicians will continue to make music even if the money is poor. You just have to understand the soul of a musician. Music is here to stay. The music industry as a multi-billion dollar things is something else. But music itself will never die as long as we human beings have life and breath.

7. Television . Revenues to the networks are down dramatically. Not just because of the economy. People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers. And they’re playing games and doing lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV. Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than the lowest common denominator. Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. I say good riddance to most of it. It’s time for the cable companies to be put out of our misery. Let the people choose what they want to watch online and through Netflix. I think what they mean here is the television as “dumb monitor” enslaved to the schedules set by networks will go away.  This is probably true that networks and stations as we know them may begin to disappear. However, I wonder if we will get the same quality programming if everyone is just living in their own little TV world. It Nat Geo can’t be sure a proposed series on crocodiles will get enough orders, it might not make it in the first place. If we atomize the audience by narrow casting, a lot of the benefits of broadcasting might go away. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but when I do, I often surf and find something interesting that just catches my eye. This experience will be lost if I’m just ordering from a menu. Sometimes sampling from the buffet is a richer experience.

8. “Things” That You Own . Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future. They may simply reside in “the cloud.” Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents. Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be. But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest “cloud services.” That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system. So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet. If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud. If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud. And you may pay a monthly subscription fee to the cloud provider. In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or hand held device.That’s the good news. But, will you actually own any of this “stuff”or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big “Poof?” Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical? It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert. I already store a lot of things in “the cloud.” But I’ll be honest, I keep backups on my backup drives too. I don’t currently use any cloud software solutions, they’re too expensive. But, I would never keep all my data just “out there.” I keep my 2 terabyte backup drive humming away in the background along with Carbonite.

9. Privacy . If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy. That’s gone. It’s been gone for a long time anyway. There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone. But you can be sure that 24/7,”They” know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits. And “They” will try to get you to buy something else. Again and again. The “man” is watching. To be clear, privacy is going to get harder and harder to ensure. Sounds like the birth of another industry! Purchase Privacy insurance now, only $19.95 per month. Morph yourself monthly and be a man who’s  hard to see or remember.  And remember: Nationwide is on the Hide.

Here’s a song that moved from my vinyl record collection (45rpm), to my eight track collection, to my CD library, and now resides on my iPod and also in “the cloud” as a backup. It is the timeless and perfect voice of Karen Carpenter (RIP). Have you ever heard her voice in the head phones, (err, I mean, Bose ear buds)? It is fabulous.

The Sun that Bids Us Rest is Waking, Our Brethren ‘neath the Western Sky: A Meditation on the Movement and Mystery of Time


It is late on the east coast of the United States, the 23rd hour (11 pm) of the day we have called June 15. But where my Uncle, Fr. George Pope lives, (he is a priest in Bangladesh), not only is it June 16th, but it has been so for some time. It is 9 in the morning there and they are likely arriving at work just now; on a day that has yet to begin for me. Further to the east, in Sydney Australia, it is 1pm  in the afternoon of June 16th and they are returning from lunch; before I have even gone to bed. In Wellington, New Zealand, their work day is almost over, it is 3pm and many are looking to wrap things up in couple of hours and head home from a day that doesn’t even exist for me yet.

Time, what could be simpler than for me to look at the clock and say, It is 11pm June 15. And yet what could be more mysterious than a simple thing like 11pm, June 15; for time interacts with space and folds back on itself. It is simply a human reckoning of a mysterious passage.

And yet the mystery is also beautiful. At any given time some of us sleep, and some of us are at noonday. There is a wonderful verse in an old English hymn that says:

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

Other verses beautifully say:

We thank Thee that thy Church unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night

As o’er each continent and island,
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
nor dies the strain of praise away

Magnificent lines, a beautiful and poetic description of the Church, always praising, always sighing, always at worship. While some sleep, the praises continue. One of the psalms says, Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations. (Psalm 113:2-4). And yet the praises never end for the sun is always rising, even as it is setting somewhere on this earth.

And Malachi, prophesying the glory of the Mass celebrated worldwide says, My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 1:11). At any one time, Mass is surely being offered somewhere on the orb of this earth. The Liturgy of the Hours too, always uttering forth from the lips of the faithful, somewhere on this spinning orb of the earth. Yes, in the mystery of time this planet of ours is a perpetual place of praise. And our praises join the perpetual praises of heaven for as the Liturgy proclaims (in the words of the new translation): And so, Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the host and Powers of heaven, as we sing the hymn of your glory, without end we acclaim: Holy, Holy Holy Lord God of hosts…..

Yes, the mystery of time and our praises caught up in the ever moving sweep of time. What St Paul says to us as individuals is also fulfilled by the worldwide Church. And the advice is so simple and yet profound. He says, Pray always (1 Thess 5:17)

Photo Credit: Snapshot from Daylightmap.com

Here is the full hymn (The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended) that was quoted above. The full text is here: The Day Thou Gavest.