“My past, O Lord, to Thy mercy; my present, to Thy love; my future, to Thy providence.” – St. Pio of Pietrelcina
“There’s just not enough time in the day.” How often we, especially as college students, hear or feel this sentiment. It often feels as though we will never be able to accomplish the tasks we have been given, that we are hopelessly divided, and even that we are not fully free because we are not in control of our time. This anxiety extends to time on a larger scale: Have I wasted my time in college? Have I met the right people? What will the next year(s) look like?
These questions are natural, but the only way we can advance in the spiritual life is to habitually decide not to entertain such anxiety but to live fully in the present. This is a call for all Christians, but especially for those of us at Notre Dame, who are presented with incomparably rich opportunities for growth as Christians, students, friends, and persons.
There are certain periods of life that seem heightened in significance—in particular, people say that college is the best four years of your life. It may be; it probably won’t be. But you will be given certain moments during college which, if received as the conduits into God’s view of the world that they are, can become points of conversion. We are formed as we try to learn to make friends for the first time as functionally independent persons. The Lord teaches us humility as we learn that—despite the fact that we can arrange our lives essentially as we wish in college—we are not always in control. In fact, we are never ultimately fully in control, and our peace lies in granting this.
Fr. Jacques Philippe, a priest of the Community of the Beatitudes and renowned spiritual writer, in his book Interior Freedom, identifies two types of time. He calls these the “time of the head” and “time of the heart.”
Time of the head is worldly time, which we divide, manage, and plan. In Fr. Philippe’s words, “This kind of time always goes either too fast or too slowly.” This is the “time counted by anxious worried women / Lying awake, calculating the future, / Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception, / The future futureless, / before the morning watch / When time stops and time is never ending” in the words of T.S. Eliot’s Dry Salvages. This is the time most of us—especially college students—occupy. We constantly think, plan, and worry. Time is the raw material which our powers of will and reason must fashion according to their (often limited) ability.
Time of the heart, on the other hand, is the means by which grace breaks into our lives. It is, according to Fr. Philippe, “experienced at certain moments of happiness or grace, though it always exists. This is God’s time, the time of the deep rhythms of grace in our lives. It is composed of a succession of moments harmoniously linked.” We cannot prompt or anticipate these moments, for God works in mysterious ways.
In Eliot’s poem, this type of time can be experienced only after the moment of the Incarnation: “The point of intersection of the timeless / With time, is an occupation for the saint— / No occupation either, but something given / And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love, / Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.” Yet the fact that this is for the saint is not to discourage or distance one from the hope contained therein, because “there is no competition. / … / For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” It is, after all, the calling of the Christian to become a saint. And the path to sainthood always exists in the present moment: we begin to be conformed to the person of Christ by trusting completely, moment by moment, in the perfect will of the Father.
Indeed, it is only in the present that we are truly free, truly able to act and to pursue the good. This is deeply contrary to the all-too-natural feeling that we are most free when we can resolve everything from our past and plan our future in all its minute detail. Only when we surrender our past to God’s mercy and our future to God’s providence can we live in God’s peace in the present moment. Thus, we live “Not the intense moment / Isolated, with no before or after, / But a lifetime burning in every moment.” Then, our life is integrated in itself and with the life of the Church and the life of God Himself.
Joshua Gilchrist is a senior who is soon to graduate from PLS and theology. He is seeking employment on a South Bend farm this summer; you can reach him at email@example.com with farm recommendations or reflections on T.S. Eliot.
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