November 18, 2012 - Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16:5, 8-11
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

God lives in eternity. He experiences everything at once and simultaneously acts upon everything. Every moment in time and every point in space is always equally present to God. Sort of like how an ant crawls along the ground and can only see an inch in front of itself, and we can see the whole yard, all at once. For God, the beginning of the universe and the end and this moment right now and Eve eating the fruit and Jesus dying on the Cross and Jesus rising from the dead and Jesus born in Bethlehem, are all happening right now.

It is impossible to imagine what that is like. We live in time and cannot imagine life without time. The closest we can come is the moment. We imagine one moment in time, and that is the closest we can come to imagining eternity. It is different, of course, because for us a moment takes place in a particular location and before we can really do anything, the moment has passed. We are limited; God is not. We have something more though. We have the present moment, the endless stream of moments. When we choose to patiently participate in the present moment we come as close to sharing in eternity as we can.

For a little while now, try to live completely in the present moment. Forget everything that has happened up to this point. Forget everything that will happen or that needs to happen. Forget how you got here today, and forget the balance in your bank account. For a little while, let go of everything you are trying to keep in balance. Like yesterday never happened, and tomorrow never will happen. Like this morning never happened, and this afternoon never will happen. As if you were created a second ago, fully-formed, here at Mass, without any plans or worries, nowhere to go afterward, nothing to do but to be here.

It is very difficult to maintain that experience of the present without “real life” creeping in from every side, though which is more real: that you are here now or what you might be doing an hour from now? But we cannot live our lives without doing something, and acting in the present moment requires remembering the past and thinking about the future. Our memory and our imagination allow us to imitate the unlimited nature of God in our limited way. Sitting here in Minnesota, we can remember and imagine all the other places in the world, and important things that have happened, and commitments that we have made. In order to decide what I should do right now, I have to think about what I want to be doing in an hour and in a year and in ten years. If I want to be eating dinner in an hour, then I have to start cooking.

To succeed at life, we always have to be thinking about where we want to be in the future and then act accordingly in the present. That is part of growing up. Only a child gets to live in the moment without considering the consequences or the planning how they will achieve their goals. As we grow up the times when we can live completely in the moment are fewer and fewer each year, until we retire and grow old and weaken, and begin living in the moment again. Hopefully, prayer is a time for each of you when you can live in the moment. Mass on Sunday and some time everyday when you can drop out of the world and imitate the eternity of God.

But prayer is also a time of remembering and planning. We remember all the people and situations that we need to pray for. We remember the mystery of Faith: how Christ died and rose again. And instead of planning where we will be in one year or even ten years, we think about where we will be in ten million years. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake: some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the sky.”

I was telling the Kindergarteners about what Jesus says in this Gospel. About how Jesus went up to Heaven but promised that someday, we “will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” How, one of these days, Jesus is going to come back down again. One of the kindergartners blurted out, “Jesus and God are real life?!” He had evidently heard all about Jesus, but the idea that he himself might someday be walking outside and see Jesus come down through the clouds was brand new.

I think a lot of people are in that situation. They know about Jesus, but they would still be surprised to see him coming down through the clouds. Every year around this time we read the promise of Jesus to come back someday, but do we act like we believe it? He left the time uncertain because we need it that way. If people in the past had known that he still would not be back in the year 2012, and if we knew that he will not be back for another thousand years, the urgency would be completely gone. As it is, he may very well come back this afternoon, for all we know.

The point is that, in every present moment, somewhere between figuring out how to get all the bills paid and deciding what to make for dinner tonight, we should leave a little corner of our mind for this promise, knowing that it could happen at any time. This truth, this promise, changes the calculus of everything. Sure, save for retirement, make sure that you have enough socked away, but, you know, Jesus might come between now and then. Work for that promotion, have a ten-year plan at work, but Jesus might come before you get there. Buy the groceries for Thanksgiving dinner, but Jesus might come on Wednesday. If he does, you will not need the groceries or the plans or the 401k. If he does, the only balances that will count for anything are the number of people in need whom we helped, the number of sinners whom we brought back to the faith, how many people we forgave and how sorry we are for our sins, and how much we love God. What is valuable now will be worthless then, and what is worthless now will be our only asset then.