Finding the Eternal in the Present Moment

Douglas P. McManaman
Oct 1, 2020
Reproduced with Permission

Recently I decided, on the spur of the moment, to visit a good priest friend of mine who lives about an hour away, just to watch the first debate between President Trump and former Vice President Biden. My friend is getting up there in age, and it is difficult to know just how much time he has left. Lately I've been thinking more about time; for we've been friends for slightly over 30 years, and as I reflect, I realize how many wonderful moments we shared over the years that have drifted from my memory, some of which I am able to recover if I concentrate - or if something reminds me of a period of time I'd forgotten. These memories are of the many times I visited him over the years during the fall, winter, spring and summer, in the various parishes to which he was assigned, in the various towns within the jurisdiction of the diocese of Hamilton.

What strikes me about these memories is precisely how much they leave out, that is, how much has been forgotten. There is tremendous wealth in the present moment, which quickly drifts into the past, and after a while the vast majority of these moments are simply lost to memory. But the remembrance of some of those moments does allow us to become consciously aware of what we were only pre-consciously aware of, when it was a present moment, namely, a wealth, a sense of blessing, a richness that we would like to recover - and this may be the very reason traditions are developed.

Time is short, and so I decided to drive up to see him on the evening of the Presidential debate; for this night too, I thought to myself, will be another moment, filled with hidden riches, that will one day be a distant memory. A large part of that present moment, when past, will be lost, and some of it will be retained; what is retained reveals something that was hidden when that moment was a "now", like a hidden treasure in a field (Mt 13, 44-46).

What makes these moments so memorable, I wondered to myself? What is it that gives wealth to these moments of time? That is not a difficult question for me to answer. It is that which binds our friendship. We have a circle of friends, and generally speaking, friendships are based on common qualities and interests. Some common interests and characteristics are trivial, and so the friendships are rather trivial. But our friendships are not trivial, so what non-triviality do we have in common? The answer is our love for Christ. He is at the center. What we have in common is our love for the Catholic faith, for the Mass, for Confession, our love for the theological unfolding of that faith, etc. When we are together, we spend a great deal of time discussing theological ideas, the implications of certain theological insights, homilies, great books or some aspect of the faith, a current issue, political or otherwise, in light of the principles of the faith, etc. All of it stems from what we love most, which is Christ.

And who is Christ? He is eternity joined to time. As Boethius defined it, eternity is the perfect, simultaneous and total possession of interminable life. God is eternal; we are not, for we do not possess the temporal moments of our life perfectly and simultaneously, but imperfectly, partially, and sequentially. And so, life in time is very much characterized by imperfection and dissatisfaction. The heart desires to possess the whole perfectly, the perfect possession of our own life and interminable life. In short, we desire eternity; we desire God. Hence, it is true what is written in Ecclesiastes, and we taste it: "All is vanity of vanities, a chasing after wind" (Eccl 1, 2). Life in time cannot give us what we desire. But eternity entered into time, the eternal Word became flesh (Jn 1, 14). As a result, time is joined to and contained by something that can give us what the heart desires, namely eternity. We desire the Word, our Origin, in Whom we see the Father and in whom we begin to understand the mystery of ourselves, that is, to gather the fragments of our own life into a single whole. We desire Christ. And when our friendships and our day to day life is centered on him, rooted in him, focused on him, time becomes incalculably meaningful. The meaning contained in the present moment overflows or exceeds what the limited present can contain, and memory gives us a glimpse of it, a glimpse of something we knew and experienced at the time but were not fully and consciously able to articulate. It was an unconscious or preconscious possession, because in joining himself to a human nature, the Son as it were joined himself to every man. What we desire is within us, for the kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17, 21), and it is outside of us, joined to every moment of time.

To discover Christ is to discover the mystery of eternity in the present moment. To lose touch with Christ is to lose touch with the richness of the present moment, which gives rise to an anxious desire for rest; we begin to live out of the past, often out of past resentments, and without living fully in the present we live for a future that does not yet exist and that may never really pan out - we may die a year after we have achieved everything we have set out to achieve in life, die perhaps in the living room of the beautiful estate that we built for ourselves with savings accumulated for our retirement, which was cut short as a result of contingencies we were not able to factor in or control, such as cancer, or a vehicle accident, or a brain aneurysm, etc. We didn't live for Christ, so we failed to discover the beauty and richness of the present moment, looking for that beauty and wealth in what does not yet exist, namely a future. To fail to find Christ is to fail. A failed life is a wasted life. Stop and smell the roses is a tired cliche, but the living rose proclaims Christ crowned with thorns, and its odor announces the fragrant beauty that a life becomes when his blood runs through our veins.