Has there been a time in human history where time has been discussed more? We seem to be obsessed with time. On the one hand, time is probably, for all of us, always on our mind. There are many of us who find time on our minds, because we do not believe we have enough of it. For others, there is too much of it. The type of time that comes with loneliness, for example. Also, we have more ways to keep track of time today than ever before. We have clocks, and watches, of course, but there are smart phones, tvs, computers, microwaves, stoves, bank signs, and more things than I could imagine. Time is everywhere.
There is also our experience of time. Those who are young cannot wait to get old. Those who are old, wish they were young. We cannot believe Christmas will ever get here when we are little, and Christmas never seems to end when we are older. Good times seem to fly by, yet times when we struggle go incredibly slow. Our children are adults, seemingly right before our eyes, yet watching a loved one suffer is often too much to bear.
And yet, we really cannot seem to order human life without the concept of times and seasons. I have lived in places where there really are four seasons, and there is some thing wonderful about the changes each season brings. Though this year, with the early arrival of winter, I am not so sure I feel that way just yet. (OK, I will never feel that way. I think I’d be content with three seasons, to be honest.) And to be sure, I think most people understand what is meant by the seasons of life. Each season brings with it challenges and rewards. The golden age is not always so golden, and it is more than possible the problems of the young can be minimized by those of us who have been through them.
And of course, there are times and seasons in liturgical life too. We are reminded of that by the term “liturgical year of grace” when describing the Church year. Just as in our everyday experience, we recognize the need to focus on particular aspects of God’s constant presence. If we did not, then we could run the danger of failing to recognize the profound mysteries of Jesus.
And so what does Saint Paul mean in today’s second reading when he says, “Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you.” Is it because we fully understand at this point what times and seasons really mean? Are they not important? Should we not have them? What exactly is Paul getting at?
Perhaps it is helpful to consider the concept of a “liturgical year of grace”. Why do we have times and seasons in our faith life? Perhaps the most important reason is the reality that we need the constant reminders that regardless of what happens in our lives, we are always and everywhere in the presence of God. There is no time when we find ourselves alone, even though there are some times when we certainly can feel quite alone. It is a common phrase in Jesuit life that it is a task to “find God in all things.” How would our lives change if we took on this challenge?
Imagine how our relationships could be different if we worked hard to “find God in all things.” How would husbands and wives live lives differently if they worked very hard to see God in their relationship? How might parents find the joys and challenges of raising children to be different if they sought to see in their children, and in their vocation to raise them, and invitation to “see God in all things”? What would our job be like if we saw it through the search to “see God in all things”? And how would our lives change if we were committed to “seeing God in all things”? Perhaps because the early disciples of Jesus realized this they needed no more to be written.
The phrase about times and seasons is immediately followed by the reminder that we do not need to fear the coming of Jesus, since if we are attentive to seeking his presence in all things we cannot be caught off guard like a thief in the night. When we are focused upon the importance of prayer, silence, reflection and the sacramental life, we can be always ready for Jesus to return. It is like the gentle excitement of seeing an old friend. When we have done all we can to open ourselves to allowing God to build this relationship, the presence of Jesus, each time we encounter it, becomes like the encounter with an old friend.
Paul realizes that for those who need no more written to them, the way is clear as day, because Jesus provides the light. Just imagine how difficult life is when we are not guided by the light of Christ? How challenging life is when we simply cannot see how we are ever going to be able to find the way to grace? How we are ever going to solve a problem, or how we are ever going to make it through a challenging life event or a difficult illness? If we are without God, we are indeed at the mercy of whatever happens, a people without direction and without hope.
But with God, we are not in darkness. But the invitation for people of faith, since we are not in darkness, is not to become complacent. I know I can get complacent. I can get lazy about what I need to do, and what I should do. This is true not just with the spiritual life, but with all of life. While most of the time I am faithful to regular exercise, I am not always. While most of the time I am faithful to eating well, getting the right amount of sleep, and taking care of myself, there are times when I am not. So I must, as much as possible, seek to be open to the wonderful life that God gives me.
For if I do not, then I am in the dark. When I do not, the day of the Lord can catch me off guard like a thief in the night. And when I do not, I forget the reasons why I needed no more to be written about times and seasons. The purpose of time (and space, too) is to recognize that we are never away from God. The psalmist asks,
Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are; If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea,
Even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast.
From our experience, we know this constant presence of God can be comforting our challenging. Whatever happens depends upon whether we remember what we know about or relationship with God.