As a teen, I spent many a Saturday afternoon on the couch watching “Star Trek” during extended study breaks (or flat-out attempts to avoid homework altogether). My favorite episodes always centered on time travel; I was fascinated by the prospect of going backwards or forwards in a dimension that, thanks to my habitual lateness and procrastination, always seemed to be nipping at my heels.
I wasn’t the only one in the family who enjoyed a warp-speed journey through the years. My sister eagerly watched all three of the “Back to the Future” movies, though (I suspect) mostly because she had a crush on lead actor Michael J. Fox.
Despite decades of doubt, a few researchers, among them University of Queensland scientist Fabio Costa, now feel that it’s at least theoretically possible to travel through time — without ruining the present by, for example, preventing your parents from meeting and giving birth to you (something Fox’s “Marty McFly” character almost did during his blasts to the past in the improbable DeLorean DMC-12).
But as Catholics, we don’t need clever screenwriters and sci-fi gadgets to transport us beyond the current moment. Ours is a faith that weaves time and eternity into a tapestry whose pattern, though not always clear to us, nevertheless bears the design of divine love.
And Advent, the start of our liturgical year, calls us to contemplate those threads anew.
To the uninitiated ear, the seasonal cries of “come, Lord Jesus” may sound strange; the historical Christ is no longer visible, and surely the troubled centuries since he walked the earth are less a sign of his pending return than a testament to our weary, unchanging lot as humans. For all our “progress,” violence, injustice and confusion beset even believers; we have grown drowsy waiting for the triumphant arrival of a Lord who, perhaps, has reconsidered his plans.
So we may think, unless we are willing to shake off the torpor of the trivial and realize that we live in what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the “‘today’ of the living God” (CCC, 1165). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are at every Mass swept into the Real Presence of the crucified and resurrected Christ, the Savior on whom “everything converge(s)” (CCC, 522).
Just as matter even in solid form is made up of wriggling subatomic particles, time is far from a dull, linear march under the gaze of a distant God. St. Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of “three comings of the Lord”: earthly, final and intermediate — and how often we miss that last one, even in a liturgical season that calls us to contemplate the first.
Centuries after St. Bernard, scholar Mircea Eliade traced two kinds of time, sacred and profane, observing that religious festivals and rites allow us to enter into the sacred, where the hours are uncounted and better understood. Similarly, St. John Paul II urged faithful to reflect on the events of Christ’s life “in the biblical sense of remembrance (zakar) as a making present of the world brought about by God in the history of salvation” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 13).
Our consumer culture always seeks to fast forward the calendar, and Valentine’s Day candy will begin displacing holiday decorations long before the first bells of Christmas. But this Advent, if we still our souls, we can fly through time to begin sharing in a joyous eternity with the Lord God — and get there faster than any Starfleet craft or DeLorean DMC-12 could ever manage.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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