Sunday, January 21, 2018

Time Travel and Eternal Life

The Persistence of Memory (1931), by Salvador Dali

(Third Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on January 20, 2018 at Holy Family Church in Taunton, MA. and January 21, 2018 at St. Paul Church in Cranston, R.I.; See Jonah 3:1-10 and Mark 1: 14-20)

How good are you at movie trivia?  I would like to list several movies, and let’s see if you can guess what they all have in common.  We’ll begin with the 1980s, and go forward.  

Back to the Future
Field of Dreams
Groundhog Day
Midnight in Paris
The Time Traveler’s Wife

Now, if you had not guessed it already, that last one should have given it away.  They all have to do with time travel.  If you do a web search for “time travel in works of fiction,” you will find hundreds of books, films and TV shows that follow that theme.  Our culture is fascinated with time travel, and for good reason.  It is an absolutely fascinating topic.  What could be more exciting than traveling back in time and entering events we have only read about?  It is an enchanting concept.  The problem, of course, is that it’s not true!

You cannot go back in time and change a single thing about your life.  You could never travel into the future, and see what is there, in order to come back and change something in the here-and-now.  No, we live in the present.  This time—here, now—is reality for us, and only in these present choices and decisions can we chart a course for our lives.  

If we look at the City of Nineveh, in their present moment in our First Reading, we can see that time is running OUT!  The clock is ticking for that city, and the future does not look good.  “Forty days more,” Jonah announces to them, “and Nineveh shall be destroyed (Jonah 3:4).”  Can you imagine if that was God’s message for us this weekend!  

Well, before we consider that God has judged them too harshly, we should realize that the City of Nineveh was renowned for its cruelty, wickedness and barbarism in the time of Jonah.  The prophet, in fact, is reluctant to go there with God’s message, not because he is afraid that the city will be destroyed, but because he is afraid it won’t be!  He fears that the Ninevites will heed God’s message and God will spare them.

As we discover in that reading, Jonah has every reason to fear.  In fact, God sends him there precisely to save the city, and to give the Ninevites another chance.  He gets only one-day’s journey into the city and the people immediately repent.  They put on sackcloth as an outward sign of their regret and sorrow, and God responds just as quickly:

When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
—Jonah 3:10

God offered them a special moment of grace, a time to reconsider their situation and to make a change.  He specifically sent Jonah at precisely that time in their lives as an opportunity for mercy.  In the Bible, there is a name for that moment God provides.  It is called “kairos.”  Kairos is one of two Greek words in the Bible for time.  It means “an appointed time,” or an “opportune moment.”  

The other Greek word for time in the Bible is “chronos.”  It is where we get the word "chronological."  Jonah announces, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed” . . . that’s chronos.  The hands that move inevitably across the face of a clock, minute by minute and hour by hour; that’s chronos.  The average life-expectancy for a man or woman in the United States is 80 years.  For many of us, perhaps it will be less than 80.  That is chronos.  There is nothing you can do to change or alter chronos.  

Kairos is different.

Kairos is God’s time.  Kairos is a moment God chooses, when He intervenes in time and gives us another chance and a new beginning.  In the Gospel, the eternal God steps into time in the person of Jesus Christ.  He walks into Galilee in our Gospel this weekend and announces this message:

This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel.
—Mark 1:15

The word for time that St. Mark uses when he relates Jesus’ message is kairos.  It is the opportune moment, the appointed time for God to have mercy.  It is here.  Now.

“Repent,” Jesus exhorts, “and believe in the Gospel.”

That word, “repent,” means much more than morality.  Certainly, it begins with the moral life, or at least it did for the Ninevites.  If there is anything in our past that has damaged or harmed our relationship with God, then we have to repent of that and ask for forgiveness.  In particular, if we have committed any serious or grave sins (what the Church’s tradition refers to as “mortal sin,” because it has the power to destroy the life of grace we received at baptism), then we can confess those sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God restores sanctifying grace in our souls.  What an amazing gift!  If we have harmed our relationship with those around us by the choices we have made, or the things we have done; if we have hurt ourselves in some way; if we have sinned.  These can all be forgiven as we turn back, once again, to God.  
But repentance means much more than that.  It means to see God in a new way, to see those around us, and even the world we live in, differently.  We begin to see things the way God sees them.  We begin to make God the center of our lives.  If there is anything, or anyone, in our lives at the center, besides God, then we will never be really happy or fulfilled in this life.  Once we begin to make God central, though, everything changes.  

Christ walks into the lives of those four Apostles this weekend and invites them to a life of discipleship, a vocation entirely focused on Him.  They were not doing anything wrong whatsoever.  They were fishing.  Nonetheless, He invites them to follow Him, and their lives are completely changed.  It was a kairos moment, an offer of grace, an opportune moment.  Christ would use them to change the course of human history.  That’s kairos, and God still does that!  

But God’s time for us will not last forever.  St. Paul teaches us, in our Second Reading this weekend, that there is a great sense of urgency when it comes to kairos.  He says:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, the time (kairos) is running out.
—1 Corinthians 7:29

“Seventy is the sum of our years,” the Psalmist tells us, “or eighty, if we are strong; most of them are toil and sorrow; they pass quickly, and we are gone” (Psalm 90:10).

We will not always have the opportunity to say yes to God.  There will not always be opportunities for us to change and to make God the center of our lives. This moment may be all we have. Today may be the moment appointed by God for us to turn to Him and be healed.  There is a great urgency, that we respond to the God who so lovingly offers Himself to us in time.  Are we doing that?  

I would like to conclude with a small excerpt from one of the greatest saints in the Church to ever reflect on the meaning of time, St. Augustine.  He was a man who missed God many, many times in his life, but God never gave up on him.  He reflects, in his Confessions, on those moments in his life where he failed to recognize God.   But then he goes on to describe that kairos moment, when God finally broke through:

“Late have I loved you, beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you.  You were within, and I was in the external world and sought you there . . . You were with me, and I was not with you . . . You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness . . . You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”

 That is kairos.  God is constantly calling and crying out to us, seeking to shatter our deafness and heal us of our blindness.  If we are willing to respond and place Him at the center of our lives, we will not be able to travel through time.  But we will step into eternity with God here in this life, and He will lead us to eternal life in the world to come.