by Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
We are about to begin the season of Lent and to temporarily suspend what the Church refers to as “Ordinary Time.” This is the time of the liturgical cycle which is not marked by the particular seasons of Lent, Advent, Easter, and Christmas but during which we follow a pattern of readings form the Scriptures and prayers that reflect the rhythm of daily life. “Ordinary Time” does not mean routine but reminds us that our daily participation in the life of God through the Church is anything but ordinary. It is always in the present moment, whether it seems routine or not, that God is present and reveals Himself. In reality, every moment is not ordinary and only in recognizing this do we appreciate the true joy of life. This is an important aspect of the spiritual life. Indeed, while Lent is not “Ordinary Time”, it should help us appreciate more the presence of God in our daily lives.
One of the things that we all do on a regular basis is to look to the past and to look forward to the future. This is a good thing to do in the present moment as it helps us to focus our attention on the present moment. We must keep in mind that we look to the past and anticipate the future in the present moment.
As we look to the past, we have a great deal to learn from both the joyful and the difficult times of our lives. However, we experience the past in the present moment. Looking to the past does not bring us back to it. The past has brought us to where we are and where we are is what really matters. We can learn from our regrets and mistakes. We can move on from our sorrows and trials. We can appreciate now the joyful experiences of our lives in the present moment. However, it is only in the present moment that we can do all of this.
We also look to the future. This is a very wise and prudent thing to do. It helps us to focus the present moment on where we hope to be in the future. Jesus reminds us that just as we make wise plans for future projects, we must also do so with our spiritual lives. He says, “Which one of you, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it?” (Lk 14:28). However, the future is not here and none of us knows what it will ultimately bring no matter how much we prepare or plan for it. Many times we can become too concerned about the future and worry about it too much. Jesus tells us to be careful about this when he says, “So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mt 6:34).
The key to the spiritual life, indeed to life in general, is to live in the present moment – the ordinary time. To live in the past or to live in the future is to live in a graceless moment. While it is important to look to the past and to the future, God gives us His grace for today. We can recognize those grace filled times in the past and look forward to them in the future but the grace is here for now. So many times we worry about the future and wonder how we will cope because the future is now a graceless moment. The only moment of life that we live is the present one and God is most present to it. There truly is no such thing as ordinary time. It is all extraordinarily touched by the grace of God.
St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, is an extremely popular and beloved saint by men and women of every age and background precisely because she lived so simply in the present moment. Her “Little Way” is truly a school of spirituality for all stages in life from which we can learn much. It is based on simplicity and the ability to realize the present moment as the means to know God and find happiness in life. She wrote, “Whoever possesses the present moment, possesses God. Therefore, whoever possesses the present moment, possesses everything. The present moment is enough. Don’t let anything trouble you.” Her words echo exactly the words of Christ and are important ones for us to understand in realizing peace within our lives. Living in the present moment is how St. Therese, who experienced much suffering and feelings of desolation in her life, was always able to be joyful and to inspire joy in others who never knew of her suffering.
St. Paul of the Cross, another popular and beloved saint, often echoed the same words. He embraced the Cross in his life and indeed experienced many sufferings and feelings of desolation throughout it. Like St. Therese, he embraced the present moment as the place where God was present to him and in this found his peace. He tells us, “Don’t let yourself keep thinking about tomorrow, but live for the present moment, doing at that moment what is pleasing to God.”
Jesus tells us that “If a house is divided against itself, that house will be not able to stand” (Mk 3: 25). His words of wisdom speak not only about families, kingdoms and all relationships but also about ourselves. We can be divided within ourselves, and many times do not realize it. Sometimes this happens by living too much in the past or in the future and neglecting the present moment. Such division within ourselves will cause a sense of frustration which is not able to know the joy of the Lord. The Lord is present to us here and now and it is only in the present moment that we are able to live and appreciate our relationship with Him. The past is gone, and the future is not here but the present moment is and it is the only one in which we live.
The faith of Pope Francis exudes an authenticity and sincerity which is very attractive and evoke imitation. He is obviously a man who lives in the present moment. While he is rooted in the past and has a clear vision for the future, he lives each and every moment realizing the presence of the grace of God in that moment. That is why he is able to be so joyful and to invite others to that joy. May we all know the grace of the present moment and the joy that God extends to us in it. May Lent be a time to help us more appreciate the present moment, always realizing that there is no ordinary time.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
February 25, 2022