byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
The season of summer will soon be coming to its conclusion. While the hot weather will be with us for some time here in southern Florida, very subtle signs of nature tell us that the seasons are changing, and fall will be approaching. Daylight comes each morning a bit later in the early hours and the shifting color of the evening clouds remind us that the earth is slowly moving away from the sun. Nature does have a rhythm to it that reminds us of the changes that occur as we travel through life and of the matters we need to accomplish on our journey.
Among those who feel that summer is going by too quickly are certainly our children and young people who are returning to school. There is a time for play, a time for work, and a time to learn. Youth brings with it a natural ability to learn and, as the summer days change over to fall, nature reminds young minds that they need to be nourished.
And so, not always so happily, our children return to school. Many parents will be telling their reluctant sons and daughters what was said to many of us: “This is the best time of your life! Some day you will wish you were back in school again.” When we heard these words, we could not imagine them to be true and considered them simply adult propaganda. However, the nature and rhythm of life have taught us the wisdom of those words.
In his Wednesday audience of June 22, at which Pope Francis gave his final catechesis on aging, he spoke that the best time of life is for the elderly. He explained that with the wisdom and insights that life has brought, the elderly are more able to listen to God and to more fully enjoy the meaning of life. Indeed, young people look to the elderly for their insight, and the elderly take joy in handing on to the young their wisdom. Pope Francis said, “An elderly person cannot be happy without looking at young people, and young people cannot carry on in life without looking at the elderly.” The opening of school is a fitting time for all of us to recall that the best time of our life is always now and that we are always learning. Learning is not something that is limited to youth. In fact, a good education simply sets the conditions for continued learning in life. As we get older, we not only put into practice what we have learned, but we continue to gain more insight about life, ourselves, God, and our faith. Each year and each season of life bring with it new lessons to be learned to help us find more meaning in life and to help us live more peacefully.
One of the greatest lessons of life is to realize that “This is the best time of our life!” The present, not the past or the future, is where we live. While it is good to learn from the past and to plan for the future, it is only in the present moment, which we will never have again, that we live. Whether we are young, adolescent, middle-aged, or elderly, it is in these moments that God calls and speaks to us each day. Finding God in the present and appreciating the present as the occasion where we live our lives always make for happiness in life. This is the manner in which the truly wise and learned live. This is also the way of the saints.
One of the great saints of the Church is Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. No more than a child herself, Saint Therese was so learned in the spiritual life that she has also been named a doctor of the Church. “Her Little Way” is truly a school of spirituality for all ages in life from which we can learn much. It is based on simplicity and the ability to realize the present moment as the place to encounter God and find happiness in life. St. Therese stated, “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 are deep spiritual wisdom that let us know that “This is the best time of our life” no matter where we may be. Live in the present, take advantage of every moment, and God will take care of the rest.
As summer vacation fades and seasons very slowly begin to change, children may reluctantly return to school. However, the passing of time and rhythm of nature teach us all that we are still growing and learning. To learn to live in the present moment and to enjoy God’s presence in it is a lesson we strive to learn all during our lives. Let us all take to heart the words we tell our children returning to school, “This is the best time of your life!”
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 19, 2022