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The Treasure of the Present Moment

“Time goes on, never to return again. Whatever is enclosed within it will never change; it seals with a seal for eternity”

(St. Faustina, Diary, 62).

Today counts

In one of his pieces of advice to his nephew Wormwood, C. S. Lewis’ demon, Uncle Screwtape, observes: “The humans live in time, but our Enemy [i.e. God — ed.] destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time, which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience, which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present — either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure” (C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters).

Monotonous does not mean of no account

On stepping into the present moment, let us observe that this too is a gift of God out of love for us. Sometimes we find it hard to value it. Every day seems proverbially “monotonous” like the preceding one — vanishing in a whirl of mundane duties, without any great or memorable events. We yearn for the extraordinary; meanwhile, we have to go to school or work, cook dinner, or fix a dripping faucet. We tend see these activities as dull and unimportant. Perhaps we compare our life with those of the saints, upon whom God lavished such extraordinary graces. Saint Faustina conversed with Jesus. Padre Pio received the stigmata. Bernadette Soubirous had visitations from Our Lady at Lourdes. And ours? So ordinary! A drudgery of daily repeated activities of little or no value. Nothing could be farther from the truth! True, God chose certain individuals to convey His message to the world, but they achieved sainthood not because of the extraordinary revelations they received, but because of their love of God and faithful fulfillment of His will by tirelessly carrying out their responsibilities.

One of Lucy of Fatima’s fellow sisters remarked that at first she had no idea she was living in the same convent as Sister Lucy, for there was nothing apparent to distinguish her from the rest of the nuns. Here is what Saint Faustina has to say about everyday life: “O life is so dull and monotonous, how many treasures you contain! When I look at everything with the eyes of faith, no two hours are alike, and the dullness and monotony disappear. The grace, which is given me in this hour, will not be repeated in the next. It may be given me again, but it will not be the same grace. Time goes on, never to return again. Whatever is enclosed within it will never change; it seals with a seal for eternity” (Diary, 62).

We are formed by our acts of love

Every hour of our life is a gift of God — an opportunity for us to advance toward holiness. Even such mundane activities as we perform at school, in college, at work, or in the house are not without meaning for our interior life. As an ethicist, Karol Wojtyła set out this mechanism with profound insight in his greatest philosophical work entitled The Acting Person. Basing himself on St. Thomas Aquinas, he observed that every act has both a transitive and intransitive effect. A transitive effect remains outside of the person. An intransitive remains within the person. Thus, for example, a soup might represent the transitive effect of the act of cooking, while the moral edification of the person cooking the soup represents the intransitive effect. By the same token, a stolen wallet might represent the transitive result of an act of theft, while the moral worsening of the person committing the theft represents the intransitive effect. So let us not treat everyday deeds lightly, for they too give shape to our life, either by bringing us closer to God or distancing us from Him. According to St. Faustina, one measures the value of a deed by the thermometer of love: “Love has its worth, and it confers greatness on all our deeds. Although our actions are small and ordinary in themselves, because of love they become great and powerful before God” (Diary, 889)

Making the best use of our time

To accept every day as a gift is one thing. To use it to carry out good deeds is another. How to manage the day most effectively is still another. Here the example of Servant of God Jerzy Ciesielski is especially enlightening. This “Christian of the Twentieth Century” (as John Paul II called him) was an exceptionally busy man. He was an engineer, a lecturer at the Kraków Polytechnic University, a husband, father of three children, highly active in the life of the Catholic Church, organizer of vacation outings by “Środowisko” (a youth group formed around Karol Wojtyła), ski instructor, etc. Reading Jerzy Ciesielski’s biography, you may well wonder how he managed to reconcile all these disparate activities. How did he organize his time?

We find the answer in his notebooks. “You can never act or spend time,” writes the Servant of God, “without a plan and without God. To reflect on the presence of God also means having to reflect on your use of time.” The Krakow engineer regularly drew up a weekly plan of activities along with an allocation of real time for their execution. He also stressed the importance of rising at a fixed time in the morning (“sleeping in, while having no impact on your health, has a colossal impact on your character”). During his morning devotions he made a special point of presenting the day’s schedule to God, while every evening he made an examination of conscience, drew the necessary conclusions, and set up his program for the following day.

Focusing on God

A daily schedule makes for optimal use of our time, while also training us to resist the temptation of shirking our responsibilities. Just as athletes are unable to achieve success without regular training, so we must discipline ourselves in a spirit of sacrifice and endurance, so as to reach the finishing line. “Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life,” as we read in the St. John’s Apocalypse (Rev 2: 10). In this difficult task we are helped by the saving knowledge that to carry out our responsibilities is above all to cooperate with God’s grace. Explains Jerzy Ciesielski: “We can briefly characterize the ideal of holiness as ‘carrying out the duties of our state with a supernatural orientation.’ To do this we must lead an interior, religious life, which serves as the generator charging our personal batteries for everyday use.”

Holiness means abiding in the vine, which is Christ (cf. Jn 15: 1-10). Hence the importance of living a sacramental life: partaking of the Eucharist and confession. As John Paul II attests through his own experience (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 25), God generously bestows strength, power, and support on those who take the time to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament. St. Faustina also stressed the power of prayer: “Jesus gave me to understand how souls should be faithful to prayer despite torments, dryness, and temptations; because oftentimes the realization of God’s great plans depends mainly on such prayer. If we do not persevere in such prayer, we frustrate what the Lord wanted to do through us or within us. Let every soul remember these words: ‘And being in anguish, He prayed longer’” (Diary, 872). In daily prayer we thank God for the gift of the present day. We entrust it to the Lord while asking for His blessing, that we may live it fruitfully and in accordance with His will. The daily tedium is also a way to heaven.

Maria Zboralski

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The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in August 2016.

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