One of the things that totally blew by me in my conversion was the nature of time to a Catholic believer. The risen Christ forces a believer to confront a different notion of what time is and how we navigate through it. Paul was the first to expound upon time and faith and used many curious expressions that focused on the former. One such phrase, “in the fullness of time,” seemed to refer to God’s sending of the Son at the most propitious moment (Galatians 4:4) in human history. Some have suggested the apostle had the Roman empire in mind with its roads and common language (Greek) which helped to facilitate the spread of the gospel and the work of Paul in moving about to contribute to that dissemination.
But it is far more likely that the apostle had something more biblical and Jewish in mind when he used the phrase “the fullness of time.” For Paul was convinced that God has a plan for his creation and for human history, a plan that had been, was and was going to be part of Israel’s history and shaped by a sequence best described in the language of the prophets and apocalyptic seers that populate the Old Testament. Benedict XVI comes neatly to the point here:
The subject of the Resurrection unfolds a new perspective, that of the expectation of the Lord’s return. It thus brings us to ponder on the relationship among the present time, the time of the Church and of the Kingdom of Christ, and the future (eschaton) that lies in store for us, when Christ will consign the Kingdom to his Father (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24). Every Christian discussion of the last things, called eschatology, always starts with the event of the Resurrection; in this event the last things have already begun, and, in a certain sense, are already present.
Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Paul
Fr. Jean Corbon, in his seminal The Wellspring of Worship refers to a “river of life” that he sees forming the flow of energies that was inaugurated by the Resurrection. A river that literally overflows time and spills into the lives of the people of God as liturgy:
On this day of birth the river of life becomes LITURGY as it spreads out from the tomb and reaches us in the incorruptible body of Christ. Its wellspring is no longer the Father alone but also the body of his Son, since this is henceforth wholly permeated by his glory. If it be true that the drama of history is the interplay of God’s gift and man’s acceptance of it, then the drama reaches its climax, and its eternal beginning, on this day, because these two energies are now joined together forever. The consent of the Son to his eternal birth from the Father completely permeates the body of his humanity.
As a result of this anointing with superabundant life Jesus rises and becomes “Christ” to the fullest possible extent. It is this covenant between his two energies, the divine and the human, that makes the risen Christ the inexhaustible wellspring of the liturgy. In the past, the river of life had been in a state of kenosis in his body, being hidden and limited there by his mortal flesh; like the first Adam, Jesus was a “living soul”. But when he rises from the tomb he has become “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:4).
Henceforth, in his integral humanity — nature, will, energy Jesus is alive. He is united to the Father and radiates the glory of God from his own body; being united to the wellspring he gives life (see John 5:20-21 and 26-27). The river of life can now flow forth from the throne of God and from the throne of the Lamb. The liturgy has been born; the Resurrection of Jesus is its first manifestation.
Let us not imagine this event as being a thing of the past! True enough, it occurred at one point in our history; it was an event and not a symbol. But it also occurred “once and for all”. [See Romans 6:10 and the Letter to the Hebrews passim; the phrase is used only with reference to the death and the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.] The events in which we are involved happen once, but never once and for all; they pass and, passing, belong to the past. The Resurrection of Jesus is not in the past, for if it were Jesus would not have conquered our death. Above and beyond its historical circumstances, which are indeed of the past, the death of Jesus was by its nature the death of death.
But the event wherein death was put to death cannot belong to the past, for then death would not have been conquered. To the extent that it passes, time is prisoner of death; once time is delivered from death, it no longer passes. The hour on which the desire of Jesus was focused “has come, and we are in it” forever; the event that is the Cross and Resurrection does not pass away.
More than that, it is the only true event in all of history. All other events are dead and will always be dead; this one alone remains. “Christ has been raised from the dead and will never die again” (Romans 6:9). He was not brought back to life in the manner of Lazarus or the daughter of Jairus or the son of the widow of Nain. These individuals began a mortal life once again and finally died for good.
In the case of Christ and him alone rising meant passing through death and passing, with the whole of his humanity, beyond death. He pierced the wall of death and therefore the wall of mortal time. This corning of the Word of life into our flesh and into the very abyss of our death alone deserves to be called an “event”, because due to it all the walls of death have collapsed, and life has sprung up in their place. The hour in which the Word with a loud cry handed over his Breath of love so that men might live is no longer in the past; it is, it abides, it lives on through history and sustains it.
This unprecedented power that the river of life exercises in the humanity of the risen Christ — that is the liturgy! In it all the promises of the Father find their fulfillment (Acts 13: 32). Since that moment the communion of the Blessed Trinity has ceaselessly been spreading throughout our world and flooding our time with its fullness. Henceforth the economy of salvation takes the form of liturgy.
When seen in this perspective, the question of the relation between celebration and life becomes secondary. The important thing is the relation of both to the paschal event that wells up at the heart of every event. In the living Christ who “is not here” but is risen and who fills all things and holds the keys of death, the heart of God and the heart of man are as it were the two heartbeats of the heart of history. There the wellspring flows.
Fr. Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship
This was the radical new covenant that the biblical prophets envisioned after the years of idolatry and injustice, violence and oppression they had witnessed. They imagined a future time of true worship that would include all nations, a new era of justice for Israel and for all, an age of peace and security, wherein “the lion lies down with the lamb:”
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
When this sort of vision failed to materialize, the later prophets and their heirs, the apocalyptic visionaries, imagined a radical disjunction between the present age and the age to come, an abrupt transition from the one to the other prefaced by great upheavals in normal human life and even in the cosmos itself.
The Prayer Of Jeremiah The Prophet:
Remember, O Lord, what has come upon us: consider and behold our reproach.
Our inheritance is turned over to aliens, our houses to strangers.
We are become like orphans without a father, our mothers are as widows.
We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought.
We are dragged by the neck; no rest is given to the weary.
We have given our hand to Egypt and to the Assyrians to get bread enough.
Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we have borne their iniquities.
Slaves have ruled over us; there was none to redeem us from their hand.
We fetched bread at the peril of our lives because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is scorched as an oven because of the violence of hunger.
They ravished women in Zion and virgins in the cities of Judah.
Princes were hung up by their hands; no respect was shown to the elders.
Young men were shamefully used and boys collapsed under the loads of wood.
The old men have gone from the gates, young men from the choirs of singers.
All joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing is turned into mourning.
The crown is fallen from our head; woe to us because we have sinned.
For this our heart has become sick; therefore our eyes have grown dim.
Because of Mount Zion that is destroyed jackals prowl all over it.
But you, O Lord, will remain forever, your throne from generation to generation.
Why do you forget us forever, forsake us for so many long days?
Restore us, Lord, to you and we shall be restored; renew our days as from the beginning.
But you have utterly rejected us, furiously angry against us.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.
Michael Gorman describes the following: “for Paul, the event of Jesus Christ was God’s perfectly timed means of effecting the transition from this age to the age to come, fulfilling the prophetic vision of something new and yet old:
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation!”
(2 Corinthians 5:57).
But Paul saw this apocalyptic event occurring in two parts — commonly referred to as the first and second comings of Christ — with an intervening era in which the two ages overlap (1 Corinthians 10:11) and during which period the present age is already beginning to pass away (1 Corinthians cf. Romans 13:11 12). We may describe this framework, which is fundamental to understanding Paul, as follows:
- Apocalyptic Intervention 1: In the coming, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus in the fullness of time, God has inaugurated the age-to-come, or new creation, promised by the prophets.
- The Current Overlap of the Ages the inaugurated new age currently overlaps with the present age.
- Apocalyptic Intervention 2, In the not-too-distant future, God will act once again, beginning with the return or appearing of Jesus, to end the present age and bring the age-to-come into its glorious fullness.”
Paul said that we live in the intervening time between the first act and the second apocalyptic interventions; the present age, which he saw as “the overlap of the ages:”
“For the grace of God has appeared [Greek epephane], bringing salvation to all, “training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation [Greek epithaneian] of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
For Paul this new life of salvation in the present age is life “in Christ.” Gorman tells us that this phrase points to a central and complex dimension of Paul’s experience and theology, an experience shaped by the Risen Christ that we all experience:
Furthermore, the language can be reversed, as Paul also experiences the presence of Christ within — Christ in me/you/us (e.g., Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:10; Colossians 1:27). This is both a personal, though not private, and a corporate experience. It is also described in terms of the indwelling presence of the Spirit (e.g., Romans 8:9, 11)
To further complicate things, Paul can also speak about life in the Spirit. For Paul, the Spirit is the down-payment on and guarantee of the fullness of the life to come (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14), when the final act in God’s salvation drama takes place.
Life in Christ during this overlap of the ages is to be characterized by constant careful consideration of both the first intervention and the second. That is, those in Christ experience in the liturgy that looks both back to the past events of incarnation, cross, and resurrection, on the one hand, and ahead to the future events of return, resurrection, and renewal, on the other, what has been called the Anamnesis in the Eucharistic prayer.
Gorman sees the kind of existence arising from this interpretation as bifocal — focused on two things, in two directions, so that the present becomes shaped by both the past and the future:
By “bifocal” I mean having two foci in opposite directions (that is, bi-directional), unlike bifocal glasses that permit one to focus on different objects in the same direction. To be in Christ, both personally and corporately, is to have one’s life, one’s story shaped by the two-part drama of God’s apocalyptic intervention. It is to be caught in the middle — a challenging but exciting time to be alive.
Michael J Gorman, Reading Paul
So how do we live in this Catholic Time with this bifocal perspective? Benedict XVI in his book on Paul poses the question in the light of the expectation of Christ’s parousia: “Let us ask ourselves: what are the basic convictions of Christians as regards the last things: death, the end of the world?”
- Their first conviction is the certainty that Jesus is Risen and is with the Father and thus is with us forever. And no one is stronger than Christ:
[Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8: 35-40]
for he is with the Father, he is with us. We are consequently safe, free of fear. This was an essential effect of Christian preaching. Fear of spirits and divinities was widespread in the ancient world. Today too, missionaries alongside many good elements in natural religions encounter fear of the spirits, of evil powers that threaten us. Christ lives, he has overcome death, he has overcome all these powers. We live in this certainty, in this freedom and in this joy. This is the first aspect of our living with regard to the future.
2. The second is the certainty that Christ is with me. And just as the future world in Christ has already begun, this also provides the certainty of hope. The future is not darkness in which no one can find his way. It is not like this. Without Christ, even today the world’s future is dark, and fear of the future is so common. Christians know that Christ’s light is stronger, and therefore they live with a hope that is not vague, with a hope that gives them certainty and courage to face the future.
3. Lastly, their third conviction is that the Judge who returns at the same time as Judge and Savior has left us the duty to live in this world in accordance with his way of living. He has entrusted his talents to us. Our third conviction, therefore, is responsibility before Christ for the world, for our brethren and at the same time also for the certainty of his mercy. Both these things are important. Since God can only be merciful, we do not live as if good and evil were the same thing.This would be a deception. In reality, we live with a great responsibility. We have talents, and our responsibility is to work so that this world may be open to Christ, that it be renewed. Yet even as we work responsibly, we realize that God is the true Judge. We are also certain that this Judge is good; we know his Face, the Face of the Risen Christ, of Christ crucified for us. Therefore we can be certain of his goodness and advance with great courage.
Another element in the Pauline teaching on eschatology is the universality of the call to faith which unites Jews and Gentiles, that is, non-Christians, as a sign and an anticipation of the future reality. For this reason we can say that we are already seated in Heaven with Jesus Christ, but to reveal the riches of grace in the centuries to come (Ephesians 2:6f.), the after becomes a before, in order to show the state of incipient fulfillment in which we live. This makes bearable the sufferings of the present time, which, in any case, cannot be compared to the future glory (cf. Romans 8:18).
We walk by faith, not by sight, and even if we might rather leave the body to live with the Lord, what definitively matters, whether we are dwelling in the body or are far from it, is that we he pleasing to him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7-9).
4. Finally, a last point that might seem to us somewhat difficult. At the end of his First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul reiterates and also puts on the lips of the Corinthians a prayer that originated in the first Christian communities in the Palestinian area: Maranà, thà! which means literally, “Our Lord, come!” (16:22). It was the prayer of early Christianity and also of the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, which ends with it: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
“Can we pray like this too? It seems to me that for us today, in our lives, in our world, it is difficult to pray sincerely for the world to perish so that the new Jerusalem, the Last Judgment and the Judge, Christ, may come. I think that even if, sincerely, we do not dare to pray like this for a number of reasons yet, in a correct and proper way, we too can say, together with the early Christians: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
We do not of course desire the end of the world. Nevertheless, we do want this unjust world to end. We also want the world to be fundamentally changed, we want the beginning of the civilization of love, the arrival of a world of justice and peace, without violence, without hunger. We want all this, yet how can it happen without Christ’s presence? Without Christ’s presence there will never be a truly just and renewed world. And even if we do so in a different way, we too can and must also say, completely and profoundly, with great urgency and amid the circumstances of our time: “Come, Lord Jesus!
Come in your way, in the ways that you know. Come wherever there is injustice and violence. Come to the refugee camps, in Darfur, in North Kivu, in so many parts of the world. Come wherever drugs prevail. Come among those wealthy people who have forgotten you, who live for themselves alone. Come wherever you are unknown. Come in your way and renew today’s world. And come into our hearts, come and renew our lives, come into our hearts so that we ourselves may become the light of God, your presence.
In this way let us pray with Saint Paul: Maranà, thà! “Come, Lord Jesus!” and let us pray that Christ may truly be present in our world today and renew it.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Paul