What Kind of Time is It?

Monthly letters to help put the work of the catechist of the Good Shepherd into the context of the larger world · from the archives

November 2017

by Catherine Maresca

A time for tears?
A time for laughter?
A time for mourning?
A time for dancing?

Sofia Cavalletti introduced the phrase “The Mystery of Time” in the Religious Potential of the Child, Ages 6-12. She had been struck by the older child’s need to explore the question of time and begins to address it in Chapter Two as presented in Biblical History. Chapters three, four and five describe the great lessons of CGS that rely on time lines: the Fettuccia, the Gifts, and the Plan of God. In the atrium the History of the Jewish People is also introduced. Together these four timelines integrate Sacred History with the history of the universe, situate human history within Sacred History and Biblical History within human history.
If the Mystery of Time could be addressed by timelines our work would be finished! But Sofia expands the question as she quotes Augustine, Jonas, Piaget, and Heschel, comparing time to the mystery of life and death and a flowing river, and contrasting it to the dimension of space. I’ve been wondering since I first read these pages how other dimensions of time can be explored with the older children.
This year I came across a resource that helped me consider a Biblical aspect of time beyond our daily attempt to place ourselves and everything else within the vast measurement of time.
In Jesus before Christianity, Albert Nolan has a chapter titled “A New Time” in which he introduces the Biblical concept of time as a quality rather than a measurement. We have an example of this in the Ecclesiastes 3,1-8:
A time for giving birth, a time for dying;
A time for planting, a time for uprooting what has been planted.
A time for killing, a time for healing.
A time for knocking down, a time for building.
A time for tears, a time for laughter;
A time for mourning, a time for dancing…
A time for loving, a time for hating;
A time for war, a time for peace.
Jesus’ sense of time then is not one of measurement. The newness of his time is not triggered or marked by a date but by the quality of the Messianic Age – a time for the discovery of the precious pearl or hidden treasure, a time of rejoicing, forgiveness, compassion, healing, liberation, and the victory of good over evil.
Another delight of Nolan’s work on time is that linear time does not limit who is present for a given time. So the Exodus, when celebrated at Passover, unites all who experience it in the present. He writes,
The Exodus…and times for fasting and sowing were fixed points. The individuals travelled through or past these fixed points…When individuals reach a fixed point, for example the Passover festival or a time of famine, they become in a sense contemporaneous with their ancestors and their successors who have passed or will pass through the same qualitative time (p. 91).
We are most aware of this sense of time in the context of liturgy: the Memorial, or anamnesis. But it can be present to us always as we journey through the times of our lives.
As one liturgical year comes to an end and another begins we move through feasts and seasons that point to qualitative time. As we pass through these liturgical “fixed points” there are questions we can ask ourselves to live fully in the present and deepen our sense of communion throughout history. With the feast of Christ the King we anticipate the time of parousia. What kind of time is this? Who participates in it with us? How does it seep into our lives each day? In America we also celebrate Thanksgiving, not a liturgical celebration but one with deep spiritual possibilities. Again, what kind of time is this? Who is present to us at our table through their work or heritage? How can we let gratitude be part of our daily life? We then move into Advent. What kind of time is this? For what do we prepare along with those who have been waiting for the Messiah? Then Christmas arrives. What kind of time is this? Do we celebrate a past event or an ongoing reality? Who is present to celebrate with us?
What kind of time is it? This might be the question to pose as we contemplate the season’s feasts, civic life, and personal events with the older children.
It seems to me the words of the prophet Isaiah speak to the hopeful quality of each of these times:The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is. 9,1).The lion shall lie down with the lamb… (Is. 11, 6-9).His name shall be Emmanuel (Is. 7,14).Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
and all humankind shall see it together (Is. 40, 5).

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