Some years ago, a well-known Japanese Dominican, Fr. Shigeto Oshida, stayed at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Manila for a few days. He had a series of lectures to pronounce at the University’s Faculty of Theology. We knew each other much earlier and had become good friends. Before leaving UST, Fr. Oshida told me: “Fausto, where are you going? You seem to be always on the move, going somewhere! Enjoy the moment, smell the flowers …” I realized then that I was not giving sufficient importance to this moment because I was always looking to the next thing to do – to the next moment!
A renewed understanding of hope – human as well as Christian – has helped me through the years to become increasingly aware of the unique significance of the moment, the day, this day and this moment.
I wish to share with you some of the thoughts and practices I have learned and continue learning as a pilgrim with a thousand hopes on the way to God, who is the hope.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked, “What are your plans for the future?” She answered: “I do not have plans for the future; I only care about today, for today is the day I have to love Jesus.” St. Francis of Sales advises us: “Live one day at a time, leaving the rest in God’s care”; “Go along with confidence in divine Providence, worrying only about the present day and leaving your heart in the Lord’s care.”
The Psalmist invites us: Today listen to his voice, harden not your hearts! (Ps 95:7-8).Today, not yesterday, not tomorrow! Today, harden not your heart by not listening to God’s voice, that is, by not doing good or by doing evil, by being selfish or envious or unforgiving; these harden our hearts.
We listen to God’s voice today for today is the day the Lord has made for us, a day to rejoice and be glad” (Ps 118:24). Today is God’s time for us (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 2659). “Today is the day of salvation” (II Cor 6:2), of universal salvation (Acts 2:39). It is not yesterday: “In last year’s nest there are no birds this year” (Cervantes, Don Quixote de la Mancha). It is not tomorrow: “The biggest obstacle of life is the hope of tomorrow and the loss of today” (Seneca). The prophet of Nazareth tells us: “Do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mt 6:34). The wise man says, “Do not leave for tomorrow what you can do today,” and St. John Bosco comments: “Do not put off till tomorrow the good you can do today. You may not have a tomorrow.”
What is the meaning of “today”? In the Old Testament, “today” is the time for a blessing, for obedience to God, for salvation; contrarily, it may become – if we harden our hearts – a time for a curse, disobedience, perdition. In the New Testament, we are told, the word “today” is used forty times, half of them in Luke. Jesus is born “today” (Lk 2:11). “Today” this Sacred Scripture is fulfilled, Jesus says in a Synagogue (Lk 4:21). Jesus tells us that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mk 1:14-15), that is the Kingdom of heaven is “now.” Today Jesus encounters the sinner Zacchaeus: “Zacchaeus, come down (the sycamore tree); hurry, because I am to stay at your house today” (Lk 19:5). One of the disciples of Jesus wished to follow him later not today: he wanted to take care of his father first. Jesus tells him: “Follow me,” that is not tomorrow but today, not later but now! (Mt 8:21-22). From the Cross, Jesus tells the good thief crucified near him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). Today in the Bible means the day of God’s visitation (Lk 12:54). For the Christian, the believer “today” is not just the chronological day, chronos, marked by the calendar but a theological or spiritual day, a kairos: God’s grace and love. Moreover, today implies for beleivers “obedience and abandonment to the plan of God (Massimo Grilli, 2013).
God talks to us today in his Son Jesus Christ, our Savior. God the Father tells us today what he told Peter, John and James at the Mountain of Transfiguration: “This is my Son, listen to him.” To listen to Jesus means to follow him, to practice our Christian faith: He who listens to these words of mine, Jesus tells us today, “He who listens to these words of mine and acts upon them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock”(Mt 7:24).
Daily we pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Mt 6:11). This petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father “reminds us that all we have comes from God” (St. Thomas Aquinas). We ask God the Father, Our Father every day to give us the bread of grace, the Bread of the Eucharist (Jn 6:51), the bread of God’s Word (Mt 4:4), and the bread or food this day. “Give us”: not only to you and to me, but also to our brothers and sisters, particularly those who have no bread and with whom we have to share our bread.
God is talking to us today. We pray to him: Please Lord save us from sin today (“Dignare Domine die isto sine peccato nos custodire,” in the Te Deum). We listen to him. Where is God speaking to us? He speaks to us in his wonderful creation. God, Yahweh is the Lord of creation – of the earth, the mountains, the ocean… (Ps 95) Everything has beauty, Confucius says, “but not everyone sees it.” May God help us to see the beauty of his creation! Who is not moved by the breathtaking beauty of St. John of the Cross’ verses from his Spiritual Canticle? “Pouring out a thousand graces, / He passed these groves in haste; / And having looked at them, / With his image alone, / Clothed them in beauty. – The tranquil night / At the time of the rising dawn, / Silent music, / Sounding solitude, / The supper that refreshes, and deepens love.”
The voice of God speaks in our conscience (cf. John Pau II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor 58), a good conscience that discerns the present hour by reading the signs of the times (Mt 16:1-3), the signs which are messengers of God, the signs of our time: solidarity, non-violence, spirituality, dialogue, respect for creation, preferential love for the poor and marginalized of our world.
God talks to us in the depth of our heart, in silent and contemplative prayer. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 S 3:10). Yes, “I will keep silent and let God speak within” (Meister Eckhart). We listen to the voice of God in our liturgical prayer: “For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them…” (Mt 18:20). We hear the voice of Jesus, our Savior, in the Eucharistic celebration: “This is my Body…”; “This is the chalice of my Blood” (Eucharistic Prayers). Theologian Karl Rahner advises us to “pray the everyday,” to pray and not mind whether we like it or not, just pray; he adds, “beware of the person who doesn’t pray” (Cf. Karl Rahner, The Need and Blessing of Prayer, 1997).
We hear God’s voice in the others, in our brothers and sisters, particularly in those who suffer, are abandoned or hungry. These are the proxies of Christ (St. Basil): “I was hungry, and you gave me food; thirsty, and you gave me a glass of water …” (cf. Mt 25:35).
To concentrate on today does not mean to forget yesterday: this day is grounded on our days past. Nor does it mean to forget tomorrow: we are pilgrims on the way to God. As our memory is the present of the past, our hope is the present of the future (St. Augustine). The Eucharist illustrates perfectly the necessary links among yesterday, today and tomorrow: it is memorial of the passion of Christ (yesterday); pledge of future glory (tomorrow), and grace every day (today). Our Christian life is a dynamic tension between the past and the future lived in the present: a journey from the already of the death and resurrection of Christ to the not yet of eternal happiness by living this day passionately and compassionately as God’s creatures and children.
The poet mystic Kahlil Gibran writes: “Yet the timeless of you is aware of life’s timelessness, and knows; / And knows that yesterday is but to-day’s memory and to-morrow is to-day’s dream. / And let to-day embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing” (K. Gibran, The Prophet).
Today then does matter much in our life – in our daily life.
When she was very young, St. Therese of the Child Jesus was worried about the future. After she became a Carmelite nun, she focused her life on the present moment: “I just keep concentrating on the present moment. I forget the past, and preserve myself from worries about the future… When one thinks of the past and the future one loses courage and falls into despair… Let us turn our single moment of suffering to profit; let us see each instant as if there were no other. An instant is a treasure.” Jesus continues telling us to “take up your cross every day,” each moment, now (cf. Lk 9:22-25).
The Zen Master says: “The past is unreal; the future is unreal too; only the moment is real. Life is a series of moments, either lived or lost.” Indeed, life is a series of moments either lived or lost! This is also the well-known philosophy and discipline of philosophers, saints and athletes, for instance, tennis player Rafa Nadal who has often being asked what is the secret of his total commitment to the game he is playing. Rafa’s answer: “I give my most every point, every game, and every set.” His nemesis, the great player Novak Djokovic was asked what he admired most in Nadal. His answer: “His competitive spirit; he has the ability to play every point as if it were the last point of the game.” Our life is like a game to be played this moment as if it were the last point this moment, this day, and this year – of life. “Our appointment with life is in the present moment. The place of our appointment is right here, in this very place” (Thich Nhat Hanh). True freedom entails doing “what the present moment demands, what we owe to ourselves and to our neighbors” (Anselm Grun).
To listen to God’s voice in our life entails to live the moment fully, that is, to be faithful to the moment, to this moment, which is the only thing in our hands. The “now” is what matters. God is the eternal now, and He talks to us in different ways. Our Lady and her cousin Elizabeth listened to God’s voice and deeply felt God’s presence. When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, she was deeply surprised by the visit of the most blessed of all women and said: “The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy” (Lk 1:43-44). On that moment, the two women heard God’s voice and felt his presence.
To be faithful to the moment implies to live the moment in God’s presence. God says to Abraham: “Live in my presence, be perfect” (Gen 17:1). Indeed, the moment for believers is the moment in God’s presence: “What essentially matters is the presence of God in every moment of our life once it becomes oriented towards God, just as a flower rotates in the direction of the sun throughout the day” (Y. Congar).
A holy man and mystic who lived every moment in God’s presence was the Carmelite brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (+1691), who left us a marvelous book of spirituality entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. He practiced the presence of God every moment, all the time; this practice, which is not easy but possible with perseverance, became a holy habit. He explains: Through this holy habit, “we take delight in and become accustomed to God’s divine company, speaking humbly and talking lovingly with him at all times, at every moment, without rule or system and specially at times of temptation, suffering, spiritual aridity, disgust and even unfaithfulness and sin.” The habit of the continuing presence of God is a form of prayer that unites the person with God every moment of life, whether one is praying or working. Every moment permeated by God’s presence is a moment of grace and mercy (Cf. Peter John Cameron, OP, The Classics of Catholic Spirituality, 1996)
We surrender to God’s Providence every moment, which is called by the Jesuit mystic Jean-Pierre de Caussade (18th Century) “the sacrament of the moment.” In his masterpiece of spirituality Abandonment to Divine Providence (collection of writings from 1729 to 1739), he writes: “Every moment we live through is like an ambassador who declares the will of God”; “Every moment reveals God to us”; “What God arranged for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could happen to us.” Therefore, we are advised by the French mystic to “seize what each moment brings and then forget it, eager only to be alert to respond to God and live for him alone”; “Each moment brings a duty which must be faithfully fulfilled.” The path of life to happiness is “to live only for God and the duties of the present moment.”
In his book of essays Faith and Spiritual Life (1969), Yves Congar meditates on the intercessory prayer “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” and in particular on the words: “now and at the hour of our death.” What really matters, he explains, is “the vertical relationship of every moment of our life with God our End that makes these moments holy and acceptable to him.” He continues: “This immediate relationship with God which occurs in every day and every moment – and finally in the last moment – of our lives, is incorporated like grace and holiness in Christ.” To pray daily, every moment means to be aware of the continuing presence of God and of our own vulnerability and sinfulness. We ask Mary, Mother of God, Mother of Mercy and our Mother to “pray for us sinners, now …” St. Ephraem the deacon prayed: Do not take away from our minds, Lord, / the signs of your spiritual presence / and do not withdraw from our bodies / the warmth and delight of your presence.
Life is indeed a series of moments that form a chain that leads forward. Every moment is very important. There are, however, some moments that possess a special significance, such as, the moment of birth, the moment of commitment – to marriage, to a religious life, to a priestly ordination, to a profession – and the last moment. Albert Camus said that “people die and are not happy.” Some – or many – people perhaps are unhappy because they have to die and are too afraid of the last moment.
There is an essential use of the word moment when referring to life itself, particularly to its beginning and its end. Christians believe in the sacredness of human life and are guided by an ethical principle grounded in Sacred Scriptures and in Tradition: “Human life must be defended from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.” Our life is sacred: God created us; God governs us; God adopted us in Jesus as his children, and destined us to eternal life with him. Our life, therefore, is sacred and ought to be defended and promoted from its first moment (against abortion) to its last (against suicide, homicide, euthanasia and the death penalty), and in the series of moments in-between its first and last moments (against violence, injustice, forced poverty). A dignified human life is promoted by the essential values of freedom, truth, justice and solidarity.
Paulo Coelho of The Alchemist fame says that once in a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Spain), he had to go through an exercise and had to face his death. Then he realized that death is not the end of life but his best friend. He envisions his death as a beautiful woman who once told him: “I am going to kiss you,”, and he said to her: “Not now, please.” OK, the woman answered, not now, and added: “But pay attention and try to get the best of every moment because I am going to take you.” “OK,” I told her, and added: “Thank you for giving me the most important advice in life: to live your moment fully.”
For Christ, the last moment is “the hour,” the moment of victory, of his triumphant death on the Cross – the Cross of Hope that points to his Resurrection (cf. Mk 14:35; Jn 2:4, 7:30, 12:27, 17:1, etc.). For us Christians, therefore, “the hour” is the last moment of our earthly life, which as Yves Congar affirms, “is essentially relative to another life, the true everlasting life”: the last moment ushers in death, that is, another life – eternal life. In Christian tradition, death is in friendly relationship with life; death is the end of life, but “not in the sense of its conclusion but of its fulfillment; death is the fusion of two lives.” Congar continues: We should not be scared of death; what matters is that this moment is “lived in God’s presence,” as a moment of love and of union with the death of Christ. To live so, we pray to Mary, our Mother often: “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
The moment of death then has a special significance and impact on our lives. On one hand, we do not forget death, and, on the other, we are not obsessed by it: death is part of life. Those among us who believe in the afterlife, like the Christians, ask themselves from time to time: If we were told right now: “You have two hours to live,” what would we do? We would prepare well, of course! Is not our personal life a sequence of many “two-hour” periods? (J. M. Cabodevilla). Through the night of life we ask, “Watchman, how much longer the night?” (Is 21:11); “True, holy Master, how much longer you will wait?” (Rev 6:10). We do not know, and therefore, we have to be prepared all the time, every day, every “hour,” every moment, now: “Now is the real time of favor; now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). St. John of the Cross advises us: “Because before you die you will be sorry for not employing this time in God’s service, why don’t you use it well as you would have liked to when you were dying?” (Sayings of Light and Love, 76)
HOPEFUL MOMENTS: STEPS OF LOVE
There was a famous and holy Rabbi, Rabbi Mokshe. After he died, Rabbi Mendel asked one of Mokshe’s disciples: “What did your teacher give the greatest importance to?” The disciple answered: “To whatever he happened to be doing at the moment.”
What matters in our whole life then is to be faithful to the moment. St John of the Cross says in Ascent to Mount Carmel (I, cha. 13, 3), when speaking on how to go up the night of the senses (how to win over the senses), gives us his first advice: “First thing is to have an ordinary appetite for imitating Christ and do all the things that He would do.” One is faithful to the moment, then, by imitating Christ every moment. A modern spiritual writes proposes that an easy way to go up the ladder of holiness – of happiness – is to ask repeatedly this question: What would Jesus do in my place? That is, what would the Lord do today, now, this very moment? Hence, another way of expressing our fidelity to the moment, besides God’s presence in every moment, is the following and imitation of Christ. Our following and imitation of the Lord focuses on love: on his unconditional love for God the Father and for all human beings, particularly the needy and poor.
To imitate Jesus in the moment is to love as Jesus does every moment of our life. The quality of our moment is measured by our love – of God, neighbor and needy neighbor. To be faithful to the moment signifies to do what we ought to do with love; to carry out our daily duties and obligations with love (Segundo Galilea). “God does not look at the grandeur of the work we do, but at the love we put into it” (St. Teresa of Avila).
Hence, what matters most in life is love, yes, a hopeful love, because we are on a pilgrimage. Faithful love is hopeful, a love which is “always ready to hope” (I Cor 13:7). After all, “Love is to share the same hope” (R. Follerau). The Psalmist prays: “”Lord, let your faithful love rest on us, as our hope has rested in you” (Ps 33:22). Truly, as Christians we cannot hope without faith, and hope and faith have little value without charity. Hope is the virtue of the pilgrim; without it, we cannot go on meaningfully. Through this earthly life, we are all pilgrims – hopeful pilgrims. True hope, however, is not “a pie in the sky” but fidelity to the present, to today, to ‘now’, to this moment, which is the only thing we actually possess. With the passing of time “one realizes that the best was not the future, but the moment you were living precisely at that instant!” ((José Luis Borges).
For a pilgrim to eternal life, for a citizen of heaven expecting the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 3:20), to be faithful to the moment implies walking forward in hope with steps of love, journeying to a new beginning, a new life: “Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges, can you not see it? (Is 43:19) In his Spiritual Diary, Saint John XXIII begins many daily entries with these words: “Only for today…” For him, for us, life is a series of todays, of moments. He writes that “every day is a good day to be born and every day is a good day to die.” Therefore, as Christians we love today – this moment-, as something given to us by God. With the example of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are not afraid today, we do our duty today, we put love in everything we do today, we are compassionate today, we are grateful today, we are happy today, now!
Carpe diem the Romans used to say, that is seize the day, live this day, the moment the best you can: the unseized moments do not come back; procrastination means the loss of golden opportunities. For Christians and other believers and non-believers, carpe diem implies fidelity to the moment, that is, to put love in everything we do, in everything: big or small, public or secret; in prayer, in work, in walking, in a smile, in a failure – in suffering.
To be faithful to this day means to live the day, to seize the moment as pilgrims do, that is, as people on the way to the house of the Father in heaven. We never forget that we are on the way and that every day, every moment well lived is a step forward to eternal life, which is the object of our hope, of our pilgrimage. Joyful in hope (Rom 12:12}, “striving towards the goal of resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:11), “racing towards the finishing-point” (Phil 3:14), we journey on with steps of love towards the embrace of Jesus the Lord, who is our way every day, every moment (cf. Jn 14:6). Thus for Christians and others, “today is always not yet” (Hoy siempre es todavía – Antonio Machado).
“Trust the past in God’s mercy, the present to his love, and the future to his providence” (St. Augustine). We try to live our lives, our hopes, our moments permeated by love and hope in anticipation of eternal life. When we fail, when we do not hear God’s voice and harden our heart – we are sinners -, then the moment is the moment of repentance and of God’s forgiveness.
As pilgrims, and always with God’s grace and love, we attempt persistently to be faithful to the moment: we try to experience the presence of God every moment of the day; we make efforts to imitate Christ the Lord; we work hard always to put love in everything we do. As co-pilgrims, we march forward to our destination. St. Gregory the Great advises us: “Only a foolish traveler, when he sees pleasant fields on his way, forgets to go on towards his destination” (Hom 14, 3-6). Christians, “though they are residents at home in their own countries, their behavior there is more like that of transients… Their days are passed on the earth, but their citizenship is above in the heavens…Christians inhabit the world, but they are not part of the world” (Letter to Diognetus, AD 130). With St. Paul we say: “I give no thought to what lie behind, but push on to what is ahead” (Phil 3:13): “Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Cor 2:9) – for those who love him with faithful hope every day, every moment, this very instant.
(The original version was published by Boletin Eclesiatico de Filipinas, Vol. XCI, No. 910, March-April, 2015: 153-162)
Fausto Gómez-Berlana, OP
St. Dominic’s Priory, Macau