Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sanctifying the Moment

"We do not walk out of a theater because the hero is shot in the first act; we give the dramatist credit for having a plot in his mind; so the soul does not walk out on the first act of God's drama of salvation- it is the last act that is to crown the play."

"Every moment brings us more treasures than we can gather. The great value of the Now [the moment], spiritually viewed, is that it carries a message God has directed personally to us."

-Fulton Sheen, Lift Up Your Heart 1952


An insight can never make one holy but it can lead to holiness. And if there is any spiritual insight that few people in today's world know about and yet every Saint understood, it is the importance of sanctifying the moment. The problem is that most Christians are not interested in learning about this spiritual truth when times are good. More often than not our interest in this spiritual truth is sparked when we are helpless in a crisis or when we must bring ourselves to make sense of suffering. When life is comfortable and all is well, spiritual wisdom and strength are relaxed. But when our comfortable abode here on earth feels more like a valley of tears, then sanctifying the moment can be the greatest of tutors. Indeed, seeing God's will enfleshed in each moment will not only unveil the greatest secret to peace, joy and stability in everyday living, but it can lead to unshakable fortitude in times of uncertainty and pain.

In his book, Life Up Your Heart, Bishop Fulton Sheen dedicates a chapter to one of the greatest spiritual insights every Saint possessed; and that is the practice of sanctifying the moment. Below are excerpts from that chapter.


Sanctifying the Moment:

"All unhappiness (when there is no immediate cause for sorrow) comes from an excessive concentration of the past or from an extreme preoccupation with the future...

Each minute has its peculiar duty- regardless of the appearance that minute may take. The Now-moment is the moment of salvation. Each complaint against it is a defeat; each act of resignation to it is a victory. The moment is always an indication to us of God's will. The ways of pleasing Him are made clear to us in several ways: through His commandments, by the events of his Incarnate life in Jesus Christ Our Lord, in the Voice of His Mystical Body, the Church, and in the duties of our state in life. And, in a more particular way, God's will is manifested for us in the Now with all of its attendant circumstances, duties and trials.

The present moment includes some things over which we have control, but it also carries with it difficulties we cannot avoid- such things as business failure, a bad cold, rain on picnic days, an unwelcome visitor, a fallen cake, a buzzer that doesn't work, a fly in the milk, and a boil on the nose the night of the dance. We do not always know why such things as wickedness and setbacks happen to us, for our minds are far too puny to grasp God's plan...

Because God's ways are not our ways- because the salvation of a soul is more important than all material values -because Divine Wisdom can draw good out of evil -the human mind must develop acceptance of the Now, no matter how hard it may be for us to understand its freight of pain. We do not walk out of a theater because the hero is shot in the first act; we give the dramatist credit for having a plot in his mind; so the soul does not walk out on the first act of God's drama of salvation- it is the last act that is to crown the play. The things that happen to us are not always susceptible to our minds' comprehension or wills' conquering; but they are always within the capacity of our Faith to accept and of our wills' submission...

Those who love God do not protest, whatever He may ask of them, nor doubt His kindness when He sends them difficult hours. A sick man takes medicine without asking the physician to justify its bitter taste, because he trusts the doctor's knowledge; so the soul which has sufficient faith accepts all the events of life as gifts from God, in the serene assurance that He knows best.

Every moment brings us more treasures than we can gather. The great value of the Now [the moment], spiritually viewed, is that it carries a message God has directed personally to us. Books, sermons and broadcasts on a religious theme have the appearance of being circular letters, meant for everyone. Sometimes, when such general appeals do appear to have a personal application, the soul gets angry and writes vicious letters to allay its uneasy conscience: excuses can always be found for ignoring the Divine Law. But though moral and spiritual appeals carry God's identical message to all who listen, this is not true of the Now-moment; no one else but I am in exactly these circumstances; no one else has to carry the same burden, whether it be sickness, the death of a loved one, or some other adversity. Nothing is more spiritually tailored to our spiritual needs than the Now-moment; for that reason it is an occasion of knowledge which can come to no one else.

The University of the Moment has been built uniquely for each of us, and in comparison with the revelation of God gives each in it, all other methods of learning are shallow and slow. This wisdom distilled from intimate experience is never forgotten; it becomes part of our character, our merit, our eternity. Those who sanctify the moment and offer it up in union with God's will never become frustrated- never grumble or complain. They overcome all obstacles by making them occasions of prayer and channels of merit. What were constrictions are thus made opportunities for growth. It is the modern pagan who is the victim of circumstance, and not its master. Such a man, having no practical knowledge of God, no trust in His Providence, no assurance of His Love, lacks the shock absorber of Faith and Hope and Love when difficult days come to him. His mind is caught within the princers of the past he regrets or resents and a future he is afraid he cannot control. Being thus squeezed, his nature is in pain.

The one who accepts God's will in all things escapes such frustration by piercing the disguise of outward events to penetrate to their real character as messengers of the God he loves. It is strange how differently we accept a misfortune- or even an insult -when we know who gave it to us...

The swaddling clothes of an Infant hid the Son of God in Bethlehem, and the appearance of bread and wine hides the Reality of Christ dying again on Calvary, in the Mass. This concealment of Himself that God effects with us is operative in His use of the Now to hide His Will beneath the aspect of very simple, everyday things. We live our lives in dependence on such casual, common benefits of as air and water; so Our Lord is pleased to receive from us in return the thousands of unimportant actions and the trifling details that make up our lives- provided that we see, even in our sorrows, "The shade of His Hand outstretched caressingly."

Here is the whole secret of sanctity; the method is available to everyone and deserves particular notice from those who ask: "What can I do?" For many good souls are hungry to do great things for God. They complain that they have no opportunities for heroic virtue, no chance at the apostolate. They would be martyrs; but when a meal is late, or a bus is crowded, when the theater is filled, or the dance postponed, or the bacon overdone, they are upset for the whole day. They miss their opportunities for loving God in the little things He asks of them. Our Lord said, "He who is trustworthy over a little sum is trustworthy over a greater." (Luke 16:10) The Divine Beloved speaks to the soul in a whisper, but because the soul is waiting for a trumpet, it loses His Command. All of us would like to make our own crosses- tailor-made trials. But not many of us welcome the crosses God sends. Yet it is in doing perfectly the little chores He gives that saints find holiness...

On the other hand, to accept the crosses of our state of life because they come from an all-loving God is to have taken the most important step in the reformation of the world, namely, the reformation of the self. Sanctity can be built out of patient endurance of the incessant grumbling of a husband- the almost intolerable nagging of a wife -the bosses habit of smoking a pipe while he dictates -the noise the children make with their soup -the unexpected illness -the failure to find a husband -the inability to get rich. All these can become occasions of merit and be made into prayers if they are borne patiently for the love of the One Who bears so patiently with us, despite our shortcomings, our failures, and our sins. It is not hard to put up with others' foibles when one realizes how much God has to put up with us.

To accept the duty of the moment for God is to touch Eternity, to escape time...The phrase which sanctifies the moment is "Thy Will be done." It was the fiat of our Savior in Gethsemane which initiated our Redemption; it was the fiat of Our Lady which opened the way to the Incarnation. The word cuts all the guys ropes that attach us to the familiar, narrow things we know; it unfurls all our sails to the possibilities of the moment, and it carries along to whatever port God wills. To say and mean "Thy Will be done" is to put an end to all complaining; for whatever the moment brings to us now bears the imprint of the Divine Will.

-Conclusion of chapter will be forthcoming and posted below this one.