Anticipate the future, but live in the present
It happens. Yes, there are times in parish life when we receive phone calls to arrange a baptism. The only problem is that the baby is not yet born. The same thing happens with funerals. Families on occasion, without any malice, have called to arrange a funeral liturgy even though their loved one is still breathing. What is it about us humans that resist the moment and seeks to push into the future?
When it comes to weddings, it is not uncommon for the parents of the bride or groom to begin the process of securing a date. While the parents are no doubt excited for their child and have only good intentions, their reaching out to the clergy could call into question the freedom of the engaged couple to marry. Why is it that some couples find it difficult to embrace this moment of formally beginning the marriage process in the Church?
These situations and questions are not endemic to our Catholic Faith but part of the human reality. For whatever reason, we can struggle with the moment to the extent that we hurriedly move into the future. There is a sense in which we are always a season ahead. For example, winter clothes are sold in the fall. Spring clothes are featured in the winter. Halloween candy is sold in late summer. And Christmas carols are featured nonstop on radio stations and in the malls at the beginning of November. What is more, when Christmas arrives, the music disappears along with the decorations.
There is something to be said about anticipation. It is important to look forward with eager longing. The challenge in this regard, however, is to do it in such a way that we continue to live in the present moment. Of course, this is easier said than done.
It is not just the future that pulls us away from the moment, but it is also the past. Holidays and seasons can engender a beautiful sense of nostalgia. Thank God for memories. Nevertheless, in our humanness, we can become so fixated on the past that we fail to live in the moment, let alone anticipate the future.
The holy season of Advent places before us the reality of time. We embrace a new liturgical year and embark upon a journey of preparing for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. This spiritual journey takes time. It is filled with many moments along the way, each of which is pregnant with possibility and rich in meaning. The practice of prayer allows us to behold and unwrap the moments of our lives, which are so ordinary but can become ever so extraordinary.
Having just been named a bishop by Pope Francis, I can tell you that my heart is tempted to jump ahead into the future at the expense of the present. There is so much to do that it is hard not to think of the future. But I am still a pastor in my parish until the end of December. As best as possible, I need to live in this moment with one breath and step at a time. And like everyone else, I need to behold the moment before us which is Advent, and not yet Christmas.
BISHOP-ELECT DAVID J. BONNAR has been appointed bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, is editor of The Priest and is pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.