“With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
How far away is yesterday, and how distant is the day before that? How far are we, at present from the moment the Son of God died for us? What kind of existence, if any, does the past even have?
If you’re worried that this sort of reflection only leads us down a deep, dark rabbit hole, it may be of some comfort to know that St. Augustine preceded us:
And yet we say that “time is long and time is short;” nor do we speak of this save of time past and future. A long time past, for example, we call a hundred years ago; in like manner a long time to come, a hundred years hence. But a short time past we call, say, ten days ago: and a short time to come, ten days hence. But in what sense is that long or short which is not? For the past is not now, and the future is not yet. Therefore let us not say, “It is long;” but let us say of the past, “It hath been long,” and of the future, “It will be long.” O my Lord, my light, shall not even here Thy truth deride man?
There is something fitting about St. Augustine’s prayer to God in the midst of his meditation on time, for as Christians our relationship to the past is of the utmost importance. Our worship, prayer, and creed concern those things said and done many years ago in a distant land by a Nazarene who was and is God. Our faith is only credible because of the historical fact of the God-Man who rose from the dead (cf. I Cor. 15:14). Therefore, as Christians, we must see how the past bears upon, transforms, and gives life to the present if we are to live with faith. Unfortunately, in a progress-driven, commercialistic culture, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of viewing the past as something to be outstripped, surpassed, and left far behind.
If you pray the Rosary, you may have encountered this dilemma: You may have reached a point where an unbridgeable chasm seems to open between yourself, in this Internet age of mass media, fast food, and automobiles, and the New Testament age of pregnant visitations, temple presentations, and prodigious doctrinal proclamations. It might seem that the past is dead. Even if things happened—important divine things—the past seems so far away as to be irrelevant.
Whenever this troubling thought besets us, we do well to call to mind that an event only fades into the past when it is completed. Only after the arrow has hit its target, has the archer finished his shot. The truth is that everything Christ did many years ago was aimed at you. The salvific effect of the saving works of the Messiah pierces through the centuries and hits the target of your soul. For God, the past and future are present, and his saving work is now. Our redemption is at hand.
Image: The Passage of Time