Sunday, December 12, 2021

Tempus fugit. . .

Unless I am mistaken, it was Virgil who originally coined 'tempus fugit', rather often translated simply "time flies."   To be precise, however, he did not quite write that.  He actually wrote 'fugit inreparabile tempus,' which is translated as "it escapes, irretrievable time."  Most of the time his phrase is used to encourage industry and to discourage sloth and procrastination.  But there is another way to look at what this simple saying means and how it applies.

Think of this, for example.  Richard Milhous Nixon, our 37th President, and a name well known in the modern era for a variety of reasons, grew up in horse and buggy days.  In fact, it is said that a fall from a horse drawn buggy was the reason why he combed his hair differently than in youth.  He had a head injury from the fall and it left him with a scar he wished to cover up.  Yes.  The man who saw us land on the moon, lived to see his great nemesis the Soviet Union fall, and even watched as the internet began, also rode a horse and buggy.  Born in 1913, Nixon died in 1994 -- after not even a particularly long life.  Imagine what he would have seen if he had lived into his 90s!

Nixon live through the vast expanse of time that saw two world wars, two conflicts in Southeast Asia, the first of many conflicts in the Middle East (Desert Storm), innumerable excursions into space by man and satellites made by men, and the opening of China to the West -- among other things.  He watched as the world moved through the Industrial Age to robots replacing people on the assembly line, the transformation of America by the automobile and highway system, and the shift from metal to plastic in just about everything.  But it was slow in coming and more deliberate in pace.  Time flew but not at supersonic speeds.

Now, time really does fly.  Put a youth in a car with a clutch pedal or in front of a rotary phone and that child will likely be stumped by what he or she sees.  Yet it was only a generation or two before that these were somewhat ordinary and even, perhaps,  the norm.  Time has always flown but the pace at which it flies has become faster and faster.  There are no more Richard Nixons in our future -- people who can recall a radically different age and who lived through the unfolding of the modern era.  But those folks have been replaced by a people who not only live through but expect constant and rapid change.  It is literally tearing away at the fabric of our selves, our marriages, our families, our communities, our nation, and our world.  Some places never went through their paces but high jumped from no phones to cell phones and smart screens.  It is dizzying to think about.

Now more than ever, we are in need of anchors to hold us fast against this blurred world of constant and rapid change.  Our gray haired people and leaders were once those anchors.  Now, it seems, a white haired President is one of the prime movers of legislation to literally remake our nation with the force of law on the government's (translate that our children's) credit card.  And yet there seems to be little real opposition to the federal government taking over child care, preschool, and health care.  With even the government and its leaders partnering in this sea change, anchors will become critical to prevent us from succumbing either to socialism with its government economy and our surrender of rights or a chaos of conflict in which we fight the same battles over and over and over again.

The Church is fully poised to offer this anchor.  It comes, however, at the expense of what some, even many, think is our future -- change or die.  We can be an anchor only by proclaiming a Gospel that remains the same and the Jesus who is yesterday, today, and forever the same.  This is not about a refusal to use technology where it serves this Gospel well but about remaining consistent and true to the faith.  It is about being faithful.  While this is most certainly true about the Gospel itself -- that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinners, crucified, died, and rise again so that the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life might be proclaimed to the world -- it is not only about the kerygma.  It is also about the weekly rhythm and flow of the liturgy, lectionary, and our lives of prayer and service.  Going to church every Sunday only to see the liturgy reinvented as a tool of change not only denies this anchor but destroys our ability to offer an unchanging hope to a changing world.

Amid a nation tearing down statues and re-writing our history to reflect our modern point of view, we insist that the only true Gospel is that which we learned from the apostles, which was handed down as the sacred deposit through the ages, and which is our duty to pass on unchanged and unadulterated.  Such faithfulness is not quite in vogue except among those who realize now, too late, that a hermenuitic of discontinuity not only empties the pews but it harms the mission that Christ has given His Church.

As we approach this Christmas, a holiday rich with traditions but one whose traditions have recently been sacrificed in the face of COVID, let us remember that it is not what we do that gives anchor to our ship in the storms or security in the face of the winds of change.  It is what God has done.  What God has done is the only means by which we are rescued from our past, relieved of the burden to live our whole lives in the present, and promised an eternity of everlasting peace, joy, and contentment.  Time flies even faster and it is time for us to hold even more securely to the faith inherited from the saints.  Scripture still speaks the living voice of our Good Shepherd.  Baptism still saves.  Absolution still sets free.  And the Eucharist still tastes of everlasting life.

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