Question: God always was and always will be. We are talking about millions of years. How can I better understand this?
— Eugene Herkins, Naples, Florida
Answer: The wording of your question indicates you are thinking of time in a linear way. To be sure, it is difficult for us to grasp such a long period of time. However, God is more than very old, he is eternal. Eternity refers not merely to the length of time, but more accurately, to the fullness of time. For God, there is no tomorrow or yesterday; everything is now, all time is present to him at once.
To illustrate, consider a clock. Out at the edges there are numbers. For example, there is 12, 3 and 7. These indicate the passage of time from our perspective. Between 12 and 3, three hours pass, and the hands of the clock need to pass a certain distance to get there. But now, move your attention to the center point of the clock and consider that 12, 3 and 7 are all equally present to the center dot; 12 is just as present as 3 or 7.
And this is a kind of picture of God’s perspective. He lives at the center, in the fullness of time. He sees the whole sweep of time at once. God does not wait for time to pass; everything is now. The day of my birth is just as present to God as the day of my death.
Because God is not waiting for my life to unfold, he is not surprised by any of my decisions or what I do. He has always known and supplied all graces necessary to prompt my free acts to be good rather that evil. This is what we mean by his providence. The word comes from the Latin “pro” (for, or ahead) and “videre” (to see).
While the experience of eternity is hard for us to imagine, the key point is to understand that eternity for God should not be described as a long, long, time but rather, the fullness of time; all time at once. Past, present and future are as one for God, just as all time meets and intersects at the center dot of our clocks. The whole sweep of time is one for God.
Question: Why did the Church require us to go to Mass during Christmas? I planned to go Christmas Eve Mass (which was Sunday evening). But the priest said we also had to go to Mass in the morning.
— Name withheld, Queens, New York
Answer: Simply put, the Mass of Sunday morning (the Fourth Sunday of Advent) is a different feast than the Mass of Sunday evening (the Nativity of our Lord). Sunday Mass is the primordial holy day that occurs each week. In addition to Sundays there are other “high holy days” that occur through the year that are also important to observe. Occasionally these dates overlap or occur closely together. But certain feasts are so important that we do not merely dispense with the one and observe the other. Both are important. This was the case this year.
Perhaps a word of encouragement to us all is in order. Speaking of Sundays and holy days as obligations and requirements is understandable from a legal perspective; our attendance is, in fact, required. However, when we love, the language of requirement can give way to other words such as opportunity. This year we had the opportunity to celebrate twice with our Lord and rejoice in his saving work. Lovers rejoice to spend more time together, not less.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.