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Redeeming the Time

See therefore, brethren, how you walk circumspectly: not as unwise, but as wise: redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5:15-16)

Time takes no holiday. We might think this sober observation comes from someone today – perhaps an anxious businessman, a CEO, a politician. One of the most characteristic modern traits is obsession with time. We are forever trying to get hold of it, save it, and make it. We develop one timesaving device and tactic after another, and learn time-management – always trying to rope in that most precious commodity. But cannot understand why we seem to have less of it than before.

Time takes no holiday. That’s Augustine of Hippo, 1600 years ago. Our time obsession is nothing new. We feel it more keenly, perhaps, because our technology provides more opportunities to indulge it. . .or suffer from it. But chasing after time – fretting about the future, ruing or longing for the past – this comes from the world’s fallen nature.

God created the world in time. He originally intended time as a gift: the necessary condition for man to subdue the earth, to be fruitful and multiply, to enjoy and to grow in communion with God. But because of sin we now experience time as a burden, a task, even a threat. Like the rest of the fallen world, time rebels against us. It eludes and overwhelms us. It brings about erosion, decay, and disintegration. And it has become also the occasion for the evil one to work his mischief. Therefore, Paul observes that the days are evil.

For that reason also he speaks about redeeming time: literally, reclaiming it. The brief phrase is filled with meaning. The entrance of God into time means that the passing of the hours, days, and years no longer brings just continuous disintegration and decay. Since Christ embraces all time, it can now be redeemed – reclaimed. Like the rest of creation, time is both wounded by sin and able to be reclaimed by us, the children of God.

Or rather, we participate in redeeming it, reclaiming it for Christ. This means not doing with time whatever we want – not for accumulating money, power, pleasures – but reclaiming it for God and his glory. A pagan poet said, Carpe diem – Seize the day! But only the Christian can really do so – reclaiming time, taking it in hand, consecrating it to God.

With God entering time in the Person of Christ, the gift of time has been restored to us. It now affords us opportunity for repentance. Put starkly, there is still time for us to turn to Him. Saint Paul exhorts us in this as well: Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor 6:2) We should use the time we have to turn away from sin.

The Angelus by Jean-François Millet, c. 1858 [Musée d'Orsay, Paris]
The Angelus by Jean-François Millet, c. 1858 [Musée d’Orsay, Paris]

And for more. Time is granted also for growth in grace. Why are these years, so much time allotted to us? Certainly, so that we can repent. But also so that we can grow. So that the life of Christ planted in our souls at Baptism can be cultivated and nourished – so that it can grow and flourish unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:13)

How then – concretely – do we redeem time? First, as with all created goods, in order to realize its true value we must sacrifice it. We must give time over to the Lord – specifically in prayer. To say, “I’m too busy to pray” means that you are no longer redeeming time. Time, rather, has got you by the tail and will soon enfold you in its process of disintegration. Of course, the world thinks it a waste when we give time to prayer. Fine. Let’s go and waste time with the Lord who embraces all time.

Second, we redeem time by being attentive – responsive – to the duty of the moment. Saint Francis de Sales says, “Every moment comes to us pregnant with a command from God, only to pass on and plunge into eternity, there to remain forever what we have made it.” Every moment is an opportunity to serve the Lord – by prayer, work, silence, speaking, suffering.

This requires being ruthlessly practical in our scheduling. Why do we schedule many things – work, play, vacation, the doctor, dentist, mechanic, and so on – but we do not extend that same practical wisdom to our spiritual lives? Why do we not use that same practicality to harness time for eternity? Specifically, by scheduling prayer, spiritual reading, confession, etc.

This Catholic view of time does not mean merely keeping busy. The busiest people are typically enslaved to time, not masters of it. The proper question for discernment is, Are you a man of action or a man of activity? A man of action has seized time to reclaim it. A man of activity has been seized by time and is bounced from one event, task, commitment to the next. We need to set aside time to be “wasted” (in the world’s estimation) by rest, prayer, recreation. Further, the break we need from busyness is not “vegging out” or “killing time.” It is the deliberate setting aside and using time for rest, as the Lord commanded us.

We are not merely to mark time but to redeem it. As Cardinal Manning once put it:

Next to grace time is the most precious gift of God. Yet how much of both we waste. We say that time does many things. It teaches us many lessons, weans us from many follies, strengthens us in good resolves, and heals many wounds. And yet it does none of these things. Time does nothing. But time is the condition of all these things which God does in time. Time is full of eternity. As we use it so shall we be. Every day has its opportunities, every hour its offer of grace.

Fr. Paul Scalia

Fr. Paul Scalia

Fr. Paul Scalia is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Va. He serves as the Bishop's Delegate for Clergy.

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  • Chris in Maryland

    Amen Fr. Scalia.

  • Nancy Lynne

    What a timely article coming as it does early in this New Year when we review our lives and how we spend our time. When I was young I felt that I had all the time in the world. Now that I am old I realize that my time is swiftly running out. I must reclaim and redeem the time that I have left. Thank you for this meditation Father Scalia.

  • Alicia

    ” killing time ” is such a sad expression. When I have time to kill at waiting rooms, Social Security, doctor’office, etc, I always take out the rosary and pray. It’s a big, silver rosary from the Vatican that belonged to my mother. It’s hard for people not to see it. Sometimes they ask me about it and we start a conversation.
    Once a young woman, early 20s, came over to me and said ” You’re a Catholic. I know because that’s a rosary. She remembered her grandmother praying it and said she thought she was also Catholic because she had gone to elementary Catholic school and had received Holy Comunnion, but had never learned to pray the rosary. After that, it was public schools and the end of her Catholism. She asked me if I would teach her and if it was complicated. I tried, sort of, but my name was called, so I told her to go to any Catholic church where she would find rosaries and information on how to pray, to go to the priest’office and ask him to teach her. I hope she did and a good priest brought her back to the church. She was so nice .
    The rosary, in the bus, subway, and waiting rooms is the best way to ‘ kill time ‘
    Thank you Father for this beautiful essay. God bless.

    • PCB

      This is a really a nice idea, Alicia. Your encounter with this young woman and her interest in the Rosary gave me an idea – wouldn’t it be nice to carry an extra Rosary in our pocket or pocket-book for such an encounter – not an expensive one or one with sentimental value, but just an inexpensive one – and to give the spare to those like this woman who express an interest? I think I may just start doing this, myself! God bless.

      • Alicia

        Thank you. That’s a great idea. I’ve always loved the rosary and have lots of them They just keep coming to me, given to me by family. Rosaries from my mother, aunt, grandmothers, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. But I have several sent to me by organizations I donate to.
        I’ll carry an extra one, maybe two. They are very pretty.
        Thank you. God bless

      • TB in KS

        My wife makes rosaries out of colored cords making knots as beads as a hobby, so I always have one to give out when the occasion arises. it only takes her about 20 min to make a new one, of course she hands them out by the dozen.

        • PCB

          What a wonderful, worthwhile hobby; my wife was given such a Rosary as you describe your wife making by a priest friend in Pittsburgh; wonder if your wife made it?!

    • Faustina11

      The chaplet of the Divine Mercy is good, too

  • Jill

    What an encouragement to me this essay is, to get a handle on TIME, to see it in the same light as grace. Christ came and redeemed everything, and by entering time, He redeemed that, too. Of course! And to my question, “Why are we still here?”, the answer: to have the opportunity to repent and to grow in grace. I still long for Heaven, but St. Francis de Sales’s quote makes me look at each moment a little bit differently.

  • Bro_Ed

    I really like that line about “action vs. activity.” It’s so easy to get lost in activity and become, in effect, a victim of time. It reminds me of a wise boss I once had. I went into him with some important papers (in my mind, at least) and said “These must be signed today.” He said “Or what happens?” I thought and replied, “Well, I guess they won’t be signed until tomorrow.”

    I’ll use this new line to help evaluate many of the things I have to do.

  • kathleen

    Thank you Fr. Scalia. I am reminded of the sacrament of the present moment.

    • ThirstforTruth

      This, duty of the moment, was preached incessantly by Blessed Catherine de Huck, founder of Madonna House…as well as Brother Lawrence.

  • samton909

    People today watch 2, 3, 4 hours of TV a day. Take back that time and you will find your days have lengthened immeasurably.

    • ThirstforTruth

      or even time spent trolling the internet, etc. We are addicted to all forms of modern technology that could mostly be time better spent in prayer, aide to the suffering and other works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal.

    • Faustina11

      As I’ve tried to tell people every chance I get, cut the cable! Your life WILL BE BETTER!

  • lwhite

    I am rather surprised that a priest makes no mention of the most important use of our time is participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the Sacrament most needed by fallen man today to give him the necessary graces to not only avoid the temptations of sin which abound today, but to give God the thanks, the adoration, and the worship that He alone deserves.

    • Faustina11

      I would think that any Catholic who is reading this post and is familiar with Fr Scalia would just take that as a given.

  • Lynette

    I have heard it said, and sung, time is the meaning and measure of Love. This earthly reality of time is our five loaves and two fish and He will multiply our gift. I have seen it happen. But how often I forget.

    • augury

      What a lovely insight.

  • augury

    Thanks for the insoght father. My favorite literary use of the term is at the beginning of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, where the young and theretofore disolute Henry V vows to redeem the time. In context, Shakespeare seems to me to be saying that points of time are eternal and can be redeemed. T.S. Eliot expands the idea in his 4 Quartets,where the redemption of time is a central theme. I’ve long wondered if he got the idea from Shakespeare.

    • No, I think a Christian theological connection is it. I don’t think that Henry V quote connotes theology. I’d have to go back and check, though. I don’t recall the play having any theological themes.

  • Michael DeLorme

    “…time itself: the magic length of God.”

    -God Is Alive;Magic Is Afoot
    Buffy St. Marie/Leonard Cohen

  • Interesting. My sole exposure to the idea of redeeming time comes from the beginning of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets:

    Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future,
    And time future contained in time past.
    If all time is eternally present
    All time is unredeemable.

    Your post really helps in where Eliot is going. Thanks

    I also liked the Millet painting.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Time is transient with God it is not. The moment we have on this planet is reduced to choosing God who is good itself or rejection. Scalia’s point is well made. We must decide. But time I would otherwise say is precious because as the Apostles explain God is patient with us and very much desires our salvation and eternal happiness not eternal remorse. As the apostles say the time is now not later.

  • Ram

    Fr. Scalia my deepest condolence on your recent bereavement. Justice Scalia was as great as a judge. As a Hindu born in India studied in a Jesuit school in India imbibed much from Sermon on the Mount and the Exodus. Jesus is in all our heart.

  • Robert A Rowland

    I appreciated this article very much. However I must comment on the magnificent sermon for your father at his funeral Mass this morning at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The last funeral Mass I attended was for my wife of almost 58 years in 2011 and the memory of it caused me to shed tears for you and your family because only when one loses someone they love the most can they truly understand the grief of the survivors. Your stoic performance at the funeral of your father was truly admirable. Your father was always my favorite Justice for his untiring defense of the America we are about to lose if he is not replaced completely in kind. Please God, don’t let s Socialist choose his successor..