Core decorum: time

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang.

Fulton J. Sheen, in an excerpt from From the Angel’s Blackboard, reminds his readers of this seemingly simple, yet profound capability of mankind. Human beings are aware of time in a threefold manner: the past, the present and the future. 

“A human being is the only time-conscious creature.”

Many philosophers, such as Nietzsche and St. Augustine, probe this marvelous ability of man to remember the past and imagine the future. In doing so, they often discover that this ability is both enlightening and burdensome.  

When does it become burdensome? 

Fulton J. Sheen says, “All unhappiness (when there is no immediate cause for sorrow) comes from excessive concentration on the past or from extreme preoccupation with the future.”  

This “excessive concentration on the past” are the moments where we cannot move past former sorrows, failings or struggles. 

It sometimes does not even involve reflection on negative experiences, but could simply mean an unhealthy attachment to a former situation, person or place that is no longer present to us.

The other pitfall, “extreme preoccupation with the future,” consists of worries and fears about forthcoming days. 

But Christ Himself warns us about this in Matthew 6:24 when he says: “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own.” 

Now, this does not mean that we should not reflect on the past or anticipate the future. To neglect to do so would not only be ungrateful and unwise, but it would even be inhuman. 

This is because human time perception is a gift, for St. Augustine declares: “Great is the power of memory, an awe-inspiring mystery, my God, a power of profound and infinite multiplicity.” 

It is due to our memories that we learn, experience and form relationships with other beings.

Similarly, we cannot ignore the future. Especially as college students, we must be prudent and give a fair amount of thought to future plans and aspirations. 

But the past and future become burdensome to us when we look at them in their own separate realms, instead of seeing them in relation to the present moment. 

Any application of the past or notions of the future should serve to enrich our present moments; the past should prompt gratefulness and the future should prompt hope in our present states of life. 

St. Padre Pio is known for the following prayer: “My past, O Lord, to Your mercy; my present, to Your love; my future to Your providence.” In this prayer, the present is centralized in the structure of the sentence and even on a deeper level as well. 

Both God’s mercy and providence stem from His love, which is what Padre Pio is urging us to submit to in the present moment. How can we understand what his mercy or his providence is if we do not understand his present love?

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