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April 23, 2017

Brother, can you spare a time?

Bishop Timothy Doherty

When art historian Bernard Berenson reached 90 years of age, he wanted to beg at street corners with a tin cup into which passers-by would deposit their unused minutes. We know this from Kenneth Clark, another historian who authored the BBC series “Civilisation.” The image of the cup suggests many meanings, depending on sad and joyful life events. Time is the breathing space for life, art and faith.

At the Annunciation when the angel appeared to Mary, the Son of God entered into time. If we want to meet the Christ of Christmas, the Crucifixion and of the Risen appearances (1 Cor. 15:3-7), we have to take time. For us, time presents paradoxically as limitless expanse and expensive limits. Time is the pathway to the Savior whether in prayer, sacraments or especially Sacred Scripture. These do not foreclose on possible encounters at home or in the wide outdoors.

There is a saying that when we have no time to pray, that is precisely when we should. People who pray daily tell us that they experience time expanded for them. Perhaps they become more efficient in necessary tasks, or maybe they deflect life-consuming distractions. It is likely that some popular meditation movements have borrowed the fruits but not the roots of praying, which itself is always a response to God’s initiative.

Our time with Christ needs periodic renewal, new affirmations and new challenges so we do not reshape him in our own image. Again, the New Testament is our basic text, but we get used to hearing it in our own voice. Since the Easter season runs for 50 days, it is not too late to recommend the book “Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.” This collection is found either as a Plough or an Orbis publication. Its companion, “Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas,” is equally extraordinary. These ecumenical perspectives represent dozens of authors who reflect on their own time with Christ. And Christ in their times of peace, war, love, beauty and uncertainty.

The various reflections deserve a recommendation for this above all else: Come to know the difference between spending time with an idea of Christ, and being present with Christ. Understanding the contrast, with the help of grace, propels us from embracing an idea of discipleship to being disciples. One should know whether the lip of one’s tin cup faces the ground or the sky.

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