Jack Nicklaus, arguably the greatest golfer of all time, was 10 years old when he first met Jack Grout, a golf instructor at Scioto Country Club outside of Columbus, OH. Nicklaus would never have another coach for the rest of his illustrious career. Even after winning major championships, he kept his routine of returning to Grout at the beginning of each season to review the fundamentals of his stroke. Nicklaus understood that he was never too seasoned or accomplished to work on the essential building blocks of his game. And so it is with us as we begin another year in our profession – becoming a saint, gaining heaven, knowing Jesus. In his sermon, “The Lapse of Time,” St. John Henry Newman urges us to review the fundamentals of our profession and not to lose sight of what really matters.
In any venture – sports, academics, business and the spiritual life – we may think we have mastered the basics because we have heard them. We know that one day we will die and that the way we lived our life here on earth will determine our eternal destiny. Others have said to us, “Live every day like your last.” But if this truth does not guide our everyday actions, we have to wonder if we really have a grasp of it. Newman says that to really know a truth we must dwell on it, “because by thinking over it steadily and seriously, we may possibly, through God’s grace, gain some deep conviction of it; whereas while we keep to general terms, and confess that this life is important and is short, in the mere summary way in which men commonly confess it, we have, properly speaking, no knowledge of that great truth at all.” It’s possible to know a truth without having a “deep conviction of it” as Newman says, without it penetrating our mind and heart. Like our Lady, who pondered our Lord’s birth in her heart, we too must dwell with the knowledge of our passing from this life into the next.
To help us dwell on this truth, Newman engages his listeners in an imaginative exercise – “let us follow the course of a soul thus casting off the world, and cast off by it. It goes forth as a stranger on a journey.” Newman wants us to practice a sort of lectio divina, entering into the truth so as to experience it ourselves. In this exercise, the soul leaves his earthly life behind and at once sees what it meant in light of eternity. Now there is no opportunity for change. Considering this state, Newman says,“How infinitely important now appears the value of time, now when it is nothing to him! Nothing; for though he spend centuries waiting for Christ, he cannot now alter his state from bad to good, or from good to bad. What he dieth that he must be for ever; as the tree falleth so must it lie.”
Do we treat time, which is always slipping through our hands, as the precious resource it is? Catholic author and apologist Peter Kreeft calls time “our life’s blood.” If we are good stewards of our money, we keep a budget, but with time we are often wasteful. Newman comments: “what treasure can equal time? It is the seed of eternity: yet we suffer ourselves to go on, year after year, hardly using it at all in God’s service, or thinking it enough to give Him at most a tithe or a seventh of it, while we strenuously and heartily sow to the flesh, that from the flesh we may reap corruption.”
Our Lord warned us to use our time well many centuries ago when he told the parable of the rich fool who had such plenty that he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, then eat, drink and be merry for the rest of his life. Little did he know that night his “soul was required.” Here too Jesus invites us to enter into the story, and to feel what the rich fool felt. Our time is wasted on what is not essential; and nothing is more essential than our relationship with Christ.
Jesus doesn’t intend to scare us; He wishes to wake us up. We don’t know the day of our death or when the Lord will return. We only know that each passing day we are one day closer to our end, so while “it is still day” we have time to offer our lives to God. Perhaps this past year was full of wasted time and opportunities, of failures to surrender ourselves to God. But this is a new year, “behold, today is the day of salvation,” so let’s renew our commitment to the basics of our faith. Let’s do the fundamentals really well, with a simple, but concrete plan of life that helps us to stay close to our Lord. At the beginning of this year, we can take account of our time to see if we are using it well. Then we can make the most of our lives by allowing our Lord to sanctify each and every minute.