#FultonFridays: Sanctifying the Present Moment

October 16, 2015


Occasionally on Fridays I will be posting excerpts from the writings of the great American bishop and media evangelist, Ven. Fulton J. Sheen. Call them #FultonFridays!

[One] remedy for the ills that come to us from thinking about time is what might be called the sanctification of the moment—or the Now. Our Lord laid down the rule for us in these words: “Do not fret, then, over tomorrow; leave tomorrow to fret over its own needs; for today, today’s troubles are enough.” (Matt. 6:34)

This means that each day has its own trials; we are not to borrow troubles from tomorrow, because that day, too, will have its cross. We are to leave the past to Divine Mercy and to trust the future, whatever its trials, to His Loving Providence.

Each minute of life has its peculiar duty—regardless of the appearance that minute may take. The Now-moment is the moment of salvation. Each complaint against it is a defeat; each act of resignation to it is a victory. The moment is always an indication to us of God’s will. The ways of pleasing Him are made clear to us in several ways: through His Commandments, by the events of His Incarnate Life in Jesus Christ Our Lord, in the Voice of His Mystical Body, the Church, in the duties of our state of life. And, in a more particular way, God’s will is manifested for us in the Now with all of its attendant circumstances, duties, and trials.

The present moment includes some things over which we have control, but it also carries with it difficulties we cannot avoid—such things as a business failure, a bad cold, rain on picnic days, an unwelcome visitor, a fallen cake, a buzzer that doesn’t work, a fly in the milk, and a boil on the nose the night of the dance. We do not always know why such things as sickness and setbacks happen to us, for our minds are far too puny to grasp God’s plan. Man is a little like a mouse in a piano, which cannot understand why it must be disturbed by someone playing Chopin and forcing it to move off the piano wires.

Those who love God do not protest, whatever He may ask of them, nor doubt His kindness when He sends them difficult hours. A sick man takes medicine without asking the physician to justify its bitter taste, because he trusts the doctor’s knowledge; so the soul which has sufficient faith accepts all the events of life as gifts from God, in the serene assurance that He knows best.

Nothing is more individually tailored to our spiritual needs than the Now-moment; for that reason it is an occasion of knowledge which can come to no one else. This moment is my school, my textbook, my lesson. Not even Our Lord disdained to learn from His specific Now; being God, He knew all, but there was still one kind of knowledge He could experience as a man. St. Paul describes it: “Son of God though He was, He learned obedience in the school of suffering.” (Heb. 5:8)

The University of the Moment has been built uniquely for each of us, and in comparison with the revelation God gives each in it, all other methods of learning are shallow and slow. This wisdom is distilled from intimate experience, is never forgotten; it becomes part of our character, our merit, our eternity. Those who sanctify the moment and offer it up in union with God’s will never become frustrated—never grumble or complain. They overcome all obstacles by making them occasions of prayer and channels of merit.

What were constrictions are thus made opportunities for growth. It is the modern pagan who is the victim of circumstance, and not its master. Such a man, having no practical knowledge of God, no trust in His Providence, no assurance of His Love, lacks the shock absorber of Faith and Hope and Love when difficult days come to him. His mind is caught within the pincers of a past he regrets or resents and a future he is afraid he cannot control. Being thus squeezed, his nature is in pain.

The one who accepts God’s will in all things escapes such frustration by piercing the disguise of outward events to penetrate to their real character as messengers of the God he loves. It is strange how differently we accept a misfortune—or even an insult—when we know who gave it to us. Demands that might seem outrageous from an acquaintance are met with happy compliance if it is a friend who asks our help. In like manner, we are able to adapt with a good grace to the demands of every Now when we recognize God’s will and purpose behind the illness and the shocks and disappointments of life.

The swaddling clothes of an Infant hid the Son of God in Bethlehem, and the appearance of bread and wine hides the Reality of Christ dying again on Calvary, in the Mass. This concealment of Himself that God effects with us is operative in His use of the Now to hide His Will beneath the aspect of very simple, everyday things. We live our lives in dependence on such casual, common benefits as air and water; so Our Lord is pleased to receive from us in return the thousands of unimportant actions and the trifling details that make up our lives—provided that we see, even in our sorrows, “The shade of His Hand outstretched caressingly.”

The Secret of Sanctity

Here is the whole secret of sanctity; the method is available to everyone and deserves particular notice from those who ask: “What can I do?” For many good souls are hungry to do great things for God. They complain that they have no opportunities for heroic virtue, no chance at the apostolate. They would be martyrs; but when a meal is late, or a bus is crowded, when the theater is filled, or the dance postponed, or the bacon overdone, they are upset for a whole day. They miss their opportunities for loving God in the little things He asks of them.

Our Lord said: “He who is trustworthy over a little sum is trustworthy over a greater.” (Luke 16:10) The Divine Beloved speaks to the soul in a whisper, but because the soul is waiting for a trumpet, it loses His Command. All of us would like to make our own crosses tailor-made trials. But not many of us welcome the crosses God sends. Yet it is in doing perfectly the little chores He gives that Saints find holiness. The big, world-shattering things many of us imagine we would like to do for God might, in the end, feed only our egotism.

On the other hand, to accept the crosses of our state of life because they come from an all-loving God is to have taken the most important step in the reformation of the world, namely, the reformation of the self. Sanctity can be built out of patient endurance of the incessant grumbling of a husband—the almost intolerable nagging of a wife—the boss’s habit of smoking a pipe while he dictates—the noise the children make with their soup—the unexpected illness—the failure to find a husband—the inability to get rich. All these can become occasions of merit and be made into prayers if they are borne patiently for love of One Who bears so patiently with us, despite our shortcomings, our failures, and our sins.

It is not hard to put up with others’ foibles when one realizes how much God has to put up with from us. There is a legend that one day Abraham was visited in the desert by an Arab, who set up loud complaints of the food, the lodging, the bed, and the wine which his generous host had offered him. Finally, Abraham became exasperated and was about to put him out. God appeared to Abraham at that moment and said: “Abraham, I have stood this man for forty years; can’t you put up with him for one day?”

Accept the Duty of the Moment

To accept the duty of this moment for God is to touch Eternity, to escape from time. This habit of embracing the Now and glorifying God through its demands is an act of the loving will. We do not need an intellectual knowledge of God’s plan in order to accept it. When St. Paul was converted he asked merely: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” We can be warmed by a fire without knowing the chemistry of combustion, and we can be cured by a medicine without knowing its prescription.

The Divine Will, pouring into the soul of a simple cripple resigned to suffering, will give him a far greater under standing of theology than a professor will get from a lifetime of theoretical curiosity about religion which he does not practice. The good and the bad thief on the cross had the same crisis of fear and suffering—one of them complained and lost his chance for Heaven that day; the other spiritualized the brief moment of suffering. Some souls win peace and sanctity from the same trials which make others rebels and nervous wrecks.

God cannot seize our wills or force us to use our trials advantageously, but neither can the Devil. We are absolute dictators in deciding whether we wish to offer our will to God. And if we turn it over to Him without reservation, He will do great things in us. As a chisel in the hands of Michelangelo can produce a better statue than a chisel in the hands of a child, so the human will becomes more effective when it has become a liege of God than if we try to rule alone. Our wills operating under our own power may be busy about many things, but in the end they come to nothing. Under Divine Power, the nothingness of our wills becomes effective beyond our fondest dreams.

The phrase which sanctifies any moment is “Thy Will be done.” It was that fiat of our Saviour in Gethsemane which initiated our Redemption; it was the fiat of Our Lady which opened the way to the Incarnation. The word cuts all the guy ropes that attach us to the familiar, narrow things we know; it unfurls all our sails to the possibilities of the moment, and it carries one along to whatever port God wills. To say and mean “Thy Will be done” is to put an end to all complaining; for whatever the moment brings to us now bears the imprint of the Divine Will.

The Advantage of Trusting God

There are great subjective advantages to such an act of resignation to God’s Will. The first is this: we escape from the power which the “accidents” of life had over us. The accidents of life are those things which interrupt our ordered existence and cancel our plans—mishaps such as a sickness which forces us to defer a trip, or the summons of the telephone when we are tuned in to our favorite program on the radio. It is a medical fact that tense and worried people have more accidents resulting in fractures than those who have a clear conscience and a Divine Goal in life.

Some men and women complain that they “never get a break,” that the world is their enemy, that they have “bad luck.” A person resigned to God’s Holy Will utters no such complaint; whatever comes along, he welcomes it. The disorganized, self-centered soul tries to impose his own will on the universe—and always fails. He is in constant pain for the same reason that a stomach is in pain if it tries a diet of ground glass—it is living contrary to the Divine purpose.

Every commonplace event now becomes a mystery because it is the bearer of the Divine Will. Nothing is insignificant or dull—everything can be sanctified, just as goats and sheep, fish and wheat, grapes and eyes of needles were given dignity as parables of the Kingdom of God. Things the worldly-wise would trample under foot become as precious to Saints as pearls, for they see “sermons in stones and good in everything.” Even the bitterest of life’s punishments are known to be joys in the making, rare spiritual treasures underneath their harsh and ugly appearances.

Evil  Can Benefit Us

It will seem strange to the worldling, but even our enemies—even those who cheat, malign us-—an become occasions for advancement toward union with God. All contradictions can be turned to good by those who have put their trust in God. Seeing the trial as issuing from the Divine Hand, one never has to wonder how to meet it, nor question why it came, nor seek defense against it. Each trial is an occasion for faith and an opportunity for virtue. Having put oneself in the deeper dimension of Divine Love, one knows as a child in a loving family knows, that even what is not understood is done kindly and for the best. There finally comes a period of union with God when everything seems unreal except Divine Love. The soul in the midst of trials and aches becomes like an airplane flying—it follows the beam of God’s Will through the fog and mist.

We would all like to make our own crosses; but since Our Lord did not make His Own, neither do we make ours. We can take whatever He gives us, and we can make the supernatural best of it. The typist at her desk working on routine letters, the street cleaner with his broom, the farmer tilling the field with his horses, the doctor bending over a patient, the lawyer trying his case, the student with his books, the sick in their isolation and pain, the teacher drilling her pupils, the mother dressing the children—every such task, every such duty can be ennobled and spiritualized if it is done in God’s Name.

Live is Worth Living, 1950

Sam Guzman


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