Editor’s note. Recently Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia addressed some of the thousands of young people gathered for the week-long youth festival in Krakow, Poland. At CatholicPhilly.com, he provided the outlines for his daily remarks from Wednesday July 27 through Friday, July 29.
Reading all of them, I felt the first of these in particular was filled with observations that we, as pro-lifers, would want to share with our children, most particularly that “Our time in the world is never really ‘ours.’ Each day of life is a free gift. We didn’t earn it”; and “Mercy is the expression of that fatherly love that allows us to free others and find real freedom ourselves.”
1. Time seems to flow like a river – a smooth and continuous stream of events. But it actually consists of thousands of separate moments every day when we’re thinking, feeling and choosing what to do next. Those moments, and the choices we make as we experience them, determine the course of the river, which is also the course of our lives.
2. Time is the one resource that can’t be replenished. We have a limited amount of it, and it passes quickly. So how we use our time matters – and it matters not just here and now but eternally, because what we do in this world shapes the life we will have in the next. Our bodies die, but our spirits live on.
3. Our time in the world is never really “ours.” Each day of life is a free gift. We didn’t earn it. We don’t own it. And we always share the time allotted to us with others, because all of our lives interlock. What we do with our time inevitably impacts the people around us for good or for ill. Each of us has the starring role in his or her life. But we’re also a supporting actor in the lives of everyone around us. And all of us are part of a much larger story which we’ll only fully understand in the next life – God’s story of creation and salvation. The point is this: None of us is a neutral visitor to the world. We’re not tourists. We’re co-authors and players. Each of us either adds to or subtracts from the great story of the world by our choices.
4. The past is gone. The future isn’t here yet. So the decisive moment in our lives is always right now. We need to know the past and learn from it so we can understand why the world is the way it is. And we need to think about the future so we can make it a better place for the people who come after us. But we always do that, or fail to do that, now in our choices and actions. The past is memory. The future is good intentions. But now is real. Now is where we exercise our freedom.
5. The irony is that much of modern life limits our freedom. Work, school, family, health, money or the lack of it – all of these things limit our freedom to do what we want. And meanwhile, every day, our lives “silt up” like a river clogging with dirt – in other words, we choke on all the hurts and injustices we inflict on other people, and all the hurts and injustices that other people inflict on us. The world becomes a tangle of debts we owe to others, and debts that others owe to us. Debts that can never be paid. And the result is suffering and conflict with everyone demanding their rights, everyone demanding justice, and no one really getting it.
6. The only way to be free of our debts is to free others from the debts they owe us. Justice is part of the nature of God, and as free creatures we’re accountable to him for the good and the evil we do. But if we think of his justice purely as a math problem – who gets punished how much for what sins – we miss God’s deeper reality, which is fatherly love. And mercy is the expression of that fatherly love that allows us to free others and find real freedom ourselves.
7. There’s a famous legend from the ancient world that involves the Gordian Knot. The Gordian Knot was a large and extremely complicated knot of powerful rope that allegedly could not be untied. Dozens of strong men had tried and failed to unravel it, but the knot was too complex. Alexander the Great solved the problem by simply slicing through the knot with his sword.
In a sense, the demands of justice are the impossible knot we create with our interlocking sins and resentments. And mercy is God’s love that liberates his children by cutting through the knot like a sword.