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‘Time is greater than space’

As our ability to contemplate being ‘in time’ withers, so we fail to appropriate experiences as ‘parts’ in the ‘whole’ that is our story, our identity, our life journey. We feel lost in ‘space’.

As our ability to contemplate being ‘in time’ withers, so we fail to appropriate experiences as ‘parts’ in the ‘whole’ that is our story, our identity, our life journey. We feel lost in ‘space’.

The first days of the new year are ripe to contemplate Pope Francis’s dictum for personal and communal flourishing: “Time is greater than space” (Evangelii gaudium, 222-225).

Awareness of individual need and limitation compels us to conquer ‘space’ and the material things it promises. But as we grab fragments from the clutches of others, all we end up with is perpetual rivalry in the captivity of greed. ‘Space’, as vast as it might seem, restricts us if it merely invites to possession.

But ‘time’ cannot be possessed or controlled. As those interim hours between ‘old’ and ‘new year’ lay bare, ‘time’ always slips through our fingers to overflow with seeming abundance. Even if our individual ‘time’ eventually runs out, ‘time’ always invites us to remember, to be enriched, and when necessary, to start all over again. ‘Time’ frees us to become our best selves, to grow wiser, and in so doing, it unshackles us from the temptations of dominance and self-indulgence.

Still, in between those windows of opportunity when ‘time’ cradles us to growth, we often live as if “space were greater than time”. We complain we have ‘no time’, while ‘space’ has augmented dramatically to include virtual dimensions of our own creation. Ironically, we have unleashed the possibility for infinite technocratic dominance, while restricting possibilities for wisdom.

‘Time’ invites us to remember, to be enriched, and when necessary, to start all over again. It frees us to become our best selves, to grow wiser

As our ability to contemplate being ‘in time’ withers, so we fail to appropriate experiences as ‘parts’ in the ‘whole’ that is my story, my identity, my life journey. As we feel lost in ‘space’, so we risk losing ourselves in ‘time’.

The only antidote is to reclaim “time as greater than space”, not just sporadically, but at every hour and every day.

In two recent speeches – an informal one with Jesuits in Myanmar and Bangladesh, and in his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia – Pope Francis spelled out two attitudes to reclaiming a sense of self and meaning in life.

The first is the most fundamental attitude of discernment, the art of being attuned to grace, but also of seeing through the mechanisations of evil, even when situations are morally complex or confusing. Irrespective of how cultural forces might seek to coax, indoctrinate or sedate us, the discerning person remains alert to recognise and follow the promptings of what is truly good and life-giving, without falling into the trappings of what is merely popular, or seemingly successful and mighty.

As Pope Francis put it, if a person knows how to discern, “then this is enough for him to go on”; and ‘going on’ precisely through the second attitude by which one embodies and witnesses to the good that is discerned and embraced as life-giving. Pope Francis calls it a “diaconal primacy”, an attitude of service, where all efforts are oriented ad extra, outside the self and the immediate community, for the well-being of all.

The distinctive attitude of men and women of faith is love, and love is “above all, the expression of a firm desire to imitate Christ, who took on the form of a servant (cf. Phil 2:7)”. The Church is always revealed in the willingness of its members to act as hands and feet, eyes and ears of the one who healed the sick, rose the dead and tended all spiritually wounded.

Harnessing the power of ‘time’ is thus about becoming oneself for another, a self-offering that conquers ‘space’ by honouring the dignity of all. This is the only lifestyle truly worth celebrating, a new beginning truly worth living.

Nadia Delicata is a lecturer at the University’s Faculty of Theology.

nadia.delicata@um.edu.mt

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