Guardini raises our level of reflection to the height now by inviting us to consider the nature of Christ's acts in light of Eternity. Our decisions and acts, no matter their quality, always have their beginning and end. In a striking passage, Guardini states: "With Jesus it was different. Not only was His will spiritual, it was permeated by the divine will of the eternal Son of God. Thus even His decisions had an underlying depth which reached from the gesture of His hand to the divine resolution. They were no longer temporal, but eternal. Jesus’ acts began, unfolded, and ended in time, but both the resolve from which they sprang and the power by which they were sustained were eternal. In brief, everything the Lord did took place in time but came from eternity; and since eternity is unchangeable, everything He did was immortal." Everything Christ does is permeated with eternity. Given the transitory nature of our lives and actions this is admittedly hard to understand; in fact, it is an impenetrable mystery into which we can only be drawn by the grace and mercy of God. In and through our faith we begin to comprehend the mystery that Christ's "earthly life has been assimilated into eternity, henceforth to be linked irrevocably to every earthly hour redeemed by His destiny. The Lord’s earthly life is directly applicable to every one He loves, to every place, and in every situation. Wherever a man believes in Christ, he finds himself in direct contact with Him-and not only with the Son of God, but with the God-man in all the abundance of His redemptory existence on earth." And whatever happens in a general way whenever a person believes in the Lord, "takes place in a special, specific form in the commemoration which Jesus Himself established. The instant Christ’s representative speaks His words over the bread and wine, Christ steps from eternity into place and hour, to become vitally present with the fulness of His redemptory power in the form of the particular, created species of bread and wine."
ALL HUMAN events are transitory; consequently they are precious, for they cannot be repeated. What is past is gone forever. Something else can and will take place, but the past event itself can never return. Every moment comes but once, and that is why life is ever new. Something in us is continually welcoming what is about to come, and mourning what is about to go. The beauty of life is inseparable from affliction; life’s riches are frighteningly impermanent. And the transitory is always brief, no matter how long it lasts. It is the opposite of eternal.
Even so-called duration, time long enough to enable something to take root, grow and fulfill itself, is only a pause in the essential flow; it is not an escape from it. Natural science teaches us that nothing in the world can be lost. Though the forms of energy and matter may change, matter and energy themselves remain; the energy consumed in any task returns in its effects. The whole system, however, exists only for an instant. We call a great work or deed “imperishable,” but this is true only as long as there are men who cherish and perpetuate it. We all have the feeling that a genuine imperishableness must exist somewhere, but this is only a vague intuition, a “claim” on existence, a hope of some mysterious realm in which all that has achieved validity is preserved forever. The feeling becomes clearer and more tangible only when we relate that realm to God, who receives all that is valid into His eternity. But the uneasy question remains: Is what man considers valid really so, even before God?
How was it with the Son of Man? In one way the transient quality of Jesus’ life seems particularly and painfully evident, for not only did that life come to an end, as does all human life, but its unutterably divine costliness was prematurely demolished by a will so evil and so destructive that we never cease to wonder how this was possible.
But there was something more about Jesus; not only the fact that His life, with every step He took, penetrated ever more deeply into the already perfect, the already immortal. We act upon decisions of the spirit, which is immortal and hence already has something of eternity about it. The decision itself, however, begins and ends in time. With Jesus it was different. Not only was His will spiritual, it was permeated by the divine will of the eternal Son of God. Thus even His decisions had an underlying depth which reached from the gesture of His hand to the divine resolution. They were no longer temporal, but eternal. Jesus’ acts began, unfolded, and ended in time, but both the resolve from which they sprang and the power by which they were sustained were eternal. In brief, everything the Lord did took place in time but came from eternity; and since eternity is unchangeable, everything He did was immortal.
This is a great and impenetrable mystery. Earthly things are buried in transitoriness, and for us eternity is still only a hope. We are unable to bridge the two. God alone makes this possible through what Scripture calls “the new creation”: transfiguration. The temporal is not erased, but assumed into eternity, there to acquire a quality for which we now have no concept. One day, though, our whole thinking, now locked in earthly transitoriness, will receive that liberating quality, and we shall be given along with the “new heaven and the new earth” the new eye, which really sees, and “the mind of the Lord” (Cor 2:16).
This mode of being and seeing was Jesus’, with whom it came into existence. He brought it to us, and in such a way that we might share in it. He is “the new,” the “beginning.” As long as He lived on earth that beginning remained veiled, but it was already here. He had to bear earthly bondage and transitoriness through to the end, because He had become “like us in all things” in order to expiate our sins. It was not until the Resurrection that the new was able to break through.
After the mysterious forty days in which, disregarding the laws of nature, He appeared and disappeared at will, seeming to hesitate incomprehensibly between time and eternity, He returned to the Father and is now completely eternal. There was a heresy which attempted to free the Son of God from the “taint” of earthliness by teaching that He left His body and everything connected with it here below and returned to “pure” divinity. Unfortunately, this teaching destroys the essence of all that is Christian. The Son of the eternal Father became man in divine earnestness, which means irrevocably. Hence He remains man in all eternity. To be a man means to have a body, not an idealized, general sort of body, but one’s own specific body. This is what St. John means when he writes in his first epistle, “I write of what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have handled: of the Word of Life. And the Life was made known and we have seen, and now testify and announce to you, the Life Eternal which was with the Father, and has appeared to us . . . in order that you also may have fellowship with us, and that our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (John 1 :1-3). The “Life” or “body” “our hands have handled” is not only the impassive form, but also gesture, deed, sufferings, and destiny. Everything that happened to the Lord is evident in His resurrected “body.” Scripture bears staggering witness to this fact in John’s report of its wounds, so corporal and deep that the incredulous Thomas was able to obey Christ’s command and put his hand “into my side” (John 20:27). These wounds are the banners of Jesus’ life and fate, eternally received into His most vital being.
In that life nothing could be lost, for nothing took place that did not come from the everlastingness of that will with which the Son carried out the Father’s decree in an historical, temporary act. Christ’s entire life belongs to eternity. Two images express its imperishableness. The first appears in the deacon Stephen’s great testimonial speech before the Sanhedrin: “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ ” (Acts 7:55-56). It is also to be found in Mark (16: 19) in the form in which it was later incorporated into the Credo: “sits at the right hand of God.” The other image appears in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the powerful passage in which Jesus, the true High Priest, strides through the courtyards of time across the threshold of death into eternity’s holy of holies, bearing the sacrificial blood-offering of the New Testament before the majesty of the Father, in order to reconcile His justice.
In the light of these remarks on time and eternity what does the commemoration with which Jesus entrusted His followers signify?
We are not going to try to understand now the relation between God’s eternal life and events in time. The attempt would only result in a confusion of both concepts. One day we shall be able to understand-when we have been endowed with “the new,” with that comprehension of the resurrected life which is the gift of grace. Now we can but sense the mystery of redeemed existence, feeling our way toward it with lowered eyes. In this world, God’s decree is fulfilled in the succession of temporal events; but God Himself is eternal-He always was and always will be. God realizes Himself both in universal space and in specific space or locality; He exists, however, in the pure here-and-now. He manifests Himself in the differentiation of forms, relationships, characteristics; yet He Himself is of an undivided Oneness. Hence every hour with its content brushes God’s eternity; every place with its content touches divine omnipresence; every form and every characteristic finds itself again in His all-inclusive simplicity. And what is true of God is true also of Him who sits on the Father’s right, Christ. His earthly life has been assimilated into eternity, henceforth to be linked irrevocably to every earthly hour redeemed by His destiny. The Lord’s earthly life is directly applicable to every one He loves, to every place, and in every situation. Wherever a man believes in Christ, he finds himself in direct contact with Him-and not only with the Son of God, but with the God-man in all the abundance of His redemptory existence on earth. St. Paul says that in every believer an unfathomable mystery unfolds: Christ “above” who “sitteth at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1) is simultaneously “below,” “within” that believer. In all the richness of its salutary destiny, Jesus’ life -His childhood, maturity, suffering, dying and resurrection-unwinds anew in every Christian, thus forming his real and everlasting existence (Eph. 4:13). “It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
What happens in a general manner whenever a person believes in the Lord, whenever Christ’s redemptive life becomes that person’s existence, takes place in a special, specific form in the commemoration which Jesus Himself established. The instant Christ’s representative speaks His words over the bread and wine, Christ steps from eternity into place and hour, to become vitally present with the fulness of His redemptory power in the form of the particular, created species of bread and wine. There is no approach to this sacred procedure from our earthly experience. We can say neither that it is possible nor that it is impossible. We can only accept it as God’s “mystery of faith,” this truth that is the beginning of all beginning. It is the truth by which a man is summoned, which he obeys, to which he entrusts himself, and from which his thinking takes its new point of departure. Once given and accepted, this beginning becomes the key to infinite realms.
When the intellect attempts to pin down this truth in concepts or to express it in words, it becomes very difficult. But is it in itself so difficult? Words do not seem to hit the mark. Actually it is not difficult but mysterious, though it can become difficult-in the sense of the listeners at Capharnaum, who rejected Jesus’ revelation: “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). Such difficulty is a question of the heart’s revolt against the new beginning, of the self-confinement of the world, shutting itself off from the true light (John 1:5-11). Once a person honestly desires understanding, he senses the truth without being able to express it. And again we turn to the example of Capharnaum: “This is why I have said to you, ‘No one can come to me unless he is enabled to do so by my Father.’ From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. Jesus therefore said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter therefore answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast words of everlasting life, and we have come to believe and to know that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.’ ” This is the rescuing act: we do not understand, but we believe. The words “mystery of faith” have a double significance. They warn: Beware of trying to judge with human values as your intellectual criteria! But they also invite: Believe your redeemed hearts, which feel the superabundance of the truth that saves!
Meditations Before Mass