As I was praying The Liturgy of the Hours this morning, I had a moment of great joy: I am not alone right now, I thought to myself. This isn’t just me, alone in my apartment, on May 14, 2008, in Dallas, Texas, reading bits of ancient texts.
Around the country and around the world, there were innumerable other Catholics performing this same action, reading and praying these same words: bishops and priests, consecrated religious, laypeople like me. And it wasn’t only a shared action across space, but also across time: hours, days, weeks, months, years, centuries, millennia. Times and places I cannot even imagine.
The Psalms take us back further than the time of Christ, long before a human mind or heart could comprehend or even conceive of so strange and marvelous an idea as God Incarnate or the Holy Trinity–ideas Christians often take for granted. And yet the Psalmist’s prayers touch and move and resonate with even the most modern soul. We understand them. They are our prayers too.
The Psalms and other scriptures, the praying of The Liturgy of the Hours–these are just a couple of examples of where Catholics encounter the timelessness of our faith tradition. This timelessness, this being “ever ancient, ever new” to borrow one of my favorite phrases from St. Augustine, is one of the most important and appealing things to me about Catholicism. It is one of the things that keeps me safely moored in the world around me, anchored to some of the things that are truly most important.
That’s why I tend to cringe when I hear or read somebody say that the Church is “out of touch” or “outdated” or “irrelevant,” or that the Church “needs to get with the times”–by which they really mean, “get with the modern secular world.” Such sentiments seem to be a symptom of the modernist snobbery that presumes that the present modern age is the best and most enlightened age that ever has been and ever shall be. It presumes superiority and–even more bafflingly–permanence where there is none to be had, as if the present can be isolated from the past and the future, held apart, and judged on its own merits! The reality is that the secular world, with each successive “modern time,” is impermanent and ever-changing. Any alleged superiority of today will most likely be sneered at, or at least shrugged at, tomorrow. What will future generations say about our world and our modern time? The answer to that question is: What do we say about the past? So maybe we’d better watch our tongues.
I don’t see how any sane person can deny any of that. So why on earth, then, should anybody want to take something so timeless as the Church and try to conform it, to confine it, to our own little spot upon the vast expanse of history? The Church has overcome much worse times than ours, and she has also seen much better–and she will do both again and again until time finally ends. And people will still be praying the Liturgy of the Hours and being stirred by the Psalms and doing all the same things Catholics have done for nearly 2000 years now, and probably much in the same fashion. Thus, we are part of the future, as well as the past.