[Abraham] gave up the present for the sake of what was to come. He let go of what was safe, comprehensible, calculable, for the sake of what was unknown. And he did this is response to a single word from God. He had met God and placed all his future in God’s hands; he dared to accept a new future that began in darkness… the center of gravity of reality, indeed the concept of reality itself, changed. The future took precedence over the present, the word heard over comprehensible things.
Faith and the Future, 30-31
Reflection – ‘The future took precedence over the present.’ Hey, wait a minute! Aren’t we always being told to live in the present? That ‘now’ is what matters – tomorrow’s not here yet, yesterday is gone, etc., etc.? And what about the ‘duty of the moment’ that Madonna House folk are always talking about, the call of Christ to encounter him, serve him, love him, obey him by paying attention to what is in front of us right now?Has young Fr. Ratzinger (this book is from 1971) gone a little awry here? How can we say that the future is more important than the present, and what does this mean for our life?
Well, we can say it because it’s true, for starters! The future is more important than the present. What is the future we hope for? Eternal life in heaven with God. That is inherently more important than the few years we spend rattling around on earth – I don’t see how we can argue otherwise.
In medieval philosophy, the starting point for any discussion of human life and activity was to distinguish two ways of being human. Human beings are either viatores or comprehensors. In English, wayfarers or comprehenders. And all human modes of being and acting are affected profoundly by whether you are in one camp or the other.
You are (in case you’re unclear here) a viatore, as is every human being you have ever met, unless you happen to have had an apparition of Our Lady. The comprehensors are those enjoying the beatific vision, and most especially the Mother of God herself who enjoys this vision in her resurrected, assumed flesh.
But for us, we are on the way – we’re not there yet. And the whole dynamism of our life is towards our goal, towards that end. And so, yes, the future is more important than the present, because, like Abraham leaving everything to go to the promised land, all our actions and choices are meant to be a continual ‘leaving everything’ for the sake of the promised land to which we are headed.
What of being present to the present moment, then? What about the duty of the moment, and living in the now? Well, that’s how we leave everything to get to God’s future for us. To get to heaven, we have to stay on the path. And to stay on the path, we have to be deeply attentive to its twists and turns. And these twists and turns are the demands of love, now. The call of Christ, now. What’s in front of you to be done, now. But all is for the sake of the end of the road, the glorious ‘then’ to which all our little nows are bearing us.