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Kairos vs. Chronos

Time: a resource which is all too fleeting and something which we wish we all had more of. The more we “need,” the faster it seems to go. In regards to time, I have been struggling recently—mightily at times (pun intended)—and this issue presents itself all the more when I am “busy,” have things I need to do, places to go, or it is the third Mass of the weekend for me. The issue: worrying about how long Mass lasts. Perhaps you have struggled with this issue or are currently struggling with it too. It is something we all struggle with at some point in our lives. In many ways, it is a natural thing: our bodies are wired to move, to play, to work, to accomplish tasks. Life is run by the clock. Modern society with all its endless activities and technological advancements has made it even harder for us to rest. We saw this two years ago when the pandemic shut life down: for most of us, me included, resting was hard. I remember seeing Fr. Scott Woods post on Facebook, “We’ve been so wired to work that resting feels like a sin!”—and he’s right! Yet, God calls us to rest as he did on the final day of creation. This resting though, is not an inactive rest where we do nothing; it is an active resting in his presence: a holy moment. Saint John Paul II in his 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini (On the Lord’s Day) says, “Rest therefore acquires a sacred value: the faithful are called to rest not only as God rested, but to rest in the Lord, bringing the entire creation to him, in praise and thanksgiving, intimate as a child and friendly as a spouse.” (no. 16) Every Sunday, which is the octave day (the day of perfection and completion), we come to worship him at Mass. At Mass we are in his presence in a way that is not possible any other way here on earth. How do we rest in the Lord? We will come back to that question in a bit, but this is where we come to different concepts of time which were articulated by the Ancient Greeks: kairos and chronos.

Chronos is quantitative time. It is a type of time that can be measured exactly by seconds, minutes, hours, etc. This is the type of time that governs our lives. It occurs 54 times in the New Testament referring to specific amounts of time.

Kairos is qualitative time. This type of time is indeterminate and is measured only by significant moments. It occurs 86 times in the New Testament referring to “moments” or “seasons.” We experience this type of time when we are lost in some activity and suddenly realize chronos has flown by: “Where did the time go?!” Kairos is the time in which God dwells. He lives outside of chronological time. For those of us who went to a Catholic high school or had children or grandchildren who did, you may be familiar with seniors going on a Kairos retreat. In this retreat, everything is measured in “God’s time.” I remember in my retreat back in 2005 that every single clock in the retreat house was removed. Only one faculty member had access to a watch. It forced everybody for four days to stay in kairos rather than worry about chronos.

So back to the question: how do we rest in the Lord? When we come to Mass and are in his presence, we enter into kairos. Heaven and earth unite and there is no chronos in eternity. God’s time cannot be measured by minutes. Realistically we know that while on earth chronos does not stop; however, when coming to Mass (or any other form of worship), we have to experience a metanoia—a change in our way of thinkingand abandon ourselves to kairos. The only way to rest in the Lord is to forget about chronos. This. Is. Challenging. Saint Josemaría Escrivá famously said: “‘The Mass is long,’ you say, and I add: ‘Because your love is short.’” If we are honest with ourselves, we are probably convicted by that statement—I know I am. My love has been particularly short lately. We have to examine our heart and ask why we are so worried about Mass lasting “too long.” It is as if we are afraid we will turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes the 61st minute! Yes, we all have things to do, places to go, and items to cross off our lists: but those things will be there waiting for us whether Mass is 50, 60, or 70 minutes. Here’s a question we must ask: if we are worried about Mass lasting too long on earth, why would we want to go to heaven where the Mass never ends?

As we come to worship our Lord, may we beg God to help us enter into kairos. In kairos there is only one thing to worry about: resting in his presence and giving our entire self to the God who has blessed us beyond measure. A tall order? Absolutely! Impossible? No! Pray with me: “Eternal God, in this Mass, remove from me any worries about time. Lift me into kairos and help me to just be. May my love be long so I can rest in your presence in this holy moment. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”


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