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Time, Space and Love

Fr. Francis Ongkingco

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“Time is greater than space.” These words immediately caught my attention as I read the first few paragraphs of Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris lætitia (The Joy of Love).

I was disappointed, however, to realize that these words were not introducing some profound theological idea. The Pope was humbly admitting that the document on love in the family, will not be able to cover all the doctrinal, moral, and pastoral issues involved.

Later on, however, in Chapter Six, perhaps unintended and unconnected, the words “time” and “space” once again resurfaced beautifully when the Pope reflects: “This process [the evangelization of young married couples] takes time. Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary (no. 224)”

Afterwards the Holy Father shares some practical advice on how parents ought to deal with and love their children. But the advice also applies to every person who sincerely wants to leave a lasting personal legacy to those that God may have put beside him.

Pope Francis describes the value of time, “Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one other and gaze in each other’s eyes, to appreciate one another, and to build a stronger relationship. (Ibid.)” Unfortunately, we have no time for time for these profoundly intimate family and social moments. Instead, “the frenetic pace of our society and the pressures of the workplace create problems. At other times, the problem is the lack of quality time together, sharing the same room without one even noticing the other. (Ibid.)”

When parents no longer know how to value time, that is, when they start converting time into a material commodity, they start filling up spaces in family and social life with material substitutes.
Amoris lætitia clearly describes the consequences of not properly valuing and investing in time: “Once a couple no longer knows how to spend time together, one or both of them will end up taking refuge in gadgets, finding other commitments, seeking the embrace of another, or simply looking for ways to flee what has become an uncomfortable closeness. (no. 225)”

When spent time is self-centered, then one can no longer easily disengage himself from his things. It becomes natural for him to fend off others, who may now be seen as threats to his own comfort and possessions. It is no longer easy for him to take time away from his things, in order to give his time (that is, his very self) for others, that may be invisible or immaterial but are forging of love, patience, understanding, forgiveness, etc. The family then becomes a unhospitable place where no one knows how to say, “Please”, “Thank you”, and “Sorry”.

The spaces in children’s hearts, longing for moral references and models, are drowned with material substitutes that deform their genuine spiritual longings and convictions into material ones. These artificially created material longings and convictions in turn create black hole hearts where the space becomes greater than time.

Thus, Pope Francis wisely encourages married couples: “[They should be] planning free time together, moments of recreation with the children, different ways of celebrating important events, shared opportunities for spiritual growth. (…) develop a routine that gives a healthy sense of closeness and stability through shared daily rituals. These could include a morning kiss, an evening blessing, waiting at the door to welcome each other home, taking trips together and sharing household chores. Yet it also helps to break the routine with a party, and to enjoy family celebrations of anniversaries and special events. (no. 226)”

This capacity for self-giving, however, will only be possible if one understands that the space of our life was given to us by God, is not to meant to be filled with things alone, but above all with the time spent consuming oneself in loving others within family and work.

“We need these moments,” Pope Francis says, “of cherishing God’s gifts and renewing our zest for life. As long as we can celebrate, we are able to rekindle our love, to free it from monotony and to colour our daily routine with hope. (no. 226)”

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