A few years back I was blessed to participate in the Catechetical Institute (Class of Padre Pio) at Saint Andrew Catholic Church in Elk River. I expected it to be a great learning experience: a deep dive into the what and why of Catholic teachings. I did not expect it to be as convicting, converting, and hopeful an experience as it was.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is a systematic overview of the Catholic faith with lots of references to sacred scripture, saints’ writings, and other Church documents that flesh out the teachings in more detail. But the overall theme of the book—and the foundation of all Church wisdom and teaching—is God’s plan of salvation, culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of the great mysteries of that plan, emphasized again and again throughout the institute, is the sense of already, but not yet:
- Jesus was already present at the Creation of all that exists but had not yet been revealed to the world as the Son, the image of God in which we are created.
- The Holy Spirit was also already present “in the beginning,” but was not yet revealed as the third Person of one trinitarian God until Jesus spoke of Him to the Apostles in the upper room and then when He descended upon them at Pentecost.
- Roughly 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was “full of grace” and preserved from the effects of original sin by the saving act of her Son on the cross—which would not happen for another 30+ years.
- Jesus suffered and died for all of humanity’s sins—both those that committed before His death as well as every sin that has been or will be committed since.
- Jesus accomplished His salvific mission by dying on the cross and rising from the tomb 20 centuries ago, but the plan to save each of us is still unfolding, and we are a part of it.
Christ’s eternal victory over sin and death has already been won—praise God—in eternity. But it is not yet completed in this world. While the Lord exists outside of time, we are living, day by day, in time, making history by our choices.
Already but not yet means we have a role to play in our own salvation and that of the world. It means our prayers, fasting, and suffering are effective when offered for others, even for those who have already died and been judged, because even our future sacrifices are taken into account by God, to whom all of existence is in present tense. It means our choices and our actions matter—indeed, they resonate in big and small ways through all time!
This should give us great hope, but with great hope comes grave responsibility. Jesus has entrusted His saving mission to us, His disciples, until He comes again. This Advent and Christmas, as we recall Jesus’ first coming in history and prepare for His return at the end of time, let us recognize His presence in the world today, in His Body, the Church. Let us be His heart and lips, His hands and feet, blessing the world with His love and mercy.
Let the already in us draw everything not yet to Him. Amen!
This post also appeared in the Sunday, December 4, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.