Too often we fall into the trap of dwelling on the past or being anxious about the future. A consequence of this frame of mind is that we become frozen in time. We are unable to move forward because either our history haunts us or we are unwilling to make a leap of faith into the future.
This also means that we miss opportunities in the present moment. God could be calling us to do great things today, but we are too focused on a past hurt or future concern that we simply ignore what is happening right in front of us!
The key is to live in the present moment. But how does one do that?
First of all, we must look at Christ’s own teachings. In the Gospels we read how He exhorted His apostles to be concerned only with today,
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.“ (Matthew 6:34 RSV)
Jesus teaches His apostles to focus their attention on today instead of needlessly worrying about what could happen tomorrow. To be honest, this is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. As a father, I am constantly worried about the future and want to ensure that everything will be perfect for my children. Certainly it is good and noble to plan for the future, but I should never do so at the expense of quality family time in the present moment. What good is it if I spend my evenings making graphs and predictions for my children’s financial future and neglect to spend time wrestling with them on the floor?
There needs to be a balance. We must be responsible in looking forward, but we cannot let the future consume us. At the same time, we cannot let our past hurts or grievances dictate how we live. Learning important lessons from the past is beneficial, but it does not help us when we are unable to move on or forgive past offences.
For guidance on how to put this into practice, let us seek the wise advice of Mother Angelica. This was (and still is) a hallmark of her spirituality. Much of that wisdom can be found in the book Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality and is a great source of inspiration.
For example, she once said,
We have to learn to live in the Present Moment. We have to ask God: What are You calling me to do now, in this Present Moment? Not yesterday or tomorrow; but right now. God’s will is manifested to us in the duties and experiences of the Present Moment. We have only to accept them and try to be like Jesus in them.
Mother Angelica even relates living in the present moment to the theological concept of “Actual Grace.” She explains,
Every moment of life is new to you, and God gives you Actual Grace in that moment. It is different from Sanctifying Grace…God grants us the Actual Grace of this moment, not the grace of tonight or tomorrow, just the grace for this moment….God does not give me the grace today to endure the pain of tomorrow. But if I am living in the imagined pain of tomorrow with the grace I have now, I will always feel at a loss.
She even gives a “system” that ensures we are faithful to this concept. Mother Angelica says plainly,
My ‘Do/Drop System’ is to do it and drop it. When you live in the Present Moment you do whatever must be done, then you drop it and move on. You don’t dwell on the past, or on your past accomplishments. That’s all over. Do it and drop it.
Mother Angelica stresses “doing” instead of “dwelling.”
At the same time, Mother Angelica suggested that “meditation” was a key to remain in the present moment. She goes on to say,
Set aside some time for prayer. Meditate on something and you will find courage there. But then you will return to the activity of the day: that pile of dishes, the unruly children, the nagging wife, the nasty neighbor….Even after the ‘prayer time’ has concluded, the meditation continues on because I must never lose sight of Jesus. If I recognize Him within my soul, I will see Him more easily in you. What I do to you, I do to Jesus.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen also took on this topic and adds his suggestions,
We are to leave the past to divine mercy and to trust the future, whatever its trials, to God’s loving providence. Each minute of life has its peculiar duty — regardless of the appearance that minute may take. The Now-moment is the moment of salvation. Each complaint against it is a defeat; each act of resignation to it is a victory. (Catholic Exchange)
To conclude, let this prayer of Saint Faustina be our prayer every day of our lives!
O My God,
When I look into the future, I am frightened,
But why plunge into the future?
Only the present moment is precious to me,
As the future may never enter my soul at all.
It is no longer in my power to change, correct or add to the past;
For neither sages nor prophets could do that.
And so what the past has embraced I must entrust to God.
O present moment, you belong to me, whole and entire.
I desire to use you as best I can.
And although I am weak and small,
You grant me the grace of Your omnipotence.
And so, trusting in Your mercy,
I walk through life like a little child,
Offering You each day this heart
Burning with love for Your greater Glory.
From her Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, Notebook 1 (1)