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Father Nicholas Nelson: The ‘already, but not yet’

During the Easter season, we are confronted with this fact: namely, “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has won the definitive victory, but we don’t experience that victory in all of its glory.” We can call this shared experience “the already, but not yet.” 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Though already present in his Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled ‘with power and great glory’ by the King’s return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ’s Passover. Until everything is subject to him, ‘until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God’” (671). 

This reality is like a team winning the game before the game is even over. We know who has won and does win in the end. It is God, it is Jesus Christ who wins. 

So what does that mean for us? 

First, we need to run up the score. Saints don’t run out the clock. They run up the score. In most sports, there are two strategies when the outcome of the game is no longer in question and your team is going to win. You can run out the clock, such as in football. You put in your back-up players and you keep handing the ball off to your running back and have the quarterback take a knee when there are just a few minutes left. Or you can run up the score. So when you are winning by a large margin, you keep your best players in and you continue to press and try to score touchdowns. The saints have always ran up the score. 

Consider the disciples of Jesus after they saw him risen from the dead. They could have just celebrated the fact that Jesus is alive! God has won! They could have said, “Yes, time continues, but we know that at the end of time the victory and the Kingdom of God would be fully realized, and therefore we can just sit around and take it easy until he returns.” 

But that isn’t what they did. They waited for the promised Holy Spirit to come upon them, and then they went to the ends of the world proclaiming the good news that Jesus is alive, that God has vindicated his Son. In a word, they ran up the score. The victory was won and is guaranteed, but they wanted it to be as definitive as possible. They wanted everyone to be on the winning side and celebrate the victory for all eternity. They called people to repentance and into his church so that they could live the good life God was calling them to. 

And this is what all the saints have done since that time forward. It’s the mystery of God’s providence and our free will cooperating with grace. It’s the fact that we have a part to play in God’s Kingdom. We have a role to play in the outcome of the story. It’s what motivated the martyr St. Isaac Jogues to leave the comfort of France and live among the native peoples of North America. It’s what moved St. Therese of Lisieux, although living in a cloistered Carmel, and while perfecting her “little way,” to say, “I’d give a thousand lives to save a single soul!” 

Second, we must learn to love the Mass. All the saints loved and appreciated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Why? Because the Mass is where the “already, but not yet” is most real. There is only one Jesus, and he becomes present on our altars under the appearance of bread and wine, and because Jesus is in heaven, therefore, heaven comes to our altar. 

Or better yet, we are brought into heaven. Speaking of the Mass, the letter to the Hebrews says, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). 

In the first Eucharistic Prayer, we pray, “In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty.” There are some beautiful paintings of this reality. Maybe you have seen them. In the middle is a priest with people offering the Mass, then above him the ceiling is open and you see the Blessed Trinity, the angels, and all the saints. And that’s the reality of the Mass. We only need the eyes of faith to see it! 

Live the already but not yet. And don’t run out the clock! Rather, run up the score! 

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of Queen of Peace and Holy Family parishes in Cloquet. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected].