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The Time of the Church

As most of you know, the liturgical year follows a pattern that has been in place for centuries.  The year begins with the Advent season which celebrates the time of waiting for the Messiah to arrive.  Then the Christmas season celebrates the birth of Christ and the Incarnation of the Son of God.  The Epiphany Season and Ordinary Time immediately after celebrate the early manifestation of the Messiah, first through the Magi and also in the calling of the Apostles and the earliest miracles of Jesus.  Next the Pre-Lent season begins to change the focus away from the joy of these manifestations to a more penitential one and then Lent begins with its contemplation of the Passion and Death of our Lord.  This contemplation is most intensive during the last two weeks of Lent in Passiontide and especially Holy Week.

The mood then shifts to the expression of joy which is celebrated on Easter Sunday at the triumph of Jesus over the grave and it is extended for the season of Easter as Jesus appears to His followers.  This time is culminated with the Solemnity of Pentecost as the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, descends upon the Apostles.  Next comes the long season of Ordinary Time.  In 2016 this Ordinary Time season lasts for 27 weeks, more than half of the year.  But how best do we describe it as a whole?  During the first part of the year, the liturgical seasons have a theme which runs throughout.  What of this longer Ordinary Time season?  In order to find this theme, we need to examine some of the solemnities that occur.  The season begins with three solemnities, namely those of Pentecost, Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi.  During the middle we will focus on the teachings and parables of Jesus and honor His miracles. Towards the end we will focus on His teachings regarding the end-times and finally it concludes by honoring Jesus as Lord and King of all things.  This Ordinary Time can really best be thought of as a celebration of the “Time of the Church.”

As stated, the season begins with a few Solemnities.  Pentecost is the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, with the implication for us that these same Apostles and their successors will continue to pass down this Holy Spirit upon the faithful.  It is often said that the Solemnity of Pentecost is a celebration of the “birthday of the Church.”  Although I suppose that it is true in some ways, we can never look at this ‘birthday’ merely in terms of just another year within the life of the Church, or a parish, or even an individual Christian.  The Solemnity of Pentecost is rather the celebration of a one-time event that has become an ongoing reality for the Church today.  Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel: “If you love Me and obey the commands I give you, I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete – to be with you always: the Spirit of truth Whom the world cannot accept, since it neither sees Him nor recognizes Him; but you can recognize Him because He remains with you and will be within you.” (John 14:15-17)  Pentecost then is a reminder of the on-going reality of the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.

This season then goes on with two important solemnities which celebrate for us two great mysteries of our faith, the Holy Trinity and the Holy Eucharist.  Our belief in the Holy Trinity is certainly foundational for us, but it also reminds us that God is experienced in a relational way.  God as Father, Son and Spirit shows us that within the very nature of God there is relationship and God desires to then have a relationship with us.  God is not somehow apart from us, but again as Jesus has reminded us, “Anyone who loves Me will be true to My word, and My Father will love him; We will come to him and make our dwelling place with him.” (John 15:23)

Secondly we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  In this celebration we acknowledge that Jesus is present to us in the Holy Eucharist which He gave the Church at the Last Supper.  As we know the Eucharist is the focus of all that we do as Catholic Christians.  It is within this celebration that we come to more fully know our relationship to God and join ourselves to His presence.

Another Solemnity that is an important part of this season is the one that concludes it, the Solemnity of Christ the King.  This celebration reminds us that Jesus Christ is truly Lord, not just in some cosmic way only, but the true Lord and Ruler of our very lives.  He is Lord of our families, our communities, our parishes, of all that we are.  Through this solemnity we are reminded that “Christ must reign until God has put all enemies under His feet, and the last enemy to be destroyed is death. … When, finally, all has been subjected to the Son, He will then subject Himself to the One Who made all things subject to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:25-26, 28)

But in between these two extremes, the Ordinary Time season moves on to the Sundays that are celebrated in green vestments, those that are simply listed as a certain numbered Sunday in Ordinary Time.  As we move through these Sundays we will be confronted with the many actions and teachings of our Lord.  To just name a few:

On the 10th Sunday, Jesus raises the young son of a widowed mother;

On the 11th Sunday, Jesus forgives the sins of a woman and His teaching concerning forgiveness;

On the 12th Sunday, Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah.

On the 14th Sunday, Jesus sends out the seventy-two.

On the 15th Sunday, Jesus gives the two laws of Love.

On the 17th Sunday, Jesus prays the Our Father and teaches concern prayer.

On the 21st Sunday, Jesus’ teaching on who will be saved.

On the 23rd Sunday, Jesus’ admonition to ‘Take up your cross and follow.’

On the 25th Sunday, Jesus’ teaching on serving God alone.

On the 28th Sunday, Jesus heals ten lepers.

On the 31st Sunday, Jesus and Zacchaeus

On the 33rd Sunday, Jesus’ teaching on endurance.

As you can see these Sundays will place before us a varied number of things, some parables and teachings regarding Christian living, some miracles showing us the power of Jesus and also of faith, teachings concerning prayer and perseverance.  And we also remember that this is only in the present year, Cycle C, and other images will be presented to us in other years.  But in all of this we must remember that there is for this time of year a unifying force and it is to look at each of these Sundays through the Solemnities which bracket this season.  We must remember that God desires to be in relationship with us.  These teachings and miracles that are presented to us during these Sundays help us to see exactly how this relationship is to be lived out.  God shows love for us, and desires that we love Him in return and also that we share this love with others.  God wants to have an ongoing connection with us and shows us how this is to be accomplished through prayer.  The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ also reminds us in this context that for our entire journey of faith, God will provide for us as we travel.  We are given the food of eternal life and an ever-present companion in Jesus Christ Who comes to us through the Eucharist.  This ever-present help of the Eucharist will strengthen us to live out this relationship and seek to deepen it.

We also must keep in mind the goal of this Ordinary Time season in looking to the last Solemnity, that of Christ the King.  In contemplating the parables and miracles, in digesting and internalizing the teachings, through growing in prayer life and following the commandments, we desire to place ourselves under the gentle and loving rule of Jesus Christ.  In speaking of Jesus, John the Baptist said, “It is the groom who has the bride.  The groom’s best man waits there listening for him and is overjoyed to hear his voice.  That is my joy, and it is complete.  He must increase, while I must decrease.” (John 3:29-30)  These words can be applied to our Christian journey as well.  We desire to listen to Jesus as He speaks to us in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Gospel and the Sacrament of the Word of God.  We are filled with joy as we contemplate these
mysteries and teachings and they accomplish the situation where the life of Jesus will continue to increase as my own willfulness and sin decrease.  That is the goal of the Christian life, that we will place our entire lives under the love of Jesus Christ .

So my brothers and sisters, as we enter this Ordinary Time of the year, let us keep in mind the entire journey. To seek an ever stronger relationship with God, to be strengthened in the reception of the Holy Eucharist and to place before us the goal that Jesus will rule us completely.

 

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