Change and the Liturgical Year
By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 13, 2016 | In The Liturgical Year
Last week I attended my very first school parent meeting as a parent. After eight years of homeschooling, our family is now taking a different path for our sons’ education. Our oldest entered 7th grade at the local Catholic junior and senior high school and we decided to send our youngest son to the local Catholic Montessori school for 3rd grade. There were several family reasons in making these decisions, including gaining some extra personal time to take care of my health and recover fully from my foot surgery. So far we are all adjusting well to our new schedules and time commitments.
Well, most of us are adjusting well. Even though this is a positive decision in all ways, it is harder for me to adjust to change. I don’t have an ounce of sanguine temperament; I’m not the adventurous type. I am usually a “stay the course” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of person. Introducing a change usually requires me to do vast research to know the whole picture before reluctantly making a final decision.
My struggle is more than about sending my children to school. The seasons are changing and I struggle in those transitions, too.
Some people have tried to encourage me, thinking that I’m downhearted because I’m not homeschooling. But it’s not that I’m emotional about it all. I’m really enjoying the new horizons. It’s just adapting to changes and realizing I’m not in control that is my struggle.
It’s precisely when I have personal struggles that I look to the Liturgical Year for examples from the life of Christ and Mary and the saints for guidance and intercession. The Church has never failed in perfect timing for spiritual sustenance, and the September feasts of the Exaltation of the Cross, St. Matthew and the Ember Days are particularly pertinent for these transitions.
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple is one of my favorite Infancy narratives. When I was younger my meditations focused on using this scene of the life of Christ in understanding my vocation and finding God’s will in my life and answering His call. Now that I am married and am a mother, the meditation has shifted. I now see this mystery through Mary and St. Joseph’s eyes. Even though they were parents, they had to relinquish control as Jesus was growing into manhood and must be about His Father’s business.
There is not a particular feast in the Liturgical calendar for the Finding in the Temple. But this is the Gospel of the Feast of the Holy Family, which is usually the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas. Mary and St. Joseph had to accept this change in their Son, and accept the change in their role as parents. No longer would they be ones to take care of Jesus’ every need. This scene in Jerusalem was a paradigm shift. Even though Jesus returned home and lived with His family 17 more years, Joseph and Mary did have a glimpse that there would be many more big changes to come.
If we are brothers and sisters of Christ, we know that He came not for us to stay the same. To accept His call to follow Him means we are always in the process of change. We are supposed to become perfect. The feasts of the Apostles scattered throughout the Liturgical Year are reminders of how they gave up everything to follow Jesus, such as next week we celebrate the call of St. Matthew, the tax collector turned Apostle and Evangelist.
The Apostles had to adjust their lives constantly once they had to follow Jesus. Their daily lives were in a state of flux following Jesus in His travels and preaching. Then Jesus was put to death and rose from the dead. After having forty days to adjust to this new state of affairs, Jesus ascends to His Father. It wasn’t until Pentecost that the Holy Spirit helped the Apostles embrace that being a Christian is always working for the love of Christ. And working for Christ requires constant change and adjustment.
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me“ (Luke 9:23).
Sometimes the daily cross is not always about pain and suffering, but about accepting God’s will, which can mean the unknown, accepting change and experiencing uncomfortable surroundings. For me, this is my current cross. I’m not struggling with horrible pain, but just trying to fit that Cross on my shoulder that I can carry it.
The obvious time to think about the Cross is during Holy Week, particularly Good Friday. We walk in Christ’s footsteps at Calvary. Every Friday in the year the Church remembers His Passion and Death, which is why abstaining from meat and extra penance is still our obligation as Catholics.
But even closer in the calendar is tomorrow’s Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. This feast falls so near the beginning of the school year and the change of seasons from summer to fall. This is an historical feast commemorating St. Helena discovering the True Cross. The timing of the feast is a reminder that Lent and Easter is not too far away. So often we hear about Christmas in July, marking that half year before Christmas, or the tradition of celebrating one’s “half birthday.” The Exaltation of the Cross is a reminder that Lent and Holy Week are about a half year away. We are seven months away from Easter (April 16—it’s not precise because Easter is not a fixed date), and a little less than 6 months from Ash Wednesday (March 1).
On September 14 we rejoice in the wondrous gift of Jesus dying on the cross. The prayer we repeat at each Station of the Cross (Adoremus Te, Christe): “We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee, because by Thy Cross Thy hast redeemed the world” should be in our hearts for this feast and throughout the year. When my thoughts look back longingly at our former routines, I need to remember the triumph of the Cross, recognize my daily cross and embrace the present and the changes in our lives.
The Church also provides for ways to recognize (and accept the changes) of the physical seasons of the year. September 1 marked the meteorological beginning of Fall, and September 22 marks the Fall Equinox. Next week, the third week of September, marks the Fall Ember Days. Although not widespread in every diocese, there are still provisions for Ember Days within the Church year. Ember Days are a quarterly observance on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of one week of each season that “the Church is accustomed to entreat the Lord for the various needs of humanity, especially for the fruits of the earth and for human labor, and to give thanks to him publicly.” (Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 45).
The Church provides multiple ways of consolation and examples within the Liturgy of the Church that can help me through those unexpected humps or adjustments and all those changes in life. Learning to accept the cross daily is allowing the changes to happen, to accept God’s Will for the minute, hour or day. The times I balk at the changes in my life is when I need to remember to look at the examples throughout the Liturgical Year.
For Further Reading, see my previous posts:
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