I was reflecting on a conversation I recently had with a young Polish lady who lives in Magherafelt. Her name is Ola and Ola made the point that in Poland the seasons are well defined, there is a clear difference between winter, spring, summer and autumn.
From here I moved to thinking about the structure of our year as Catholics and how the structure of the year affects our lives. We are now, the week after Easter Sunday, when you are reading this, in the season of Eastertide, having just left the season of Lent.
You see, if you have structure in your life, as all the modern psychologists make a big deal about, as if no one ever knew it before them, the structure helps give your life meaning.
This yearly cycle gives order and meaning to an agricultural existence and experience tells the farmer that there are tasks best suited for each season.
The Church year is divided into seasons as well. We begin with Advent, the time of waiting for the birth of the Lord. Then we have Christmastide, and after Christmastide we move into Ordinary Time.
Sometime in February we enter the season of Lent, which we have just come out of and then we move into the current season, Eastertide which stretches right up to Pentecost before we move again into Ordinary Time, lasting to the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Church year.
What is all this about; why does the Church bother with all the seasons malarkey?
For the same reason as the farmer has his seasons: at certain times of the year the Church wants us to reflect on particular aspects of the life of Jesus. At the moment we are supposed to be thinking about the Resurrection, which is the whole foundation of our faith. During Christmas time we are given the chance to reflect about what the coming of the baby Jesus means in our life.
In life too there are seasons.
At the moment the people of South Korea are having a season of sorrow. Imagine receiving text messages from your daughter as she is caught below deck in a sinking ship: there could be nothing in this world worse than that.
Three hundred children taken out of any society at one go would have a devastating effect. God knows how the people of their home town shall ever get over it.
For these people, grieving the loss of their children, the Passion of Jesus has real resonance this year. Looking into the abyss of years of pain and sorrow at the loss of whole families, they must feel that their season of sorrow shall never end.
Then in life we have the seasons of joy. On Easter Monday I am going to a wedding when two young people shall start out on the journey of life together as man and wife. The future looks bright with the hope of children and watching them grow up and all that goes with married life.
You couldn’t help but wish them all the best.
The very word ‘journey’ itself tells you that there is something special about life. For the modern secular society life is not a journey because in a secular society the human person has no innate dignity. For the secularist the human is simply another animal to be used to produce something; Sunday opening makes perfect sense when you are a secularist, it is just another day to make money.
Secular society is what has taken away the lunch break and the half day opening. Do you remember the half day opening, the day when shops in a village took a half day off so that the shopkeeper could attend to things other than his business?
In Coalisland, Wednesday was the half day while Stewartstown, three mile away, took Thursday as the half day. Shops closed for lunch, people slowed down and rested, old Mr X was entitled to have his dinner and snooze.
If man is only an animal you can work him seven days a week, 365 days a year, the way you would work a horse.
When you read this something inside of you recoils at the idea of it. Have you ever thought what produces this reaction?
It is the fact that deep inside you know that men and women are much more than animals and have a dignity that no animal can ever aspire too.
Even the ancient Jews knew this, when they were writing down their creation stories over a thousand years before the birth of Christ. They knew life was a journey, a succession of seasons and most of all they knew there was something very special about mankind; we were above the animals and made for a totally different destiny.
So what did they write?
Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, whom the Church teaches is the guiding force behind all the scriptures, they invented the ‘week.’
There is something very special about the ‘week’ when you think about it.
A day is the length of time that it takes the earth to spin once on its axis; the month is dictated to us by the moon and a year measures one full orbit of the earth around the sun.
All these measurements come to us from nature; only the week has been given to us by God; six days shall we work and on the seventh we shall rest.
We are not animals, we are more than animals, we were made in God’s image and we have a destiny; even the ancients knew this.
When you are preparing for a journey, especially a long journey which is going to take a considerable amount of time, the first thing you have to do is figure out where you are going to rest. I was talking to my neighbour last week and he was telling me that he was heading down to Cork.
“Will you stop at all,” says I.
“Ah, yes, we have a couple of places where we stop off for something to eat and to stretch the legs,” said the neighbour.
My neighbour, wise man that he is, knew that he needed to rest on his journey and he also knew that he needed food for his journey.
If you have never thought of it perhaps it is time that you asked yourself the question, ‘what food does God give me to help me on the journey of life?’
The secular world is taking so much away from us and what is sad is that we are letting it. But deep inside we all know that we are not just animals, chattels of rich men who want to use us only as units of production.
When you begin to think about it, describing life as a journey has some other implications. What separates a journey from a Sunday afternoon spin in the car?
When you go out for a spin you have no destination in mind; you are aimlessly driving around looking to see what the neighbours a bit further afield are doing to their houses and gardens.
“Oh, I see so and so has built a new conservatory at the side of the house. I didn’t hear about that, I’ll have to tell Mary when I get home about this,” is the type of conversation that you hear when you are out for a spin.
A journey is a different kettle of fish altogether, it has a definite starting point and a definite end; you set off from A and head towards B. My neighbour left Clady and pointed his car towards Cork, and every turn he took on the road was taken in order to bring him nearer to his destination.
When we speak of life as a journey, we must have a definite starting point and a definite destination in mind.
The starting point is obviously birth: figure out the destination for yourself. Perhaps you want to be a millionaire, but where do you go when you have the first million made?
Or maybe you want to be a film star, but even John Wayne must have gotten used to seeing his face on the big screen.
If you have no destination in mind then you are not on a journey, you are out for a Sunday afternoon spin.
God, the promise of heaven and the resurrection that we celebrate this week, all give our life a definite end and destination. That is why the seasons of the Church year, the feasts and Sunday’s are so important; these are the times when we are supposed to think about what is going on in life.
If you have not thought about death and resurrection, about the horrors of life as shown in Korea and God’s answer to these issues, then you have missed the whole purpose of Easter, and it has probably been no more than a holiday to you; a rest for a workhorse.
Here we are seeing the real difference between those who embrace the secular life and the life of the believer. For the secularist, seasons are times only to take rest from work in order to increase productivity in the next season; days and weeks are the aimless passing of time, ever leading towards oblivion.
For the Christian, a season is a time to reflect on something very important and to try to enter into the experience of that season. For example, during Holy Week, which we have just left, it is natural that we think of the passion of Christ and what he went through as he approached Good Friday.
We should also have applied this to our own lives and reflected what it meant for the poor people of Korea who are mourning the death of so many children. The passion of the Lord has a lot to say to us about those times in our own lives when we are suffering and anxious, and it is a fool who never reflects upon these things.
And now we are into what the Church calls the Octave of Easter. This is because the resurrection is such a huge feast that one day is not enough for it; we need eight days to celebrate the rising of Jesus from the dead!
Did you know that technically speaking, every Sunday is a feast of the resurrection?
The resurrection is so important in the life of the Church that it has a feast every week!
Why is this?
The promise that after this life there is another life where we shall have our bodies, be together with God and those we love, enables us in some small way to make sense of the world around us. It is the destination on a sometimes horrible journey, as the people of Korea know, and it is also the destination of a beautiful joyful journey, as my friend who got married last week knows.
The seasons of the Church year offer us hope and should give us the courage to go on in life, living always in anticipation of better days to come. They are beacons in an otherwise mundane life.
The poor old secularist has Sunday as a day of rest for a workhorse, a mindless producer with no real end except oblivion. He will tell you that no God could allow all this badness to happen.
Jesus knew a thing or two about badness, betrayal, pain and suffering; and so did his mother Mary. But he kept going towards his destination and in the end the Father had a wee surprise for us all.
I’m still a big child at heart. I think I’ll follow the God of surprises and leave the know-all secularist to be a workhorse; it will pay better dividends in the end!
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