Understanding the Church Year

As we begin our new liturgical year on this First Sunday of Advent, here is my homily about our understanding of time and the seasons.

1st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
St. Jan’s 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m..
Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44
November 28, 2010
We often talk in terms of “things” because it is the principal way in which we experience the world we live in.  There is another important factor in the way we experience the world – time.

We mark the passage of time as our years go on.  We experience the passage of time in two principal ways; day and year.  We have more divisions of time; seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, and months.  

But we experience the passage of time in the day because of the rotation of the Earth, the cycle of light in night and day are very obvious to us.  Likewise, we experience the passage of a year, is experiences in the seasons.  

While everyone has their own natural rhythms, for most the cycle of the day and year are important factors in our natural rhythms.  Most people prefer to be active when the sun is out and rest in the darkness.  Likewise, the passage of seasons influences when we spend outdoors, when we vacation, or when we might travel south for the winter.

 The church understands how these cycles of day and year are important for us.  So, the church has established a liturgical calendar based on a yearly cycle with seasons.  

Most people only experience the Sunday cycle but there is also a daily cycle of readings.  And the year, of course, is broken up into seasons.  These seasons are based on the two most important days of the year, Christmas and Easter.

From Easter, we determine the dates of Lent, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the dates of the Easter season, Ascension Thursday, and Pentecost.

 From Christmas, we determine the dates of Advent, Holy Family Sunday, Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord.

 Since we are beginning Advent and approaching Christmas, that is our focus today.  For the secular world, Christmas decorations have started appearing.  Thanksgiving Parades often include Christmas at the end.  For the shopping world, Christmas seems to begin last Friday, with the Black Friday shopping sales.

For the Church, Christmas has not begun.  Christmas does not begin until Christmas itself.  But we do not celebrate it just as a day.  No, the Church too celebrates Christmas as a season with several significant days in the season.

Of course, Christmas day itself is the most important because it is the birthday of our savior.  Then, the Sunday after Christmas is generally Holy Family Sunday.  Jesus was not born into an abstract world.  Jesus was born into a family with Mary and Joseph so we honor the family.

Then, comes the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, recognizing Mary’s role in the birth of our savior but that role did not end in his birth but continued as she raised Jesus.

Then comes the Epiphany, the visit of the magi, who come to see the infant Jesus, understanding the importance of Jesus’ birth and finally the Christmas season concludes with the celebration of Jesus’ Baptism, which begins his public ministry.

All of these events are important to our faith.  The fact that Jesus, as the Son of God, was willing to come into the world as a human infant, and to experience life as we experience, is central to understanding what it means to be Christian.

It is so important that we have a season just to get ready for it.  That is where we are at now, just beginning the season of Advent.  

So, Advent is a time of preparation.  There are always four Sundays in Advent.  On each of this Sundays we are invited (through the readings) to think about the coming of Jesus into the world.  

Jesus has/will come into the world twice.  The first coming is what we celebrate at Christmas, his human birth.  The second coming is his coming at the end of the ages.  This is the coming we need to prepare ourselves for.  

As a time of preparation, Advent is a penitential time, meaning we are called to reflect on our readiness for the Second Coming (that’s why the priest and deacon wear purple).  

But this doesn’t mean we are terrible people that should feel awful about the things we have done.  Yes, we need to think about the sins we have committed and seek the Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and we need to seek the grace to do better.

But we do so knowing that we have a God who loves us so much as to be willing to become human.  That’s why we focus on both the First Coming and the Second Coming during Advent.  

Today’s readings focus very much on the Second Coming.  Over the next four weeks our readings will shift to the First Coming of Christ.  The four week cycle is symbolized by our Advent Wreath.

What do you need to seek reconciliation for in this time and what grace do you need to do better?

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