Church New Year:  Curing the summertime blues!

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” [Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19].

Tuesday, September 1, 2015, marks the beginning of the Church Year.  This is an overlooked commemoration, but I do believe that with more attention, it can be an important day/date in our ecclesial lives, for the simple reason that it is a “beginning,” and beginnings present us with the possibility of starting fresh, if not actually starting over.  It can be the occasion for a genuine “reorientation”—an interesting word that literally means being “directed back towards the east”—the “orient”—the direction that the early Christians faced in prayer, symbolic of the light of Christ and, as such, is closely linked to repentance.  If the summer was a time of being scattered here and there, both literally and figuratively, then the Church New Year is a time of being gathered together, soul and body, to redirect our lives toward Christ.  Curiously, it is the time of year for some of the faithful to “get used to” coming to church with regularity again—as in “the ‘vacation’ from God and the Church is now over and it is time to get back to Church on a regular basis.”  Obviously, there are more than out-of-town vacation trips at work here.  Thus, even though the song says, “there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues,” we can say with confidence that there indeed is—in the Church!

Be that as it may, September 1 prepares us for the annual liturgical cycle of feast days—or, rather, the rhythm of fasting and feasting that immerses us into the “counter-cultural” life of the Church that challenges the patterns, attitudes and emptiness of our surrounding secular culture.  Instead of a hectic life based on competition and consumerism, we have before us the grace-filled life of the Church based on cooperation and communion.  The “world” offers us the Kingdom of Mammon; the Church offers us the Kingdom of God.  Our inability to make a firm choice between the two is rather amazing when one contemplates the two choices.  For, as another song says, you “can’t get no satisfaction” from mammon.  The fate of mammon is to be consumed by “moth and rust” [Matthew 6:19].  The gifts of the Kingdom are imperishable.  So as to make sure that I am not sounding naive or simplistic, I openly acknowledge the evident tension we feel between the Church and “world” (here using the word in its more negative sense of a life directed toward the self and consumed with the passions), for the obvious reason that we are seeking the Kingdom while immersed in the (fallen) world.  That often feels like being caught is a maze or labyrinth.  We lose our way at times.  We struggle with choices.  It is a veritable “bungle in the jungle,” as yet another song says.  However, to sincerely embrace the vision of the Church directed toward Christ and His Kingdom, it gives us the opportunity of living out, to some degree hopefully, the familiar but meaningful phrase of “being in the world but not of the world.”

Immersion in the life of the Church, to the extent that it is possible for us, is a sure way of clarifying our vision once and for all and of making an honest attempt to be Kingdom-oriented Christians.  As Father Lev Gillet has written, “In the liturgical year we are called to relive the whole life of Christ: from Christmas to Pascha, from Pascha to Pentecost, we are exhorted to unite ourselves to Christ in his birth and in his growth, to Christ suffering, to Christ dying, to Christ in triumph and to Christ inspiring His Church.  The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from His birth to full stature of the perfect man.”

With a bit of planning and prioritizing, we can make that immersion a greater reality in our lives.  Instead of hanging up our church calendars as pious adornments or reminders of an archaic way of life, we can utilize them as a means of directing us toward the life in Christ.  From feast days and daily commemorations to scriptural readings, our liturgical calendars are like maps, revealing the location of true treasure worth “digging for.”  Without exhausting ourselves in the process, we do not have to lose the “battle of the calendars.”  Life is made up of daily choices, and some of those choices can direct us toward the Church.  It is certainly a path worth making some sacrifice for.

I am not advocating an artificial split between our “religious life” and our “secular life.”  The point is not to choose one and ignore the other.  That would only be a form of compartmentalization that is quite foreign to the Gospel.  Our whole life has been saved and redeemed.  For the believing Christian there is only one life—the life “in Christ”—and that is the life we lead in obedience to the Lord and Master of our lives, Jesus Christ.  Christianity is not a religion among religions, but a way of life that embraces Liturgy to work and everything else that sets us apart as human beings.  Choosing the Gospel as “the one thing needful” will establish a hierarchy of values, however, in which all reality has its place.  But I do believe that if we start with our ecclesial life in the Church, then that will all make more sense in the process.

“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2].