7.11.2008

Reflection from this past Sunday

Here are some reflections I gave last Sunday, on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

I hope that you all have had a wonderful holiday weekend so far. I was at a parade on Friday down in Norwood, and then went to the fireworks on Friday night downtown, and spent of the rest of the weekend relaxing, seeing friends, and getting some downtime in with my dogs. And I hope that you, like me, are grateful for this holiday, grateful for the fact that our country takes this holiday so seriously, this 4th of July, this feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. Known as “the Peacemaker” for the many wars she ended, mostly started by her husband and son, it’s fitting that our nation take time off to celebrate her memory every year, with fireworks in her honor, barbecues that recall her service of the poor, and domestic disagreements that remind us why she is the patron saint of difficult marriages.

Now, of course, I doubt that many of us spent too much time honoring Elizabeth of Portugal on Friday, and those of you visiting from out of town didn’t come to Boston to celebrate St. Elizabeth’s Day. But that gives me the opportunity on this Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time to reflect a little bit on the calendars in our lives, civic, social, liturgical, and on the importance of knowing what calendar you’re on. Because a calendar isn’t just a neutral reckoning of days. In our first reading, the prophet Zechariah proclaims that the Lord’s “dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” I want to reflect tonight with you upon God’s dominion as not only a reality in space, “to the ends of the earth”, but also a reality in time, “forever and ever.” Calendars are about dominion. Whose calendar, or calendars, are you on? The academic year? The fiscal year? Your child’s first year, or X years until retirement? An election year?

The striking proclamation of today’s readings is a proclamation reflected in the church’s calendar, in the very existence of this day called “Sunday”, the “first day of the week”, which used to be just another ordinary workday in the ancient world and particularly in the Jewish world of Jesus and the early church. Sunday used to be the equivalent of Monday morning. But now the resurrection of Christ on this first day of the week upends all that. This first day of creation has become the first day of a re-creation, a new creation, and we can no longer live as though God’s calendar had not erupted into our own calendars. And that’s why the holiday we celebrate today, even here in the United States, even here in the “cradle of liberty,” is not primarily the Fourth of July, but more humbly, more profoundly, the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

So how do we live as Catholic Christians and as Americans? How do we put together our civic calendars, as well as all our other calendars, together with God’s time?

The key to that, I think, is in our second reading from St. Paul, whose life and witness to Christ we celebrate in this year of St. Paul: the indwelling Spirit of Christ in our lives. Saint Paul provides our earliest model of negotiating following Christ in a culture full of different calendars. Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulists, predicted “in the union of Catholic Faith and American civilization...a future for the Church brighter than any past.” We, in this Paulist Center and chapel of the Holy Spirit, keep turning back to the same mystery, the mystery of the Spirit of God’s real, active presence in us and through us.

“The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” Paul writes and Isaac Hecker repeats. “Dwells – in – you.” If we don’t talk about that as much as we could, it’s because we might be a little bit frightened by how close God really is to us.

This Spirit teaches us a thing or two about our calendars.

This Spirit teaches us that all of our other calendars are grounded by God’s calendar, grounded by this first day of the week that was the first day of creation and is the first day of re-creation. Notice I didn’t say that our other calendars are “trumped” by this calendar – if we think that God’s calendar is in competition with our other calendars, if we think of the relation between our work calendar or our family calendar and God’s calendar as an “either/or” proposition, then what happens to our belief in the goodness of creation, the goodness of our lives, even the goodness of our country and its accomplishments? Paul tells us not to live according to the flesh, by which he means not to live as though this creation was the Creator. But he doesn’t say that the flesh is bad – he’d be a very poor Apostle and a very bad Jew if he didn’t believe in the ultimate goodness of creation.

But the Spirit does teach us that we need to center our lives and our calendars on God’s time, and not on our own times. Even this 4th of July weekend, we’re led by the Spirit to see that as wonderful as the gifts of our country are, it is fundamentally God’s dominion that is from sea to shining sea and also from day to day and year to year. Our celebration of Independence Day on Friday, as well as the celebration of all our other important days – our own birthdays and anniversaries, our academic successes and professional accomplishments – you can name your own – all of these are grounded in God’s time by our bringing them together in our celebration of Christ’s resurrection, the 14th Sunday in the church year, the 14th Sunday in ordinary time.



Now, this is freedom, and this is why Paul uses the language of freedom and of debt. Living in God’s dominion in time frees us from the pressure, the anxiety of trying to make our smaller calendars bear the weight of being the center of our lives. It’s like enjoying ourselves at a really good dinner – good food, good company, maybe some good wine – and looking up to realize that hours have gone by – living according to God’s time frees us from our nervous clockwatching, and puts our busy-ness into proper perspective. And so it’s not incidental that each week when we celebrate our ordinary, extraordinary salvation, we share a really good meal together.

As we continue our prayer today, let us pray to be more conscious of the Spirit of God dwelling within us. Let us pray that we may celebrate a weekend of rest and relaxation by celebrating the gift of our rest in Christ and his calendar. Let us pray for a Spirit of discernment in loving God’s creation well, and of loving it as grounded in the new time opened up for us in Christ.

And my prayer for all of you is a blessed and relaxing St. Elizabeth of Portugal weekend.