The cyclic rhythm of the Church’s liturgical season is a joy to me. Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, Ordinary Time, and return to Advent. Each has its own flavor, color, and message. The gradient journey shifts our attention to aspects of Christ’s life in its varied events and teachings. Moving through these seasons we cannot get too comfortable, or melancholy, in any particular one. And liturgical “flares” burst forth within them as Solemnities and Feast of Christ and the Blessed Virgin, and Memorials of saints and angels.
But no matter the season, we are always centered on the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and steeped in the magnificent Anamnesia of the Mass – the remembrance, memorial, and thanksgiving of the sacrifice and presence of Jesus, and anticipation of His return.
Perhaps “cycle of seasons” is not as accurate a phrase as “spiral of seasons.” Moving along the liturgical circle and repeating familiar prayers and traditions each year is helpful and faithful but does not indicate the profundity of growth that I seek. On the other hand, each time around a circle that is spiraled and splashed with the purple, gold, red, green, and white of the seasons, and accented with feasts and memorials, I am at a different vertical level of understanding – deepening in holiness or ascending to heaven, either direction works. Each time around I see something I had not noticed before, or I am gifted with a new perspective, or an incident in my life brings a richer celebration. Perhaps a lesson has matured, or an understanding is deepened, or a theological point is clarified. Same season on the circle, different level on the spiral.
For example, each Advent there can be a heavier sense of waiting, at Christmas an increased awe of Verbum Caro Factum Est, during Lent a more courageous accompaniment of the Suffering Servant, at Easter another glimpse at the power and glory of Jesus Risen. Ordinary Time is replete with miracles, sermons, admonitions, and mercy, the depths of which are inexhaustible.
Yet there is one liturgical season that is the undercurrent of my whole year – Advent. I feel the increasing darkness of that time of year as a warm comforter of rest and reflection, the chill of December as an incentive to dive under that comforter in quiet and solitude. The aggressive overload of the secular culture’s hijacking of the season is proof of the need to look to Christ as my source of happiness and abundance as I await His coming to me whenever it pleases Him. (Beside the fact is that purple is my favorite color).
Not that I resist the graces of all the other seasons, or that I do not celebrate each in the spirit they are intended. In each we celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In each we are nourished by the Eucharist. In each we have the Pascha Christi – Christ passing by – with His invitation to follow Him. And at home, I do enjoy changing my door hangings, centerpieces, and special collections in keeping with the seasons.
But Advent is the constant reminder that we are not there yet, a reminder of the need for wakefulness, the guarding against complacency, the desire to do and be for Him alone. The Advent Gospels -keeping our wicks trimmed, making a straight path for Him, staying awake – are precepts of daily life.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote of this quite beautifully and succinctly: “To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continually.”
Having entered into Ordinary Time of 2015, with Lent approaching, I was putting away the Nativity set, Santa collection, Christmas wreaths and cards, and red and gold arrangements. And I saw the Advent wreath. I had resisted putting it away at Christmas time, even as I moved it onto the balcony to make room for guests and poinsettias. I did not want to pack it away then, and I do not want to do so now. I have decided to keep it out all year as a reminder:
I wait in joyful hope for Jesus’ return. I wait in joyful hope that He will continue to reveal Himself to me in increasingly profound ways this year as I track the spiral of liturgical seasons, and as I go deeper into the silence and solitude of contemplative prayer. I wait in joyful hope that, just as He has brought people and circumstances into my life to bring me closer to Him, He will continue to do so throughout this year in order to further reveal His presence and glory which I can then share with others.
I may be out of season, but I am in training.