Graces in every season

By Father Richard S. Jones

Chaplain, UPMC Mercy Hospital
The New Liturgical Year

On a typical weekend in the United States, about 15 million Catholics go to Mass at 17,000 Catholic parishes, where they hear about 70,000 homilies drawn from identical Scripture passages.

God’s people come week in and week out, to receive the Eucharist and to hear the Good News. The sacrament gives us the grace and strength we need to live out the lessons in the homily. Our goal for this new year, and for every year, should be to put into practice what we learn from the pulpit.

As a priest, I view each homily as the fulfillment of my vocation. It is a liturgical act of praise, a work of charity, a gospel mandate, a moment of grace, and a happy encounter between God’s grace and my best efforts. I want to fulfill what Augustine described as the three goals for preaching:

  • To teach (about the mystery celebrated)
  • To delight (touch the heart)
  • To sway (inspire—move to conversion)

Every human being desires the truth, every person longs for beauty, and every human heart wants what is good. The goal of preaching is to feed those human hungers with the Word of God.

All of us have constant access to the Word of God. The average American household has 4.4 Bibles. However, nearly 60% of Americans read the Bible fewer than five times a year. One of the best New Year resolutions you can make – and it is never too late – is to pick up a Bible and start reading. You can prepare yourself to receive the sermon by reading the passages ahead of time using a missal from your parish or a website such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops daily readings.

These readings guide us through the liturgical calendar, helping us to experience all of its seasons, feasts and holy days. Each new year and season of grace challenges each of us to stretch, grow, and mature in faith.

The liturgical year presents, relives and transmits the entire scope of the mystery of Christ. And, year after year, like a tree adding new rings to its growth, we grow towards greater maturity in Christ.

The liturgical year centers on three great theological ideas that form the heart of Christian revelation — divine light, life, and love.  

  • The Christmas-Epiphany mystery (preceded by four weeks of Advent) focuses on the theological idea of light.
  • The Easter-Ascension mystery (preceded by the six-week preparation of Lent) focuses on the theological idea of divine life.
  • The Pentecost mystery (preceded by 10 days of preparation after the Ascension) focuses on the theological idea of divine love.

Another 33 or 34 weeks in the liturgical calendar do not celebrate one particular mystery, but honor the whole ministry of Jesus. These weeks are called “Ordinary Time.”  Its name is rooted in the Latin for “number,” because the weeks were numbered. But “ordinary” time leads to extraordinary life. The scripture passages that we read in Ordinary Time, especially on Sundays, lead us through the life of Jesus, helping us to walk with Him as our “ordinary” way of living.

The ancient Greeks had two words for time, Chronos and Kairos. Chronos means time in the quantitative sense – what we can count and divide into minutes, days, and years. We measure chronos on our calendars, and planners — it is a time that’s always running out on us! 

Kairos, on the other hand, means time in the qualitative sense. It can’t be measured at all. It is characterized by what happens within us:  “time to grow up,” “time to act,” or “time to apologize.”

Christians should use our chronos – our minutes, days, weeks and years – to enter into the kairos to which God is calling us. Is it a time of prayer, a time of conversion, a time of sacrifice, a time of mercy? Those are the times we most need to pay attention to.

Yet most of us are impatient. We are focused on chronos and live in the tyranny of the urgent. God may not come when we want, but God will always be on time.  Since God loves exceedingly, God’s grace is always nudging, helping, supporting, healing. So, in the liturgy, eternal time penetrates each moment through chronological time.

Christ is present throughout all time—past, present, and to come.  Each year, each month, each week, each day, each moment, each one of us is given the precious gift of time, to grow in faith, to live in hope, and to share love. All time yields to the timeless, to the mysterious Eternal One, to God.