For much of my adult life I have lived in areas that really offered only three of the four seasons. In the Deep South summer faded into a blended autumn and winter; by February, hints of spring were already evident. On the other hand, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula we only gave a passing nod to summer, as snow flurries were not unheard of in August. California’s High Desert seemed to know only weather extremes — blazing hot and bitter cold.
It’s only over the last decade of living in Northern Virginia that I’ve experienced a true movement through all four seasons. Currently the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges of fall have completed their crescendo and are slowly fading towards the browns of winter. My cooking also reflects this transition, as the berries, peppers, tomatoes, and corn of summer have given way to the apples, roots, and squash of fall. Soon the fresh produce will stop and I’ll make do with the canned, frozen, and dried provisions I’ve set aside to get us through the winter.
The Rhythm of the Church Seasons
There’s something very calming and stabilizing about living in the rhythm of the seasons. It teaches us to appreciate the beauty and bounty of each day no matter what it is. We can’t demand balmy weather in January any more than we can insist on snow in July. Every season patiently waits its turn; we learn patience as we follow each season from beginning to end.
The Church understands the value of a seasonal rhythm, and gives us the liturgical calendar to mark our spiritual seasons. We now close in on the end of the Church year, and will soon celebrate the liturgical New Year’s Day on the first Sunday of Advent. This season is far more than a prequel to Christmas: it’s a call to repentance and preparation for the coming of Christ.
Importantly, this coming of Christ refers to both the past coming of Christ at the Nativity and the future coming of Christ at the end of time. An Advent lived well can be a time of great spiritual growth and renewal. Don’t lose sight of this season because you are too focused on Christmas Day.
Remember, too, that Christmas is a season, not just a single day. We sing about the twelve days of Christmas, but how many people lose the Christmas spirit long before Epiphany? Traditionally Epiphany was celebrated on January 6; however, most countries have transferred the celebration to a Sunday. This year Epiphany is celebrated on Sunday, January 3rd. Go ahead and play your carols and leave the decorations up for the entire Christmas season.
The liturgical year then moves into ordinary time, but there’s nothing mundane or ordinary about it. The name is derived from the way we designate the Sundays with the ordinal numbers first, second, third, and so on. Ordinary time can be thought of as a bridging season that help us transition from Christmas to Lent, or from Easter to Advent, in much the same way that spring brings us out of winter into summer or fall eases us from summer into winter. They’re valuable seasons in their own right and shouldn’t be dismissed as secondary or unimportant.
Of course, the high holy seasons of Lent and Easter mark the pinnacle of our faith. Christ lived, died, and rose again for our salvation. During Lent we acknowledge our desperate need for both mercy and salvation. Through fasting, prayer, and alms giving we strive for holiness, all the while knowing that it is only through the grace of Easter that we will attain everlasting life.
New Liturgical Year’s Resolutions
In just under four weeks from now we’ll turn the page and begin a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. Perhaps now is a good time to make some “New Year’s resolutions”. Instead of thinking about how we’re going to exercise more, lose weight, and get more organized, we can think about how we will focus on and appreciate each season of the Church year.
A good starting point is to make use of the daily Mass readings. Even if you can’t make it to Mass every day, reading the Scripture assigned for each day sets the tone of the season. Just as the natural seasons nourish our bodies with different foods, the liturgical seasons nourish our spirits with different Biblical lessons.
I’ve also found that only paying attention to the Sunday Mass readings is like reading the abridged version of a book. You get the major themes and plot lines, but lose a lot of the nuances and connections. The daily readings smooth the transition from Sunday to Sunday.
Obtain and display a Catholic calendar that lists the various feast days. It’s clear that we Catholics love to celebrate, since most days are designated as a Feast of something or someone. Use this as a prompt to read about and ask the intercession of the saint of the day. Maybe you can prepare a meal to mark the occasion.
Angel hair pasta is a good way to honor the Feast of the Archangels. Think about having candles blessed on the Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas. Celebrate grandparents on the Feast of Saints Anne and Joaquin. The possibilities for marking so many feast days are endless.
Living in the Rhythm
However, the liturgical calendar provides more than a ready excuse to have a party. It’s a wonderful tool for catechesis. Through the readings and the feast days and the lives of the saints we delve more deeply into the rich treasury of our faith.
By learning to order our lives with the rhythm of the Church we put God in the center of our lives. He is no longer confined to the periphery or restricted to Sunday mornings. We welcome Him into every day and every hour. As we move into the new liturgical year let us pray and resolve to rely less on the schedules and deadlines of the world. Instead we will strive to pace our lives according to the seasons of Christ and His Church.