Anno Domini 2011
The New Year is the most noticeable change in time on the secular calendar. This year I did what I normally do not do anymore on New Year's Eve - I stayed up past midnight. The strange thing is I did not stay up to watch the ball drop at Times Square nor was I at a party with friends. This year I went downtown to pick up my daughter who was ice skating with friends. Staying up for my daughter on a night like that is a real reminder of the change in time. Instead of driving downtown to attend some outing of my own now it was simply a routine trip to pick up my daughter who was having an outing of her own with friends. This, surprisingly, was not as bothersome as I expected and yes, she had fun.
Earlier I did attend a church service on New Year's Eve with the family and briefly attended a gathering of families so the evening was not without my own events to attend, although I am quite fine with a quiet New Year's Eve at home.
A most noticeable change on the church calendar is the return of the "Glory to God in the highest" of the Christ-mass following the Kyrie in the liturgy. Christmas Eve is about the only evening left in the entire year where I gladly stay up past midnight. This, of course, is for good reason.
The family enjoyed a brief trip to St. Louis after the mass of Christmas Day. After a few days of rest we returned to Milwaukee just in time for 2011. St. Stephen, St. John, The Holy Innocents. The church year is full of great reminders of God's grace in Christ and in the lives of His people. We are not always aware of the rich Scripture readings and the taste of heaven that we pass by with the passage of time. It is a busy and festive time also in a secular sense.
While I was walking around the rink to find my daughter I was asked by a member of a Muslim family to take their picture by the outdoor Christmas tree. Although I am not much of a picture taker I gladly obliged and the pictures turned out just fine. Finally, sometime after the clock passed midnight I found my daughter and her friends and we headed home.
One dictionary defines "secular" as "denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis." I looked up both "secularism" and "fundamentalism" in the dictionary as I contemplated some of the issues that affect the lives of people and cause them to lose sight of calendars not their own. For Christians the new year has already come and gone with the First Sunday of Advent.
In the fulness of time the Lord came, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. God with us. For the Christian this is the blessed Incarnation, prior to the Cross the greatest change in time. The other great event on the church calendar is the Resurrection. The secular calendar helps us order our lives. The church calendar is about meetings of time and eternity. The Word made flesh.
In our time we witness the rage of fundamentalism on Christians overseas. Meanwhile secularism quietly steals away time at home, leading us not only to downplay the more minor feasts on the church calendar but even those of greatest import in God's plan of salvation. Both fundamentalism and secularism are extreme reaches of man's deeper problem of sin. Sin is connected to death and light is connected to life.
Each day brings its cycle of light and darkness to light again. Each life is full of the things of time - work, play, relaxation, entertainment. There is a time and a season for everything under the sun. Already we are filling up the dates on the calendar for 2011.
Outside of the secular, or non-spiritual or non-religious, time and yet together with the same time is sacred or "holy" time. A Christian once told me it is called "baptism" not "Holy Baptism." The church may be in the world but the secular is also in the church. We may be struck by the extremes of fundamentalism in the world and secularism in the church but one great loss in the church is that of sacred or holy time. Baptism is holy because it is "God with us." The Eucharist is holy because it is "God with us" in His Body and Blood. Absolution is holy because it is "God with us."
As sinners we are tempted to compare ourselves with others. This is the error of sin. How many are not comfortable in church simply because of such unnecessary comparisons? The church calendar is not a measurement of holiness but an opportunity to see "God with us" sinners all. He who gave up His only begotten Son is for us. Who can be against us? We do well to follow Mary in the fulness of His grace. Mary says, "Let it be done to me, according to your Word." Mary's firstborn Son is born.
As Christmas approaches the Epiphany it crosses over the noticeable change in time of the new year. After eight days Mary's Son is circumcised. Following the New Year of secular time the church rehearses the naming of Jesus. "He shall save His people from their sins."
Yesterday, in the liturgy on the first Sunday after New Year's Day I could not help but appreciate in the new year of secular time the first procession of the cross toward the altar and the blessedness and salvation associated with the most holy name of Jesus. What better way to begin a new year? What greater name to bear each day as baptized believers do in the church and in this world? What greater meaning has been given to time in our day? Knowing and understanding time as we do, what better way to come to know that which is eternal than through Him Who comes to us?
In nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur, coelestium, terrestrium, et infernorum . . .