The 2008-2009 Christian Liturgical Year: The End of Christian Illusions About Worldly Power?

We’re approaching the end of a liturgical year. This Sunday, November 23, is the Solemnity of Christ the King and those Christians who follow some version of the traditional Christian calendar will celebrate His reign over all that He created with Father and Holy Spirit. Then we begin advent and the preparation for the coming of the Son of God in the humble form of a human baby.

What seems remarkable in our current political and moral circumstances is that extreme liturgical transition from divine kingship to a humble birth to a woman married to a man who was traditionally seen as a poor carpenter though he might have been a middle-class home-builder (at best) according to some biblical historians. Seeing Jesus grow and reveal Himself as the Son of God, we’ll then understand the humbling nature of His incarnation.

We’re also well into a period in which some of the formerly Christian nations of the West have been humbled because they strayed from both the common-sense rules for human behavior which can be read from the books of God’s nature and also the more demanding rules which Christ laid down in the parables and the Sermon on the Mount. Our Lord Jesus Christ lived according those rules to the point where He conquered evil by refusing to fight it but instead submitting to the will of the Father who bestows various blessings and curses upon the good and the evil alike. Yet, we were deluded into thinking we had but to attend Sunday church services and avoid the more distasteful sins to bring upon ourselves both spiritual and material blessings. In avoiding even the sin of wrongful speech, Job asked, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”, [Job 2:10b in RSV, Catholic Edition]. Why would we have thought we had less need than the Son to learn how to obey God, to accept His blessings and curses alike? Is it not sufficient that we’re promised a share in God’s own life if we respond with the tiniest amount of faith or the tiniest desire for salvation as promised by the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we have an equal need for physical safety and comfort, for power to impose our political system or our view of Christ’s teaching upon infidels, for recognition — even from our victims — of our righteousness?

When God hasn’t always cooperated with our supposed needs for worldly goods and worldly power, various centralized governments of the West have stepped in to compensate for the failures of the Almighty and for the failures of the natural communities of His children. Those central powers, Powers and Principalities as St. Paul would have called them, did their job well enough to draw us out of our natural communities, families and churches and neighborhoods. Now, the Powers themselves have failed and we, who sold our freedom and our ways of making our livings in return for the promises of those Powers, are heading into times which will be very difficult at best. Some say that our problems would end soon if the bureaucrats and elected officials of our central governments would just go on vacation for a while. I’m in support of that vacation but I also see that we’ve reorganized our individual and community lives to assume that the promises and threats of the Powers and Principalities to guarantee our safety and prosperity can be realized. Even if our government were to go on vacation, or more properly — were to limit itself to its legal and moral activities as defined in the Constitution, we still face a generation or more of rebuilding human communities and recovering our abilities to make livings rather than to depend upon central governments and international corporations to provide us with jobs.

I point towards the suffering we’ll soon endure because of these political and economic problems only to gain the attention of the reader. We Christians need to remember Christ’s humble life and His refusal to take charge and act in the way of a prideful and sinful human leader.

We need to be active and not passive in dealing with the world but we need to be active in the way of the Twelve and the other apostles, a way that will also respect human nature with its capabilities and limitations. That is, we need to make the proper sacrifices and exert all possible energies to deal with concrete problems, to feed our children and ourselves and the poor around us, to preach the Good News by deed and word, to stand firm before evil without confronting it on its own terms. We must stand firm before Pilate with his skeptical query, “What is truth?” knowing that we have the truth, a truth which sets us free, a truth that teaches us to love our mortal lives in God’s Creation but also demands we serve the truth even by freely giving up those lives.

We must be willing to do what is right no matter what the consequences. The question, “What is right?” might well be very complicated when we’re responsible for others though I think it clear that we have no right to avoid difficult or even fatal decisions to protect ourselves. This is not to say we should seek any sort of martyrdom but we seem to be entering a period of history when various sorts of martyrdom will be seeking Christians who live according to their professed beliefs. Most who struggle to truly follow Christ in the next few decades of hardship will do so by serving the brothers and sisters of Christ. How many Catholics and Lutherans and Methodists will be willing to gain their lives by giving them up to revivals of religious orders, secular or ordained, active or devoted to prayer? How many will fill in as the various government services to sick or disabled children, to the elderly, to the mentally disabled or mentally sick, disappear? How many will prove themselves unable to think of charity in terms other than the degraded and materialistic terms of the West in its current sad state?

I have no desire to be either optimistic or pessimistic about the material goodness of life on earth over the next few years, though I have little doubt that some will manage to live well even while living a morally good life but it’s likely that most who live well will do so by compromising their spiritual and moral integrity. Being myself a middle-class American coward, I’ll try to concentrate on helping to create the possibilities of a God-centered and morally well-ordered life. That way, I don’t have to think so much about the likely hardships. It may be helpful to put aside considerations of consequences when making difficult moral decisions. In that vein, I’m going to try to put up at least one blog entry a week over the next liturgical year — the 2008-2009 liturgical year begins with the First Sunday of Advent on 2008/11/30.

These blog entries will be Bible-centered meditations which follow the liturgical year, a year that helps sacramental Christians to live in some sort of rhythm with the life of the Son of God as He is born and grows into manhood and then takes upon Himself a mission that leads to His suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection into Glory. Oddly enough, the climax of the story — Easter Sunday — occurs relatively early in the liturgical year but it is a year that compresses 40 years of often hidden wonders into but one year. A liturgical year which was well-ordered to Christ’s life on earth would, in fact, be impossible if we honor the connection between Passover and Easter and also the historically doubtful but otherwise valid connection between the birth of Jesus and the depth of winter. In any case, the liturgical year is what it is because of not only Christ’s life on earth but also the rhythms of the Jewish liturgical year, rhythms which our Lord accepted into His own life.

My meditations will be an effort to serve God and His children by following those rhythms in a special way for the entirety of a liturgical year. I expect many humbling failures and I pray for a few modest successes.

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