While at a local business in early November, the proprietor asked me if I was ready for the holidays. He was clearly referring to Christmas and not Thanksgiving, given that he gestured toward his radio which was playing Christmas music. But upon reflection, I am grateful for his question because it brought into my consciousness, albeit a bit abruptly, a reminder that approaching the holiday season means we are coming to the end of the liturgical year. The end of the liturgical cycle carries a strong message that time is a precious gift which we are to receive and to use carefully. To use our time wisely means having a balanced approach; it is not better to work than to recreate, it is not better to read a book than it is to write one, nor is it better to spend time in prayer than it is to reach out to someone in service (or vice versa); rather all of these things are good if done in a balanced way. It can pose quite a challenge, but if we are working consciously at balancing our activities, leisure, prayer, acts of service, and responsibilities, then perhaps we are making good use of the gift of time. And especially if we offer this gift to others, such as time spent with God in which we listen more than talk, or time with an elderly or homebound friend in which we help them to feel less alone simply by being there, then we have given something quite precious indeed. It is for this reason that at the end of the liturgical year the Church gives us constant reminders that time is short and our attention should be focused not only on the return of Christ the King, but on our own desire to spend eternity with Him, a reality which is priceless beyond imagining.
The liturgical readings and prayers in November encourage us to reflect upon the end of time, whether it is the end of our time on earth or the end of time generally, that is, the Second Coming of Christ. The month began with the Solemnity of All Saints followed by All Souls’ Day. Each of these celebrations is meant for reflection upon those who have gone before us, as well as to turn our attention toward our own spiritual progress. In addition to celebrating the saints, All Saints Day is a reminder that we are all called to holiness; while not many will be canonized, we are nonetheless called to holiness – (and a real humility-builder is to realize that not only will we probably not be canonized, but after the passage of time we may not even be remembered on earth!) Thus, becoming holy is a gift we offer to God; a holy life is a life lived for others, not self. Holiness is about kenosis, that is, a continuous pouring out of self for God through acts of sacrifice, kindness, goodness, justice, mercy, and love.
All Souls’ Day should remind us not only of praying for our beloved dead and of utilizing their intercessory prayers, but it is a day in which we recognize our own mortality. Therefore, these two celebrations are not simply about remembering the holy ones who have gone before us, but they also provide an opportunity to consider how we have lived our lives in the past, how we are currently living, and how we want to live in the future. These solemnities are a gift insofar as they encourage us to look into the light of eternity and consider what is important and what is not, what to build upon and what to let go of (or what needs healing through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.) These days are gifts because they remind us that while time may be short, we still have the opportunity to grow. As the saying goes, there is no time like the present.
While some of the Scriptures we hear in these last weeks can seem rather dire, others are quite hopeful and even joyful. (Again, we are reminded that there is a necessary balance needed to keep us from becoming either overwhelmed or a bit too laissez-faire.) One such uplifting Scripture is Psalm 84, which appears in the Morning Prayer cycle during this time. Its opening lines are a reminder of the home which awaits us at the end of our lives: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord.” (Ps 84:2-3) This provides a wonderful entry point for reflection on Heaven, perhaps using the way taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola: we visualize the ‘place,’ in this case Heaven, using our imagination. We can consider the ways in which Heaven is lovely, who we might meet, how we might encounter God there, what we might look like, etc., noting how we feel during this experience. Something to note in verse 4 is the suggestion that although the dwelling place of God is glorious, it is simultaneously humble! It reads, “Even the sparrow finds a home.…” This implies that Heaven is where the humble and the smallest of creatures are welcomed. Finally, the Psalm reminds us that those who enter Heaven will be happy: “Happy are they who dwell in your house…. I had rather one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” (Verse 5, 11) Therefore we can reflect upon this Psalm as a way to a deeper sense of that which awaits those who persevere through even the darkest of times.
At this time of year we hear from prophets such as Isaiah who says: “In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain, and all nations shall stream toward it…. One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (Isaiah 2:2-4) The world may not be all that peaceful at present, nor for that matter, has it ever been; but Isaiah reminds us that God’s peace will reign and the faithful will all be together as one. Therefore it is important that we receive these passages as invitations to ponder, reflect, make choices, and then to make changes in our lives if necessary. This season, then, is about preparing to prepare; that is, these words remind us that we need to do as Jesus instructed, to live the gospel, and if we need to make changes or to heighten our awareness, we need to prepare for action. Thus, we prepare for Advent which in itself is a time of preparation, with our thoughts directed toward the return of Jesus.
The readings and prayers of the end of the year are meant to help us remain balanced in our approach to time, no matter how long or short its length might be. Sometimes we need a sense of urgency in order to ‘get the picture,’ but the Scriptures presented are not necessarily meant to scare us. Rather, they act as reminders that all is passing. Jesus taught that we are not to store up material riches (on earth) which perish, but instead we should store up spiritual riches (for heaven) which come from a life spent in generosity and love. Therefore, as we end the liturgical year, and as we prepare for the new one which follows, it would be wise to accept the message as a gift to help us place our attention upon eternity, the lovely dwelling place for which we long, and the One with whom we will spend it.
May we receive the gift contained in the message of these weeks and then make a fitting return of that gift to the Lord! May we find inspiration in the lives of the Saints and holy ones! May we find consolation and hope in remembering our beloved dead, and may we ask their intercession for ourselves and for the world! May we persevere in times of struggle, trusting with faith and hope that all is in God’s hands, and that Jesus will come again! And may we find comfort and strength, wisdom and blessing in and through our reflection upon the Scriptures! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
1. My photo: Late Autumn foliage, taken while hiking at Lake George, N.Y.
2. Icon, The Second Coming of Christ the King by Fr. William Hart McNichols: This can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-second-coming-of-christ-the-king-149-william-hart-mcnichols.html
3. Painting: Old Woman with a Rosary by Paul Cézanne
4. My photo: North Sound, (near Stingray City), Grand Cayman
5. Photo: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati climbing a mountain, one of his favorite sporting activities
6. Painting: The Sheaf-Binder, Vincent van Gogh (1889)
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart