All Ages Belong to Him – Pastor’s Reflection (April 30, 2017)
As I write these lines on Monday, April 24, we have come to the end of the Easter Octave. For those of us who try to live by the liturgical cycle this marks the first full tilt work day since before Holy Thursday. Clergy are expected to be recovered from their paschal exertions and at their stations, ready to do business. World events conspire with the calendar to keep us vigilant.
Currently, we wonder about a shutdown of the federal government, and we ponder the second round of France’s Armageddon of a presidential election. Everywhere there appear new things to no longer be taken for granted. But if the sinews of the present grow brittle, the eternity operating within us offers a crucial perspective on the fragility of the moment. Answering that question, and delivering that answer, will be the work of preachers. Our own preaching patrons, Catherine of Siena and Vincent Ferrer addressed their times with prophetic authority precisely because they regarded eternity as more real than their immediate crises.
This issue becomes important for us in marking out the middle ground between obsessing about our situation and hiding from it. Our summons to witness demands that we engage with social realities as people for whom eternal life has become tangible already through the sacraments. The principles of this encounter flow from the ancient words we speak in the dark every Easter Vigil. As the celebrant carves the four numerals of the current year into the wax of the Paschal Candle he says. “Christ yesterday and today, the
Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to Him, and all the ages. To Him be glory and power through every age. Amen.”
This establishes the principle that every age of culture, politics, commerce, and science serves God’s plan for the human race. If God uses each age, we must live in each age. Consider that the Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire, then became an institution of it, and ultimately lived through the trauma of its fall. In the Middle Ages the Church became integrated into the feudal system and in the Renaissance as a major patron of the arts. Christ’s Body has passed through the storms of Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Revolution. In succession Capitalism, Nationalism, Fascism, Communism, and Secularism have each challenged our place in the social fabric. In each of these ages, and from each of these movements, we have learned more about Christ and His Gospel, and about the essential power of the sacramental way of life He bequeathed to us.
At the same time, carrying with us the vocation of prophecy, the Church also offers a critique of her times as to mores, methods, and convictions.
If she had not the promise of the Resurrection we could not fulfill this complicated vocation. As it is, we already carry with us eternal life – the one thing that no age can take from us; and so the Church can be humbly and authoritatively present in each age. When we draw on this tremendous heritage, we learn from every movement but do not allow ourselves to be co-opted by any of them.
The Second Vatican Council offers a sterling example of the Church serenely learning from the times and critiquing them. But think how much has changed since 1965! We will not be done with the work of engagement until days are done.
In this age we, the Church, behold a technological revolution and its ramifications for each aspect of human life. The work place is not the same, nor is politics. The patterns of domestic life have changed, but then so has the way people relate to social institutions, including religious ones. The pace and expanse of communication continues to accelerate. It will be for us to learn from these developments and not just in practical ways like online donation and having a Facebook page. We also have to survey these changes in the light of the Easter Candle. They will give us new insights into Christ as He comes to us in the Scriptures and Sacraments. We will gain new perceptions of what it means to be just, temperate, courageous, and prudent, and new forms of art will serve the presentation of the Gospel. The significance of the human person will become more apparent, not less.
But as the age pushes us back to a rereading of all that has been given to us, our tradition will impel us toward a charitable critique of our times. This work of prophecy is ours from the Font, and we will not worship with integrity if we do not fulfill this commission.
The life flowing from Christ’s Resurrection keeps us serenely in this place of engagement, because we have learned that there will be another age for us to deal with after this one. When no new age comes we will be home.