Fr Dwight Longenecker wrote about how most of the dioceses in the US have shifted the time-immemorial celebration of Ascension from Thursday to Sunday out of utilitarian reasons to get more people to attend this feast day:
"As a layman, I used to enjoy getting to church for weekday Holy Days of Obligation. Somehow it made the feast all the more special. It made me feel like I was really getting into the sanctification of Time--which is, after all, what liturgical calendars and lectionaries are all about."
Well, the point of this post is not to affirm support for the moving of Ascension Thursday to Ascension Sunday. (Many blogger in affected dioceses have complained!) Rather, on this feast day, I'd like to reflect on the idea of "sanctification of time" and my encounter with this idea. A short essay I read, A Christian View of History by Fr David Meconi, SJ, (original source link recently found here) reflected on how the various belief systems view time.
"In Christianity, time has a fundamental importance."
--Tertio Millennio Adveniente #1
Fr Meconi wrote that in the Catholic Church, "faith is neither a mere remembrance of the past nor is it merely the waiting for things to come." In the same Apostolic Exhortation quoted, our beloved Pope John Paul II emphasised that the Divine is not seen as existing "outside of the here and now"; but rather, the Divine is "fully available and definitively present" to the faithful in the present time: in particular, through the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The essay went on to compare three views of time: paganism, protestantism and post-modernism; and how in each, time is the enemy of one trying to access the Eternity.
Lent 2006 was a beginning of a hitherto unknown journey of discernment towards the Unknown. Easter 2006 was the first time I started an attempt to attend mass daily. It's been a whole year now; a full cycle of the liturgical calendar. This is the first full year in which I encountered (and celebrated!) so many feastdays and memorials of martyrs and saints of the Church, majority of which were unheard of before. When I wrote in last year's post about being "trapped our own 'cycles' of giddy joy and lowly blues in our relationship with God" and consequently "find that the Church's 'peaks' over Easter does not coincide with our own peaks", obviously I did not breathe with the same rhythm as the rest of the Church!
In fact, earlier this year, I wondered just how in some communities, certain feast days could be occasions of great communal joy when obviously, the members come from all walks of life facing different challenges at that particular point of time.. Is it possible for everyone to be joyful at the same time? Isn't it more likely that there is someone who thinks to himself, at the beginning of Lenten fasting and penance, "God, hasn't my entire Advent and Christmas been one long trial?" And when it comes to the boundless joy of Easter, there may be some who just emerged, or entered, into personal trial...
Fr Meconi's essay made an important byline implication in comparing the three different views of time. He concluded that in the Catholic Church, God is ever present, here & now; not sometime in the glorious past (as in pagan worship of long-gone myths), and not only sometime in the past & in the second coming (as in Protestantism devoid of the Real Presence) and He is not impossible to perceive (as in post-modernism). Thus, the necessary consequence is that God doesn't depend on our faith to exist, nor the epoch of our life to reveal Himself. Just as He doesn't cease to exist because one person believes and another may not, His existence and ongoing salvation is not less available to us who are in time that came two millennia after Jesus.
Time is indeed fulfilled by the very fact that God, in the Incarnation, came down into human history. Eternity entered into time: what 'fulfillment' could be greater than this?
--Tertio Millennio Adveniente #9
Looking beyond the challenges of human daily life, the Church's liturgical calendar stood like a firm 'anchor' in the sea of time. The pagan view of time, I must confess, is one which I, of pagan birth, would find most natural to ascribe to: that everything will pass away and that there has to be something in the past to cling to. Yet the Christian view of time does more than offer a past to cling to; it immersed us in that very sea of time, time that is sacred: "created by God and as such, time is purposeful and a sacramental through which the Divine is seen". The seasons and the feasts helped to bind me to the most perfect of reality: that even as our professional and personal concerns seem to fill our lives and turn our dispositions away from that of the Church, there is an eschatological reality that is more real than the brief lives we lead here on earth. To believe and act otherwise (e.g., that I really can't celebrate Ascension because my day has been awful and aspiring to ascend into Heaven is the last thing on my mind), is somewhat subscribing into the motto: sentio ergo sum.
Sum, in nostra aetate, ergo cogito. Sum, in nostra aetate, ergo sentio. Pardon the bad Latin.