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New year, new liturgical seasons

By Josh Perry

As we began Advent, the Church throughout the world ushered in a new liturgical year. We began again the annual observances with which we are very familiar. Advent, a time of hopeful waiting, gives way to the joyous celebrations of Christmas. Soon enough we find ourselves in the Lenten Season, with its disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. In the midst of spring, we celebrate the Resurrection of
Jesus at Easter, extending our feasting 50 days until Pentecost where we especially celebrate the Holy Spirit in our Church and in our lives. The long span of Ordinary Time follows; it is this time that points us to the life of Jesus Christ in all its aspects — not just His birth, not just His Passion, not just His Resurrection — but all of His life. And the cycle of the year comes — once again — to winter, and we find ourselves entering another Advent. Another Christmas. Another Lent. Another Easter. The cycle continues.
 
The occasion of the new year encourages us to look back on the year just passed and ahead on the year to come. We recall the past year — the joys and sorrows that we faced, the rights and wrongs that we may have done. Many of us then resolve to do something different in the coming year. A little more exercise. A better diet. Being nicer to siblings or children or parents. Maybe we resolve to go to church more, learn more about the faith or go back to confession. One of the most important reflections we can make is on how God was present in our lives in the past year and how might we respond to God’s presence in the year to come.
 
This process of looking back and looking forward is, I believe, essential to our personal growth and our growth as a Church. Without this reflection, the cycle of the liturgical year remains simply that — a cycle. If you “draw” the liturgical year on a piece of paper, you get a circle. But this process of looking back and looking forward — of reflecting on the past and making resolutions for our future — transforms that
circle. The circle becomes a spiral.
 
You see, a spiral is cyclical, but it doesn’t end up in the same spot. We celebrate Advents and Christmases, Lents and Easters year after year, but we are not the same people. Our past has shaped us, and our future might give us reason to hope (at least for a few weeks before we break our resolutions). I am not the same person I was five years ago, 10 years ago. My experiences have shaped me. Herein lies the beauty of observing the liturgical year. Passages from Scripture are repeated every three years both at Christmas and at Easter. The themes and disciplines of Advent and Lent do not change. But you and I have changed. And perhaps we will experience those same stories and experience those same disciplines in a different way, simply because we are different.
 
The upcoming diocesan synod is an extraordinary time for our Catholic Church in Vermont to reflect on its past and look forward to its future. In order for the synod to be fruitful, however, we need to take seriously the call to reflect on past, present and future. We can’t leave all this work simply for other people to do, just as we can’t delegate our own personal reflections over our lives in the new year (and
God forbid we have someone else make New Years resolutions for us!). As a Church, we reflect together with the help of the Holy Spirit. That reflection may lead to difficult conclusions and challenging resolutions ahead — just as our personal reflections might lead to challenging resolutions in our lives. Without these reflections as a Church, however, we can only hope to remain stuck in the same circle.
 
In this new liturgical year — and beyond — my prayer is that all of us are resolved to be involved in the life of our Church. It’s the time to reflect. As Church, where have we been? Where should we be going? And how shall we get there?
 
--Josh Perry is director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington.
--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of 
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
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