O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem,
no more will you weep;
He will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as he hears he will answer you.
The Lord will give you the bread you need
and the water for which you thirst.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: “This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.
A half-century ago, as I walked to school in Washington DC I noticed a narrow footpath that meandered up a hill toward Holy Name College, the Franciscan friary. The building housed our classrooms, and the friars' quarters, with ample space for other activities. I could see that the trail was not direct and sometimes I vaguely wondered about that.
Finally, one day, I saw two dogs winding up the trail; they had made it. At dog height they could not see what I saw so clearly, the building over the crest of the hill. Their path straightened out only when they came in sight of its roof.
I have come to suspect we humans are like that. We don't know half of what we need to know to get where we're going.
This illusive mystery we call "Salvation History;" it describes the Big Picture of what God sees. Saint Paul described it as the mystery that was hidden in times past and now revealed to God's holy ones.
We mortals, even believing mortals, cannot descry its forms very clearly but we can find our place within that "history" as we attend the liturgies of the church. I have recently learned it took nearly four centuries for western Christianity to agree on the broad outline of our liturgical year!
In it we discover Christmas and Easter, with their seasons of preparation and exultation. Here are the many feast days and memorials of our calendar; they're usually placed on the anniversaries. If we recall the death of a saint or the dedication of a basilica a year later, why would we not keep that anniversary five hundred years later?
Observing the liturgical calendar keeps us firmly placed in time, just as we are firmly placed in our local geography. We have a sense of the bigger picture, of Salvation History.
Citizens of the secular world around us have little idea where they are going. Secularism offers neither destiny nor destination, and it's pretty vague about the past. (Who really cares what happened before the Internet?) They live from birth to death, from the past to the future, with -- as Chuck Berry sang -- "no particular place to go."
We know where we are and where we're going because we pay attention to Advent and the liturgical year. (Saint Francis Xavier died on this day in 1552.)
Attentive to time and place we hear the angel's whisper, "This is the way; walk in it."