The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

Lectionary: 204

Children, it is the last hour;
and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming,
so now many antichrists have appeared.
Thus we know this is the last hour.

The Catholic Church marks the last day of the year with these particular readings from the writings of Saint John. He was acutely aware of time and the Lord’s presence in history.

Traditionally the Church speaks of Salvation History and its “dispensations”. These are variously counted but they usually come down to seven epochs: 1) Creation of the Earth, Adam and Eve, 2) the Fall to Abraham; 3) Abraham to Moses; 4) Moses and the Law to Jesus; 5) Jesus’ birth to his Ascension; 6) the present; and 7) the Judgement and Eternity.

Christian tradition considers the history of the world in these very broad strokes and regards with skepticism any notion of progress within the present epoch. We should do good, avoid evil and try to act with both justice and mercy; but we will certainly never create an ideal political or economic system.

However, the Enlightenment dreamed of Utopia, and the American Revolution attempted to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. (from the Preamble of the American Constitution.) If it’s not possible we should nevertheless try.

Unlike ancient Greek, Jewish and Christian religions, our philosophical Founders realized that government and business are human constructs. They can be built and rebuilt, constructed and deconstructed. They did not suppose that liberty, equality and fraternity were predestined but they believed the political process, directed by the principles of the Enlightenment, might attain a more perfect unionIn their minds history was not simply tumbling toward the Day of Wrath and apocalyptic catastrophe; we may guide it toward the Kingdom of God. 

I recall their example because that generation of Americans, though they were an elite, found their place in what they believed was a divinely ordained history, a destiny. 

More recently, as we try to locate our place in history,  we discover generations: the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Xers, Millennials, Mosaics, etc. Who you are; how you think, feel and experience; and what you believe are deeply influenced, if not programmed, by when you were born. Many people think of themselves first as Millennials and secondly, if at all, as Christians. 

Each generation has a different experience and there is a “gap” between generations. They don’t understand each other. They have nothing to say to each other. Each generation is displaced and discarded as ignorant and irrelevant by the next. Unlike the dispensations, this story of generations doesn’t go anywhere. Without a destination, it leaves us bewildered and disoriented.
From its earliest days the Church developed a calendar to orient us within God’s Salvation History. Incorporating the weekly cycle with the solar and lunar cycles, the calendar identifies each day. And each day is observed with its particular liturgical readings and prayers. As I celebrate the Mass and pray the Divine Office, I take my place in history. It may not be in a filthy prison cell with the Apostle Paul but it is nonetheless beautiful and important. 

Tonight and tomorrow the world will celebrate the New Year; but we will celebrate the Octave of Christmas and Mary, the Mother of God. On this "last day" the Church assures us,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.