May seasonal notes
Continuation of the Easter season
Notes, important dates, and other material for May.
Notes for Cycle A
THOUGH THE PRESENT GENERATION may be a challenging environment through which we pick our way, as church we are never orphaned or lost. The resurrected Lord bequeaths us many gifts to guide and assist us on the journey of faith. We celebrate some of the most essential ones this month: the example of prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit, the revelation of God’s unity, and our sacrament of the Eucharist. The interplay of these elements of Christian faith serves to unite us to God and one another, preparing us for the great commission to which we have been called.
Throughout the month, we are reminded how each character in salvation history has provided a unique service: Philip to the Samaritans, Paul to the Gentiles, and Moses to the Israelites. Each of us is likewise expected to take a role in the unfolding of “salvation present.” If we do it together, we experience the advantage of being church.
WE BEGIN OUR TRAMP through the “idea feasts,” those heavy theological Sundays that can make preacher and assembly feel sedated by the ponderous weight of doctrine. We conclude the Easter season with an exhortation to pray, followed by Pentecost—which too often sounds like a self-celebration of the institutional church. Then we face unpacking the inexplicable Trinity and the equally mystical Eucharist to an assembly rightly questioning why we insist on talking about things that cannot be comprehended. Since our third grade teacher put these concepts up on the blackboard, no new information has been available. What will another homily about the unknowable prove?
At the same time, it’s true that the average community of faith is suffering from a nadir in catechesis not exceeded in recent generations. We’re worse off now than in the days of illiteracy, when stained glass and statues were the church’s major weapons against ignorance. We might wish now for such simple remedies. In the meantime, let’s go forth and teach those hungry for meaning and understanding.
Notes for Cycle B
ALL YEAR LONG, we view the Christian story through the critical lens of the gospels. But in the Easter season, the gospel nearly takes a back seat to the premier story being told in the Acts of the Apostles. Once the Resurrection is accomplished, the focus shifts from the ministry of Jesus to the newly activated church of his disciples. What will they do with the word they have received? How will the revelation of Easter continue to unfold in their world, dominated by the twin forces of Jerusalem and Rome? Where will the Holy Spirit lead this band of unlikely followers? And how can the church possibly take shape under the leadership of two such different men, Peter of Galilee and Paul of Tarsus?
The Easter season is exciting, not simply because there’s so much good news but also because there’s so much action. The story of the emerging church is familiar to us: Give or take 2,000 years, it’s front-page news that provides insights into the challenges we still face as the People of God, striving for fidelity in a world at odds with the truth we treasure.
EASTER SEASON has the Sunday community running on three different tracks. We follow the story of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles as they begin their evangelizing mission. We are also attentive to a later generation in the ongoing story of 1 John, which is all about love—God’s and ours. Meanwhile in the Gospel of John, Jesus offers his disciples some last-minute instruction, describing himself as a shepherd, a vine, and a friend. If they remain in him, they will remain in the truth.
How do we of a later age take all of this in? Much as the early church did: keeping our eyes, minds, and hearts open. Post-Resurrection, we stand in a shower of miracles and revelations too profound to embrace all at once. It takes a lifetime to incorporate the Easter reality, so we should all relax, preachers and assembly together. We won’t get to say it all this year, nor to hear it all, much less to comprehend the whole message. Let’s just stand in the shower of revelations together and sing our song of praise.
Notes for Cycle C
FROM EASTER TO PENTECOST, the universal impact of salvation grows increasingly clear for the early church and us. The great and joyful news of the gospel is proclaimed first in the synagogue, but more outsiders than insiders are convinced by it. As the gospel flows outward to the world, God’s open love letter to all times and peoples is more perfectly embraced. Jesus Christ is bigger than Judea, more central than Jerusalem, greater than the temple itself. The Lamb who was slain is the savior of the world, and all of history comes under his reign. All creation, too, is invited to share this good news, for the new creation to come surpasses the present heaven and earth. The gospel goes cosmic in this season, as the Paschal Mystery is revealed to be much, much more than the tenet of a new religion. God’s Spirit arrives with hope for us all. We cannot afford to sit on this news!
EASTER SEASON CONTINUES as the story of the early church emerges from a community of frail and faltering people. It unfolds simultaneously on three levels: First, the early church in Jerusalem and Asia Minor starts to unpack just how new the gospel message is. Second, as if in flashback mode, Jesus gives his final words of instruction to his friends about love, courage, peace, and unity. Finally, what ties these messages together in real time—what we faithful might call kairos time—is the ongoing revelation of the visionary John, who sees history and heaven inching closer together all the time.
The triangular perspective of the Easter season is essentially Trinitarian: The Holy Spirit shapes the emerging church, while God presides on the celestial throne and the memory of Jesus eating with his friends fashions the future direction. Easter season is a complicated knot of time and eternity that makes Pentecost feel, in the end, like God’s eternal now being spoken in us—as in every generation since.
Six things every preacher learns from the lectionary
- Saint Paul is as easy to understand as String Theory. Attempts to “Master the Epistles in Just Five Sentences” are doomed.
- Genesis and Revelation tell the same story, only backwards. It’s just that some things get broken when creation goes backwards.
- The Psalms may be the “prayer book of the Bible,” but some of these are terrible things to say to God.
- The saints in scripture are always great sinners. The sinners are always great saints.
- The Sunday lectionary makes the Bible sound like a whole lotta church talk. But that’s because we leave out Ruth, Tobit, and the Song of Songs (too sexy); Judith (too violent); and all the neat parts of Genesis, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Esther.
- The only book never read in church is Obadiah. It’s not even represented in the Common of the Saints. Is it really that bad? (Yes.)
Pope John Paul II’s 2002 apostolic letter On the Most Holy Rosary discusses the importance and meaning of the rosary and its mysteries, the method of praying it, and suggests five new “Luminous Mysteries,” the first addition to the rosary since Pope Saint Pius V set the familiar form of the prayer in 1569. The Luminous Mysteries, to be prayed on Thursdays, are:
1. The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan; 2. The Self-Manifestation of Jesus at the Wedding of Cana; 3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom; 4. The Transfiguration of Jesus; and 5. The Institution of the Eucharist.
The “schedule” for the four Mysteries is:
Sunday—Glorious; Monday—Joyful; Tuesday—Sorrowful; Wednesday—Glorious; Thursday—Luminous; Friday—Sorrowful; Saturday—Joyful. Catholics are still free to pray only the traditional 15 Mysteries, if they wish.
The Pentecost Novena
After Jesus’ Ascension, the disciples came together in the upper room to devote themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14) and prepare for the coming of the Spirit. They prayed for nine days before receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
The Pentecost Novena, nine days of prayer, honors the Holy Spirit and helps those who participate to prepare for Pentecost. It is the only novena officially mandated by the Catholic Church.
With the industrial revolution in 19th-century Germany, many young workers found themselves working in factories away from home. A priest in Cologne, Germany, Adolph Kolping—who was also a former shoemaker—saw the need to provide special ministries to these workers to improve their conditions, support their family life, and encourage them to keep their faith. By 1849 Kolping’s efforts had developed into a Young Workmen’s Society.
Last year the Kolping societies in the United States celebrated their 150th anniversary. The Kolping society today has almost a half million members in 59 countries. Father Kolping was beatified in 1991.
Cinco de Mayo Cinco de Mayo—sometimes confused with Mexican Independence Day (September 16)—commemorates the defeat of the French by an ill-equipped Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexican Americans celebrate this day with parades, music, dancing, and other festivities.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Good Shepherd Sunday This Sunday gets its “nickname” from the gospel reading according to John: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” Other references to Jesus the shepherd in the New Testament include, among others:
- Luke 15:3-7—the parable of the lost sheep;
- Hebrews 13:20—“May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will”;
- 1 Peter 2:25—“For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls”;
- and 1 Peter 5:4—“And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
World Day of prayer for Vocations Pope Paul VI designated Good Shepherd Sunday as World Day of Prayer for Vocations in 1963 to celebrate the vocation of all Christians. More information is available on the USCCB site.
For information on discerning a vocation to consecrated life, visit VocationNetwork.org.
Mother’s Day Made famous by writing the poem "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Julia Ward Howe was also horrified by the effects of the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. In 1870 Howe turned her efforts to working for peace and women’s rights, calling for women to organize across national lines and oppose war in all its forms. In 1872 she began promoting the idea of a Mother’s Day for Peace honoring peace, motherhood, and womanhood. While eight cities in America held a Mother’s Day for Peace gathering in 1873, the celebrations ended when Howe no longer financed most of their costs. Years later, Anna Jarvis—daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker who had started a movement called Mothers’ Work Days to improve sanitary conditions before and during the Civil War—started her own campaign to establish a memorial day for women. States began declaring official holidays in 1912, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother’s Day.
“Arise then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! . . . We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. . . .”
—Julia Ward Howe