Seasonal notes

September seasonal notes

Ordinary Time

Notes, important dates, and other material for September.

Notes for Cycle A

The call to justice is strong this month. But don’t run off to the next march or rally just yet. First, let’s consider what God means by justice. God’s ways are not like ours, so it stands to reason that God’s justice doesn’t neatly resemble what gets meted out in human courtrooms, or our parish council meetings, for that matter. God’s justice starts with telling the truth, which means our task begins with discerning God’s truth. We have the word of scripture at our disposal, so attentive listening is the first step. Once we’re clear on right and wrong (please note: Paul says love is the standard by which we measure), then might we venture to guide others who are engaged in destructive ways. And how do we deal with sisters and brothers in sin? The same way we are dealt with: in the hearty spirit of forgiveness. Mercy is a generous attitude that rarely corresponds to human justice. Too often, we prefer the attitude of judgment, choosing self-righteousness over the humility of Christ. Anyone still willing to answer the call to justice?


Mac users are fond of the Apple campaign: “Think different.” No, it’s not grammatically correct, but it is the battle cry of the truth-seeker. Those who would learn and who can be taught must think for themselves. They cannot afford to digest reality according to the terms set forth by proverbial wisdom, media coverage, “expert” panels, or the experience of others. They have to ask questions, even to question authority. They may have to scale a few mountains and commune with a few monks before they arrive at the expansive understanding they are looking for.

But mostly, as scripture tells us in many ways this month, they have to look up. Lifting our eyes to heaven is more than a metaphor, and lifting up our hearts is not only a fine liturgical phrase. Saint Paul claims he values life in Christ more than his earthly existence. If we want to know why in the world someone would say such a thing, we have to be lifted up to the spiritual perspective he enjoyed.

Notes for Cycle B

The ongoing lesson in discipleship that comprises Ordinary Time takes a turn toward the paradoxical. Of course it is in paradox that the nature of the reign of God is revealed. First, Jesus demonstrates the power and the will of God in restoring the man who is deaf and speech impaired. As Isaiah notes, God can bring water to the desert! Next, the spirit of greatness is modeled by the humility of the child, which serves as a gentle rebuke to the status-obsessed disciples. Finally, Moses and Jesus are on the same page when it comes to interpreting the works of the Lord: Never mind the messenger, pay attention to the message! The lessons of Mark are interjected with a passage from John for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in mid-month, but the theme remains uninterrupted. The cross may seem like the end of the road, but it is the door to everlasting life.


Mark’s gospel continues at its breathless narrative pace. Meanwhile, on a parallel track, we spend the month listening to James unfold his careful catechesis in elevated homiletic style accompanied by a smorgasbord of readings from Hebrew scripture. Among Mark’s breakneck bullet points: The outward show of religion does not reveal the interior faith of a person. Nothing in this world that has been lost cannot be restored by the touch of Christ. Being the Christ does not exempt Jesus from suffering and death; in fact, that identity sentences him to his Passion. Greatness doesn’t look like greatness, but more like smallness and service.

The sum of these teachings is that our eyes often deceive us. A worldly perception will result in us getting the truth exactly wrong. Meanwhile James instructs a later generation of Christians in moving toward a more interior faith: welcoming the word, embracing Christ hidden in the poor, doing more than saying, and recognizing that the spirit with which we act shapes how we act and the fruit that our actions bear.

Notes for Cycle C

By definition, we mortals are time-dated material. We don’t know much. We can’t see far ahead. We are frustrated in our grand ambitions by the inevitable boundaries of time, energy, resources, health, and death. We’d like to be more than we are, but we are continually thrown back on the realization that we are so much less than we’d hoped. At the same time, we ourselves are boundary-makers. We build fences around our families and our national interests. We decide who has and has not, who counts and who doesn’t, who’s in and who’s out. Imprisoned within our mortality, we make prisons for others that are literal, economic, ethnic, moral, and social. And what does God do in the meantime? The divine movement is toward union and communion, leveling and mediating, reconciling and exceeding the divisions brought about by sin. Whenever we are ready to cross some boundaries, God is ready to lead us through every impasse.


In the green season of Ordinary Time, growth in discipleship is our ongoing theme. This takes up a good bit of the year, because growth takes time. Luke reminds us that Jesus sought humility as a prerequisite for following him. Arrogant people make poor followers and worse leaders. Jesus’ disciples would have to assume both roles for the church to succeed.

Disciples would also have to divest themselves of any worldly possession that obstructs their primary allegiance to Jesus—even and especially if they are relationships that bind them closely. The children of God will naturally lose their way from time to time but should be assured that God stands vigilant to receive them back with mercy in abundance. The children of light should be at least as responsible with their stewardship as those who are committed to worldly goals.

Finally, in view of our mortality, the time to do what God requires is now and not at some future date when we can see what we should have done in the rearview mirror.


September calendar

SEPTEMBER 5
Death of Mother Teresa, 1997  Mother Teresa was born in Albania and began her novitiate with the Sisters of Loretto by teaching high school in Calcutta from 1929 to 1948 before founding her own order in 1950, the Missionaries of Charity, who minister to the poorest of the poor. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and her beatification was celebrated in Rome on October 19, 2003.

Besides Mother Teresa’s death, the Missionaries of Charity observe September 10 as “Inspiration Day,” the day that Mother Teresa, while on a train ride, received the inspiration to found the community. “It was on that train,” Mother Teresa said, “that I heard the call to give up all and follow Him into the slums—to serve Him in the poorest of the poor. . . . I was to . . . work with the poor while living among them. It was an order.”

What the poor need, even more than food and clothing and shelter (though they need these, too, desperately), is to be wanted. It is the outcast state their poverty imposes upon them that is the more agonizing. —Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

SEPTEMBER 11­
National Day of Mourning and Remembrance  Resources for commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are available from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, www.usccb.org. Liturgy Training Publications offers an updated version of their Grant Us Peace compilation of readings, prayers, scripture passages, and reflections on peace.

SEPTEMBER 16
Mexican Independence Day, 1810  On this day in 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a pastor in the town of Dolores, rallied his people in the first call for independence from Spain. Hidalgo and his colleagues proclaimed the rebellion in their famous el grito de Dolores (“the cry of Dolores”). Mexico achieved full independence in 1821.

SEPTEMBER 17
Saint Hildegard of Bingen’s Day  Saint Hildegard (1098-1179) practiced medicine, created poetry, plays, music, paintings, and mystical works, and went on extensive preaching tours of Germany and France. After becoming prioress of the community that grew around her first spiritual director, her abbey expanded several times as it attracted many of the gifted women of her day, and also served as a place for medical care and a permanent home for indigent elderly women. She began experiencing mystical visions as a child, and her written descriptions of her visions are widely read today.

SEPTEMBER 21
International Day of Peace  Established by a United Nations resolution, the International Day of Peace has been celebrated annually since 1982. It provides an opportunity for individuals, organizations, and nations to do practical acts of peace on a common date. Highlighting the U.N.’s Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, 2001 to 2010, the International Day of Peace serves as a reminder of a permanent commitment to peace.

SEPTEMBER 20, 22, & 23
Ember Days  The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross are known as ember days. Before the revision of the Roman calendar in 1969, four sets of three days each marked the change of seasons and were devoted to special liturgical and penitential practices.

Since the new calendar came into effect, the purpose of ember days switched from one of penance to prayer for human needs and the productivity of the earth and work, and thanksgiving to God. These days as well present good opportunities to give alms and show generosity. Two feast days in September, Holy Cross (the 14th) and Michaelmas (Archangels, the 29th), also serve as traditional days to bless the harvest in the Northern Hemisphere.