I Need Advent: From Ordinary to Extraordinary

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
28 November 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the last day of the year. I don’t blame you if you didn’t realize that New Year’s Eve was actually tonight. After all, it’s never the same one year to the next. For those who didn’t know, tomorrow is the first day of Advent, which is the first season of the Christian Calendar. Tomorrow begins a period of fasting and waiting. This year I feel in particular need for a fresh start, for Advent.

Advent swoops in like a mournful owl searching for its evening sustenance after the longest period of Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar. Ordinary Time, the season in which we are still in for today, is a time for us as Christians to remember that the Holy Trinity is active in every season of life, including the mundane, sometimes especially the mundane as the Nativity itself reminds us (for what is ultimately more commonplace than giving birth and being born). I’ve always struggled with this long period of Ordinary Time. My prayer routines tend to fade; I slip much more easily into those pet sins I carry round with me like an evil dragon perched upon my shoulder whispering the unspeakable to me. Now don’t misunderstand me, many good things have happened during this Ordinary Time: I passed my PhD Viva, got two book contracts, have watched my boys continue to grow, and more. But still, as I wrote to you yesterday, the virtues I have attempted to cultivate have shrivelled and been replaced by vices.

I need Advent. I need this period of fasting to help me gain the mastery over my body that God gives to those who cooperate with his grace. What’s more, I need the Nativity and all the other feasts that will greet us at the beginning of this new year. I need to be reminded of the extraordinary ways God has been present in our world so that I can be better prepared to look for him and work with him in the ordinary times. In truth, there are no ordinary times. Josef Pieper, a twentieth century Catholic theologian and philosopher, writes that, “in fact the liturgy only knows feast-days, even working days being feria.”⁠1 For Pieper, the Eucharist, which is the heart of all Christian celebrations, so transfigures time that in one sense it turns every day into a feast day, even the days on which we work or fast. I’ve lost sight of this over this most recent Ordinary Time. So this year, I need Advent more than ever. I need the extraordinary to remind me that in one sense there is no ordinary. The whole cosmos is graced, gifted its being by the Almighty. The fact that there is a day at all is extraordinary. The fact that there is a you, a me, that there are rocks and trees and animals is just as extraordinary as the fact that there are angels, for we all, from the highest order of angels to the lowest order of matter come from the same source, the One who is Three, the One who is Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Unity, and Being.

Pray for me, as I will pray for you, that together we may be reminded through these times of intentional fasting and feasting that begins with Advent, that the world is extraordinary precisely because it was an act of pure gratuity on the part of God. Pray that we may have our vision transfigured so was can see the world around us anew, so that we can see past the mist and shadows and catch glimpses of Reality. This is why this year I need Advent.

Sincerely,
David

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1 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 80

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The Eve of the Feast of All Saints (AKA Halloween)

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
All Saints’ Eve
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today, or more appropriately this evening, is the eve before the feast of All Saints. Tomorrow is an important day in the life of the Church. All Saints’ Day and its twin feast of All Souls’ Day on 2 November are the days set aside when we who remain remember all those who have gone before us. For many Protestants, today is Reformation Day. Today celebrates the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the issues of the sale of indulgences in the Catholic Church, to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. This is celebrated as the unofficial beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It’s taken me a while to be reconciled to this, in truth. The Protestant Reformation caused many good reforms in the Church (both Roman Catholic and otherwise), but it also caused so much division and violence. Today it is perpetuated by finger-pointing and a lack of communion between the Protestant churches as a whole and the Roman Catholic Church. Good may have come from the evils of division, but the divisions are still evil. This is why I choose to honour instead the more ancient holiday of All Saints tomorrow and its eve tonight.

In the Church, traditionally, the evening of a given day is actually the beginning of the next, typically after Vespers (an even fixed hour prayer, typically between 5 and 7 pm) has been said. It is, typically, the beginning of the celebration. Think about Christmas Eve and it’s relationship to Christmas Day, we often think of Christmas Eve as fully part of Christmas and yet distinct. In my family we opened presents from and to those who wouldn’t be together on Christmas Day, but not the others. All Saints’ Eve, or All Hallow’s Eve as it is more anciently known, works like this as well. Tonight begins the celebration or commemoration of the lives of the Christian Saints.

It is, therefore, a day where we remember death. Death is a funny thing in Christianity. On the one hand death is a consequence of our sinfulness. It isn’t how God wanted us to exist, and it isn’t how we will exist in the life to come. Death is defeated in Christ and has no more sting. Yet, St Francis of Assisi calls the death we die when our souls are separated from our bodies, sister death. The Second Death, however, of Hell is for Francis an evil, one from which we must flee. Death is not only swallowed up in the victory of Christ’s resurrection, it is transformed. It becomes the passage by which most of us, those who die before Christ’s return, will move a step closer to God’s intended end for us, namely deification and the beatific vision, also known as life eternal in the presence of God. So today, to an extent, we begin the celebrations of Sister Death, she who has been transformed from serpent into friend. The Saints teach us not to fear death any longer, it has become part of the process of our redemption and deification.

Yet it isn’t simply death that we celebrate on All Saints and All Souls, we also celebrate the great and the weak in the faith who have died. We pray to them because they are not gone, death is not the end. We pray to them, just we as ask each other to pray for us. Fr Robert Barron, in the video below, will explain why so many Christians have prayed to the Saints. For many protestants it can seem that praying to the saints takes the place of praying to God in Christ and through the Spirit. This is not, suggest Fr Barron, how we ought to view it. Rather, just as when we ask those still living to pray for us we are not praying to them in place of God, we are praying to God through them. God has ordained that it is right for us to pray, that in fact his own will will be accomplished at times through our prayers. Therefore, we should not limit ourselves to ask only for the prayers of those around us now, but of those the Church has deemed particularly holy by the fruit of their lives, whether they are on this side of the veil or not.

I encourage you then, as you or your children get dressed in costumes and collect candy or party, to remember that tonight we prepare ourselves to celebrate those who have come before us and that we ought to ask them to intercede for us because God is not in competition with them, but rather works through them.

Sincerely yours,

David