Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Special Days

I’ve fallen a little behind in following the Lectionary readings. While the Church completed reading St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians and moved on to the letter to the Ephesians, I found myself stuck on Galatians 3:15-25. Up until that point,I thought that I was following Paul’s line of argument; but then he offered a clarifying example. Rather than make things clearer, it only confused me more, and I had to keep re-reading the passage. Let’s just say that I don’t find Paul’s reliance on singular versus plural nouns, especially when the noun is something as indefinite as “seed” or “offspring” (depending on the translation) to be convincing.

I finally moved on yesterday, only to stumble over Galatians 4:8-11.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

This October, like no October I ever remember, is being pushed upon us as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everywhere I turn, I see pink! Every cause has it’s own awareness month, it seems. And, of course, we observe secularized seasons for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Even within the Church, we observe special months (May for Mary), seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter), years (the Year of St. Paul, the Year for Priests), and days (solemnities, feasts, and memorials). Would St. Paul have feared for us?

I know that Paul was writing in the context of the old Law, which was fulfilled in Christ. Christians aren’t under the Law and, therefore, aren’t required to observe the Law’s liturgical calendar. In some ways, however, we traded one liturgical calendar for another. We are no longer bound by the Mosaic Law, but we are bound by Canon Law. The difference is that we do not become righteous by observing the calendar and the law. Indeed, the righteous will be observant, but not slavishly observant.

What might cause Paul to fear is the sad fact that some might believe that merely by observing the calendar, they are doing all that is necessary. This occurs to varying degrees. There is the Catholic who only attends mass occasionally, but makes sure to go on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and thinks that’s good enough. There is the Catholic who attends mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation, but only those days, and thinks that’s good enough. On the other extreme, there are Catholics who, based on promises by apparitions in private revelations, think that they are assured of salvation as long as they make it to mass on nine consecutive first Fridays or first Saturdays, or are wearing a brown scapular when they die.

Ultimately, that is not what saves us. We are saved by faith, but not faith alone. Our faith must be accompanied by love. When James says that faith without works is dead, he is not speaking about works of the Law; he is speaking about works of love. If we observe special days, months, seasons, and years because we love God, the Church, and the object of those observances, then we are doing a good thing, and no fear is necessary.

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