Septuagesima Sunday 28.1.18 Hope
We begin the season of Septuagesima, which means ‘seventy’. It is poetically that long to Easter Sunday (literally, only 63 days). We count down 70, 60, 50, and finally the forty days of Lent.
We respond to countdowns to big events. They build up the excitement and the tension.
As events go, whether or not we are saved is about as exciting a question as we could ever face. Do we spend eternity in Heaven or Hell?
The Church gives us this stretch of time to symbolise the larger actual quest for the Promised Land, Heaven itself.
The Israelites were trying to get into present-day Israel; we are trying for a much bigger prize still, but the mechanics of the choice are much the same.
We have to battle through a lot of heat and dust to get to the beautiful gardens. We endure thirst and weariness while dreaming of cold running water.
In the penitential seasons we balance two opposites at the same time.
As Our Lord said, there is a time for fasting and a time for feasting (Mk 2,19-20). We celebrate every Sunday the ultimate victory of the Resurrection. But in times of penance we also acknowledge the struggle that we have to make to get things right. We fast and we feast; we mourn and we rejoice; we cry and we laugh.
These are all part of life - at least life as we have known it so far. It has always been so, but it will not always be so.
There will be a time when we have only the positive half of these contrasts. When we have arrived in Heaven there will be only feasting, rejoicing and laughing. Every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21,4).
Knowing this, it should help us navigate the sufferings of this life. We see all that we have suffered as part of the larger picture. By comparison with the joy that awaits us it is very small indeed (Rom 8,18).
Thus strengthened, we never abandon our faith. The parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard tells us that the early comers - despite their narrow attitudes to the later workers - did work to the end of the day. And for that they received their reward.
St Paul expresses the same idea in today’s Epistle: he runs the race to the finish. He strives like an athlete, bringing his lower desires to focus on the higher achievement.
(Our society understands the need for discipline in some areas, such as sport, but misses it in the area that counts the most – the spiritual life.)
People who do not have this hope to sustain them, might believe themselves abandoned, and their lives meaningless.
We are not abandoned because we have the whole company of Heaven with us.
Our lives are not meaningless because we are engaged in the biggest break-out in history – breaking free from the captivity of sin.
We keep the end in view, and then we have enough energy to fight the here-and-now battles.
We look to the end of the day, the 6pm of the universe, when the accounts will be reckoned. We work with a quiet determination to see this thing through. Not celebrating too early, not slackening off one second before time.
We are wary of the sweep of the devil’s tail. A retreating army is very vicious to anything in its path. Whatever time remains for us we use to consolidate our grip on the victory – making it more certain when the end comes, and in the meantime to bring forth more of its fruits.
May the Lord help us in this particular path for the next seventy days. And help us to see, in that symbolic stretch of time, a key to handling the whole of life.