Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Joan Chittister's recent book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, (Thomas Nelson, 2009).
The church's liturgical year isn't just an arbitrary collection of dates. It's a cycle that can draw you beyond the immediate details of your current life and into something much more significant: the story of God's work in the world. As you immerse yourself in the liturgy throughout the year, you'll discover God's time connecting with your time - empowering you to live the abundant life He intends for you.
Here's how you can connect with God through liturgy:
Follow in Jesus' steps. Liturgy moves you to reflect on various parts of Jesus' historical life and encounter His presence with you in fresh ways each time. Jesus' life intersects yours through liturgical worship. You find out what makes life matter by following Jesus through every element of it, as He calls you to leave behind superficial pursuits and move forward with greater meaning and purpose.
Each part of the liturgical year reminds you of God's goodness in a different way, inspiring you to live life faithfully in response to that reality. As you walk where the liturgy leads you - closer to Jesus - the rhythms of heaven and Earth connect, and you can see your life more and more from God's perspective. What's insignificant fades away, and what matters most becomes more visible. You deal with your concerns in this world by attuning them to eternal values. Each new liturgical season urges you to ask yourself what Jesus' life now means to you, and how His life is affecting your own.
Learn from Sundays. Sunday, the Sabbath day of rest and worship, is a time to start each new week remembering Jesus' Resurrection and the freedom that has made possible. It strengthens you to endure life in this fallen world, continuing your own journey to the Cross with the hope your salvation gives of eternal life, and encouraging you to take the good news of the Gospel to others. When you participate in Sunday worship, you discover more about who Jesus is, who you are, and how you can grow to become more like Him.
Learn from Advent. The liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent - the season that leads you beyond your present self to the self that waits for God. It helps you deal with uncertainty and wait for God to answer your prayers at the right time and in the right way. Advent teaches you how to look for signs of God's work in your life that you may not have noticed before. It helps you leave the past behind, stop worrying about the future, and live fully in the present. As you walk forward in life, without knowing yet how God will work out situations that concern you, Advent challenges you to entrust your circumstances to God and invite Him to do what's best with them.
Learn from Christmas and Epiphany. Reflecting on the Incarnation - God coming to Earth to live among us as Jesus in our space and time - shows that God knows your pains and hopes, and is willing to walk closely with you through any situation. When you consider the ultimate gift of Jesus, ask yourself what gift you'd like to give God to express your gratitude. How will you live more faithfully after being inspired by the Christmas story? When you think about the star that people followed to Bethlehem to see the infant Jesus, ask yourself where you're looking for guidance as you walk through life. Are you turning to God to lead you in the right direction?
Learn from Ordinary Time. In Ordinary Time (the periods between Epiphany and Lent, and between Pentecost and Advent), you deepen your faith by consistently practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study in between the church's major holidays (holy days). The liturgy's Scripture readings take you through the Old and New Testaments and challenge you to grow to understand the Bible better and apply it to your life more. Worship services keep you rooted in the foundational truths of the faith: Jesus was, is, and will come again. Ordinary Time challenges you to decide whether or not you'll take Christmas and Easter seriously. The constant practice of developing your faith in Ordinary Time helps you learn to see the world more from God's perspective.
Learn from Lent. Lent calls you to renew your commitment to faith in Jesus. By stripping your heart of distractions, you free yourself up to pursue Jesus with greater passion. Lent challenges you to make whatever changes are necessary in your life to align it better with God's will. Holy Week, which takes place at the end of Lent, is a microcosm of Jesus' public life. As you reflect on His ministry, suffering, and death on the Cross to pay for your sins, you come to understand that the suffering He calls you to endure as you follow Him also has a good purpose. You realize that much valuable growth can only occur when you're willing to go through suffering and let it teach you how to trust God more deeply. Lent shows you your need for Jesus and stirs hope within you as you approach Easter.
Learn from Easter. Easter, the celebration of Jesus' Resurrection, shows that there is no suffering from which you can't rise if you live a life centered on your relationship with Jesus. The promise of eternal life - made possible by the Resurrection - gives you joy, peace, and confidence.
Learn from Pentecost. Pentecost immerses you in the implications of what it means to be a Christian and live a faithful life. It moves you to respond to God's great love for you by pursuing a passionate relationship with Him.
Adapted from The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, copyright 2009 by Joan Chittister. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, is a Benedictine nun and an international lecturer. In her more than 50 years as a nun she has authored 40 books, including her most recent, the critically acclaimed The Gift of Years. Sister Joan is the founder and current executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality that located in Erie, PA.
Original publication date: January 26, 2010