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We Don’t Belong Here

There is a Latin adage: motus in fine velocior, sometimes expressed as in fine citius. Things go faster the closer they get to the end. This is an overarching context for our days.

For this 3rd Sunday after Easter we begin once again in an orderly way and check on our contexts.

In our liturgical year, we are well into the Easter Season. A well-known figure of the 20th century liturgical movement and a member of the Canons Regular or Klosterneuberg Abbey, Pius Parsch, wrote in his The Church’s Year of Grace, that the seven weeks of Easter season in the Vetus Ordo can be divided into two stages. In the first stage, Easter through the Second Week after, Holy Church emphasizes the themes of resurrection, baptism and Eucharist. This year the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker took over a Sunday. Hence, this year the progression isn’t quite as stark. In the second stage, the Church prepares us for the Ascension of the Lord and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Christ desired to establish His Church and Kingdom on Earth. To do this He ascended to the Father. The first disciples had to learn to shed their physical attachment to the Lord and to spiritualize their faith. Aid came with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Deprivation followed by renewal is a strong theme in the whole of the Mass formulary for this Sunday. Loss becomes gain. Waiting becomes fulfillment. Uncertainty becomes clarity. Pain becomes joy.

This Sunday Gospel’s context is John 16, Christ’s discourse at the Last Supper, what Bl. Idelfonso Schuster calls, “the testament of the Sacred Heart.” In a prophetic outpouring He holds before the Apostles the continuous single mystery comprised of the mysteries of the passion, death, resurrection, ascension and descent of the Holy Spirit. As Schuster says,

This period after his resurrection, during which he shows himself to his followers, is symbolical of our own life – it is the history of the Church militant.

This Sunday’s Gospel pericope chimes especially the Ascension in our ears:

A little while, and you will see me no more; again a little while, and you will see me (v. 16).

This line is in our reading like the change ringing of bells: the phrase is repeated back and forth between the Apostles and Christ until He gives them the analogy of a woman in labor whose suffering turns to joy at the birth of the child (v 21). So, too, the Apostles were going to grieve in the absence of the Lord in His physical, bodily Person. They would see Him again, eventually, and that happiness would never end (v. 22). They would be complete in their joy and their joy complete (cf. John 15:11).

The Epistle reading, from 1 Peter 2, describes us as “strangers and pilgrims” (DRV, KJV), who, by definition, have not arrived and are in a way incomplete. Peter admonishes us, as such, about how to behave in the face of the world and its expectations. Why? Because the “day of visitation” will come (v. 12), when the King will come to make the reckoning. You might, at the Mass you attend in the Vetus Ordo, hear in a vernacular rendering, perhaps from the Douay-Reims Version, “having your conversation good among the Gentiles.” Latin conversatio, isn’t “dialogue with.” It means “conduct, way of life”: behave well in the sight of the Gentiles, even if they abuse you. We are, “strangers and pilgrims,” “aliens and exiles” (RSV), Greek pároikoi and parepídemoi. The author Michael O’Brien wrote Strangers and Sojourners.

We don’t belong here, except that, right now, we do. We have things to do according to God’s plan.  That plan and our time will always have an element of the unfinished, unrealized, even unreal because of our expectation of the fulfillment, the recapitulation of all things in Christ, their submission to the Father so that God might be all in all (1 Cor 15:28). We have a while longer to go.

Note that “while… while” in the Gospel verse: “A little while, and you will see me no more; again a little while, and you will see me” (v. 16 – Greek míkron and Latin modicum).

Time flies when you’re having fun, right? The passage of time is mysterious. Sometimes the hours and days seem to crawl and sometimes to fly. When we are young summers last forever. When we are seasoned, they flash. Motus in fine velocior. I suspect that some of you, as I do, sense that societal devolution is now going faster, ever faster, in our last few years, and even months. In the Church as well. Our “little while” is little whiling.

You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14).

“While” is complicated. In English it can be a noun, as in an interval of time or, archaically, a particular occasion. It is also used as a conjunction, “during the time that,” “as long as” and also “even though.” “While” is also a preposition, “until.” Moreover, “while” is a verb, “to pass time, especially in a pleasant way.” As the Scarecrow sang, “I could while away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers… if I only had brain.” It might be interesting to apply some of this polyvalence to “Modicum, et iam non videbitis me: et iterum modicum, et videbitis me” (v. 16) “A short while, and thenceforth (iam) you will not see me: and a while again, and you will see me.”

Shall we while while we are here for a while? We are strangers and sojourners in this vale of tears. We must keep moving, even when it is our calling to be stable and contemplative, as professed religious are. They are constantly at work via the opus Dei, the work of God which is expressed in a privileged way in the recitation of the liturgical hours, to sanctify the entire day and its tasks with prayers, to transfigure time in anticipation of the day that will never end. We in the hugger mugger world are to do the same in our daily tasks as we make our pilgrim way toward our heavenly Fatherland. As St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) describes, Christ is both the via and the patria, the homeland or fatherland as well as the road to get there. “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Conf. 1.1). Keeping in mind that the “soul” is generally conceived of as feminine, Pius Parsch adds,

The words ‘a little while’ have become a treasured phrase to Christian hearts; in loving repartee it passes back and forth between Savior and disciple, acting as a charm on souls longing for union with their Spouse.

As we grope ahead together through the mist on the via toward the patria, we do well to remember that there are times when God does not show Himself to us, consolations are withdrawn, sufferings are permitted. We will be tried and tested, to be proved and strengthened. While Holy Church ever more swiftly draws nearer to her Passion, we shall be tried. Our trials will ultimately be advantageous for us, for we will see Jesus, to our sweetest consolation.  

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