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Give us this day: Catholic calendars are a reminder of God's presence in everyday life. (practicing catholic).

CATHOLICS BELIEVE IN THE INCARNATION, THE doctrine that says God became flesh and dwelt among us. Approached cerebrally, I find that bit of dogma is darn near unfathomable. It's much better to sneak up on this mystery through life's incarnational experiences--like the family calendar.

I remember the Catholic calendar we had in my home when I was growing up. It hung in our kitchen, next to the phone. In pen, pencil, and even crayon, important dates and occasions were scrawled among the feasts, holidays, and holy days. I remember that our life could hardly be contained in those neat boxes, and our scribbling overflowed into the margins.

That family calendar taught me several important spiritual lessons. Flipping through the months showed how the year was color-coded--with Lent tinted pale purple, Advent a rose-colored hue, feast days gleaming bright red, and Fridays and other selected days sporting a morose green fish.

There was a sense that the year didn't just happen, it was planned. Some grand designer had a sense of what should happen when. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, and there was intelligence and design behind it all. Like the phases of the moon that were plotted out in shades of red each month, the color-coded seasons spoke of a regularity that could be relied on and lived by.

Another spiritual lesson came from the illustrations. Some years the calendars would be illustrated with religious art. If we were lucky, the calendar producer used classic oil paintings and we got an aesthetic education as well as religious, getting our first taste of Carravaggio, Tintoretto, Fra Angelico, and Rafael. Other years it would be an extreme stretch to call the illustrations "art," but even those stiff and wooden portrayals of Jesus with the apostles, teaching, healing, suffering, and dying, were intriguing.

Some years the calendar was sent as a thank you by some missionary order, and so the colorful photos would show exotic locations depicting people from around the globe. In the insular world of ghettoized Catholicism I grew up in, such photos broadened my religious imagination. With my faith tied to my neighborhood and extended family, I could only imagine what it might be like to be a Catholic in a village in China, on the plains of Africa, or in the mountains of South America.

The calendar also had a sobering effect. They were usually distributed by the local funeral home, and, though the advertising was tastefully done, one was always aware that their phone number was prominently on display day in and day out, at our fingertips, "if ever the need should arise."

But the biggest lesson the calendar taught was subtle. It showed how the sacred and the ordinary blend together: the holy days of obligation and the dentist appointments, days of fast and abstinence next to music lessons and birthday parties. Sundays in ordinary time were accented with trips to the lake for a week of vacation. Seeing the details of our lives scrawled across the pages of the religious calendar was a daily lesson in incarnational theology.

We learned what Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins meant when he wrote, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God."

As people of faith we believe that it is in the ordinary moments of life that we encounter God. And so it's possible to see the lowly religious calendar as a symbol of faith--the same faith that guided our spiritual ancestors year after year through the tolling of the church bells that marked their days. And it's possible to discover in the Catholic calendar a silent source of confidence that, no matter what may come, as each day unfolds, God's loving presence is there to greet us.

By TOM MCGRATH, contributing editor of U.S. CATHOLIC magazine.
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Author:McGrath, Tom
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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