Today we celebrate what is traditionally called “Rogation Sunday” – rogation coming from the Latin word “rogare” meaning “to ask.” And it kicks-off what has been, for Christians, a brief period wherein we ask God to bless our food crops. For us modern city dwellers, this period set aside for the singular purpose of asking God to bless our crops might seem a bit distant and old fashioned, even if you do a bit of gardening – I have a small garden and I’m sure many of you do as well – but it’s not as if we depend upon it to sustain us through the year. Gardening, I’ve found, isn’t even a big money saver. We grow our own herbs, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers to add a little fresh zing to our diet.
As none of us are under an illusion we can sustain ourselves with our gardening, this was also true of the ancients who established this liturgical observance. Then as now, there’s always been a farming class who specialized in one crop or another and everyone bartered for what they needed. A difference from then to now however is that most, if not all, the food you would consume during the year came from local farms. But the one thing that is so special about this feast and why it is good for us to keep the Rogation Days memorialized, if only in our minds, is because it is a time when a parochial community came together with the common purpose of asking God to sustain them throughout the coming year. It was a parochial festival – a time to ask God’s blessing to unify and sustain the community, keep it safe and well fed through the coming year.
We kind-of keep this idea alive here at Holy Rosary with our Italian Street festival and the more individuals who come together for this event in service to The Lord to make our parochial festival a success, the closer our community becomes in the Lord and our hard work, by His grace, helps sustain our beautiful parish. So, I put this plug in now on Rogation Sunday to enlist each of you to assist with our lovely festival this year! My “rogation” – what I ask of each of you – is for prayer (everyone commit to saying at least one Rosary) that God will bless our festival. Ask God to give us beautiful weather, safety, plenty of devoted volunteers, thousands of happy patrons; and, most of all, that we would honour The Lord Jesus through our service to Him in this place – that our little parish at 520 Stevens Street, Indianapolis, Indiana would be a place that draws people into Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
The Rogation Days comprise four days. They begin with a single day on the feast of Saint Mark, April 25th; and they recommence on the three days just prior to Our Lord’s Ascension which feast takes place this Thursday (and here I put in another plug that you read my bulletin article about the celebration of the Lord’s Ascension at Holy Rosary this week). So, the traditional Rogation Days are this coming Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Historically the whole parochial community would turn out for what came to be a three-day celebration. It began with Mass each day in the parish church followed by a foot procession around the boundaries of the parish during which prayers were said, hymns were sung and the freshly planted fields were blessed. Often these events were associated with fasting before the procession and then feasting once it was over; as well as the forgiving of grudges held between neighbours from the year before. The procession came to be popularly referred to as “beating the bounds” perhaps because of the rapping with sticks of sign posts demarcating the parish boundaries. It was a source of civic pride for the citizens of a parish to know their parochial boundaries and the people who resided in it.
It’s hard for us to imagine, very difficult, in our modern atomized, money-driven world where the powers that be drone on and on about ‘diversity being our strength’, it’s very hard to imagine what it was like to live in a community in which everyone – in the shops, in the taverns, on the road – was a member of your Church, everyone was a Catholic. Of course, then as now there were good and bad Catholics but there was a fundamental social cohesion and public unity that we can’t really comprehend and has been deconstructed in our contrivedly diverse and increasing divided world.
Our world is far distant from that world when the people yearly walked the boundaries of their parish. Our world today where we are told, by an increasingly militant group of supposedly tolerant but actually very vicious people, that there should be no boundaries on anything: they say there’s no one true God or religion, that human sexuality is completely up for grabs, that what it means to be a person or worthy of the dignity of life are debatable subjects, and that peoples do not have an obligation or even the freedom to defend their heritage and patrimony. These progressives would tear down every boundary marker of the past – every boundary marker placed by the Catholic religion – and raise up the images of Baal and Molech (the ancient false gods of sexual perversion and human sacrifice) as boundary markers in their place.
We have the Protestant Reformation largely to thank for beginning much of that deconstruction of boundaries in the western world. The Reformation opened the door for European, Christian cultures to go to war against one another solely on religious grounds. The reformers thought they were justified in tearing down the boundaries established by the Catholic Church in order to be effect a return to what they deemed authentic – Bible based – worship of God. They fought to de-Hellenize the church; stripping all Greek philosophical thought from what their image of the church was. What they failed to recognize was that the Biblical authors were themselves deeply indebted to both the language and thought of the Greeks. Without Greek language and philosophy, our New Testament would look very different – in fact, our Catholic religion would look much different. To interpret the Bible outside of a Greek context is ultimately an exercise in vapid futility.
In considering the destruction of the boundaries we see taking place in our society at an ever alarmingly quickening pace, I am reminded of something Pope Benedict XVI once wrote when recounting a 14th century conversation between the Christian emperor of Constantinople with a Muslim guest. The Emperor, having had enough of polite conversation responded to his interlocutor: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”
In other words, those who come seeking to destroy the boundary walls are in fact seeking to destroy everything, all life, to burn it all down. The demonic madness of their actions is something they apparently do not see, they are like the person who cuts off the tree branch that they are sitting on or who lights the house on fire trapping themselves inside it.
King Solomon warned the Hebrews once and the lesson needs to be learned by each successive generation. He wrote simply: “Remove not the ancient landmark which your fathers have set” (Pv. 22:28). There was great value in the ancient tradition of keeping the Rogation Days, reciting the Great Litanies and making the procession of the parochial boundaries. “Good fences make good neighbours” wrote Robert Frost.
The Rogation Days are an opportunity for us to recall, to ask again, for what it is that is most needful in our lives. To ask God to preserve us – to deliver us “from all evil and mischief; from sin; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from God’s justly deserved wrath; and from everlasting damnation.”
* Couldn’t help myself.