Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Ordinary Time" Is Not Ordinary

The Easter season in the Roman liturgical calendar ends with Pentecost Sunday - fifty days following the celebration of Easter.  On the day after Pentecost, the Church begins a liturgical cycle known as "ordinary time."  While it might not have been readily seen by most Catholics who attend weekly liturgies (because of two special feasts on the two Sundays following Pentecost), it would have become apparent when they arrived for worship the weekend before this to see the color green on vestments and adornments.

Of course, the term "ordinary" here does not mean the "regular, hum-drum, or run of the mill" but rather refers to the numbering of Sundays using ordinal numbers.  There are two times during the liturgical year when we celebrate "ordinary time" - between the Christmas season and Lent and the period following Pentecost.

But even though our usual use of the term "ordinary" does not apply here, it strikes me that the liturgical calendar of our Church pretty much imitates our various life cycles.  In the beginning of the liturgical year we celebrate Advent while we await the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus.  How many times in our own lives do we wait for something important with great expectation - it might be the birth of our own child(ren), the message that we have been given the job that we have so long sought, the word from the bank that we have been given the mortgage to buy the house of our dreams, and so on.  We wait for these events with prayerful anticipation just as the Church waits for the coming of the Savior.

Then we have the period of rejoicing when something wonderful happens in our lives - when what was long awaited has happened: the child is born, the son or daughter graduates from college, the new house is finished, the new job is just what we wanted, etc.  Such joy we experience like the Church does as it celebrates the Christmas season.

But in all of our lives there are those times when things don't always go our way.  We may experience either mental or physical suffering, the loss of a job, the dwindling health of a loved one, and perhaps even the death of someone close to us.  We look to our God at these times for strength and support to get us through the difficult times.  Such is the Church's celebration of the season of Lent when we are asked to practice penance and self-denial in concert with the recollection of the sufferings that Jesus underwent for our salvation.

But again - joy returns!  He is risen and we also arise from our sufferings.  Perhaps we have conquered a disease that has been troubling us; perhaps someone we loved experiences a recovery from a difficult situation.  The joy of Easter is in our hearts and we thank our God for his great gifts and mercy.

Surrounding all of these life experiences, however, are those times when things go on at a normal or "ordinary" pace.  We go to work each day and enjoy the times with our families.  We may be in school studying so that we can improve our own chances in life.  Whatever the situation we are doing the ordinary things of life.

But is our God ordinary?  We can experience God in those high moments of our lives when things are going so well as well as seeking him in those times when things are tough.  Through all of these times our God is not ordinary - our God is extraordinary; our God is amazing.  This is also true of those times in our lives when we are just going about the ordinary things of life.  God never leaves us to be with us only in those times of either great joy or great sorrow.

In an earlier post this year (3 March - The Sound of Silence) I recounted the story of Elijah found in Chapter 19 of the First Book of Kings where Elijah is waiting to hear the voice of the Lord and does not hear it in either the wind, the earthquake, or the fire but only finally hears it in a "tiny whispering sound."  Sometimes - in fact probably most of the time - God comes to us in these whispering sounds rather than in the bombast of wind, fire or earthquake.  My question then as now is "Are we listening?"

The man whispered, "God, speak to me."  And the meadowlark sang.  But the man did not hear.  So the man yelled, "God, speak to me!"  And thunder and lightning rolled across the sky.  But the man did not listen.  The man looked around and said, "God, let me see you."  And a star shone brightly.  But the man did not see.  And the man shouted, "God, show me a miracle!"  And a life was born.  But the man did not notice.  So the main cried out in despair, "Touch me, God, and let me know you are here."  Whereupon God reached down and touched the man.  But the man brushed away the butterfly and walked on.

We are now in the numbered weeks of the liturgical year known as "ordinary time."  But no time is ordinary with our amazing God who will be with us at all times whispering to us and touching us in various ways; we only need to listen and to be aware.  The color used during this liturgical period is green - the color of hope.  As we look around our world today we may find little reason to hope: military action is underway for our armed forces in three areas of the world, the threat of terrorism is constantly presented to us in the daily news stories, the ravages of weather that have occurred this year have almost seemed unprecedented.  Yet we move on in hope - a hope based in the fact that our God never abandons us.  Our God in the person of Jesus Christ, went to the very depths of the human experience in death in order that we might live.  Knowing this, how can we doubt that our God will remain with us?  Let us celebrate "ordinary time" with our extraordinary God!

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