I suppose by now you’ve noticed that the priest is wearing a green chasuble, the fancy poncho-like thing he wears over his white vestments. If you come back next Sunday, he’ll have on a different outfit, because he dresses according to the liturgical season. Next Sunday will be the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, and the priest will wear white or gold. The Church calendar has different seasons, and we will soon be entering a new season, so the colors we use at Mass will change. Until Advent begins, we are celebrating what we call Ordinary Time.
When I became Catholic, I was overwhelmed by the joy of constant celebration in the Church. To my delight, Christmas and Easter were not just one day to look forward to, but rather entire seasons in which to meditate upon the Incarnation and the Resurrection. No longer did I suffer through the euphemistically entitled “holiday season” – Advent was emphasized as a time of preparation not only for the coming of the Christ Child to us in the past, but also for the soon coming again of Christ the King of Glory. Lent with its communal fasting and abstinence only served to heighten the meaning of the Suffering, Death and incredible, unfathomable Resurrection of the Lord. Solemnities like the Most Holy Trinity or Corpus Christi emphasized how real these theological concepts are to Catholics and how important their contemplation. I reveled in the seemingly constant celebration.
And then along came poopy old Ordinary Time. I experienced the letdown that as a child I felt after Christmas, when the decorations are packed away, the doll I wanted so badly has a broken arm, and tomorrow we go back to school. It’s OVER. Now real life intrudes on my happy little world….
Fortunately our priest once made the connection in his homily between Ordinary Time and the hidden life of Jesus, the years between the Finding in the Temple and the beginning of His public ministry – a lot of years on which the Bible remains completely silent. Much speculation, a lot of it outrageous, has been generated concerning this time in the life of the Son of God. What was He doing all those years? Why is there no discussion of it in Scripture? God in the Flesh didn’t do anything noteworthy for nearly 20 years of His earthly life? Hard to believe! Was He just twiddling His thumbs, waiting in the wings while the voice crying out in the wilderness warmed up?
Not exactly. God Incarnate was busy doing what I do every day. He was waking up, helping His mother, going to work, eating, conversing, playing, caring, aiding, praying, sleeping again. Wasted time?
We moderns tend to think that God put us here on this earth to perform Tasks. The importance of the Tasks we perform has become the yardstick whereby to measure the worth of a human being. This leads invariably to a devaluation of human life, since a very large number of humans perform tasks that our society holds in low esteem. A woman who serves on a Board of Directors is “important” and therefore admirable; a woman who stays home and directs bored children – not so much. A man who holds public office performs a “valuable” service – a man who faithfully goes to the office every day and carries out the duties of a job he doesn’t particularly like is just treading water. When Jesus stays quietly at home and planes wood, He is a nobody – no reason to pay any attention to Him. When Jesus goes out into the world and heals lepers, He is Somebody.
False. The Son of God remains the Son of God whatever He is doing. The very name of God is “I AM THAT I AM,” so to judge Jesus by what He happens to be doing at the moment would be a worldly error. Judging me by my so-called accomplishments would be equally misguided. I am called to follow Jesus at every moment, and the yardstick I am measured by is the same one His Father measured Him by – the yardstick of faithfulness. “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased!” He proclaimed concerning the Man who had just emerged from 18 years of radio silence. Obviously this “nothing” that Jesus had been doing had been executed faithfully and well. If herding children is what I am called to at the moment, I must prove faithful to that task. If shuffling office paperwork is how I spend forty years of my life, I must prove faithful to that task. To judge a person by the task to which he has been called is folly – some of us have been called only to the task of waking every morning to offer up the pain He has allowed into our life. Our faithfulness at that task is what will make us shine brightly in the Kingdom of Heaven, potentially far brighter than any mere Fortune 500 corporate director or world leader. And this is the beauty that we see in Ordinary Time – it is a Catholic celebration of what we have all been called to do – live in daily faithfulness to our calling as children of God.
Ordinary Time is nearly over for this year, and “exciting” times are at hand: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Feast of the Nativity, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – Big Stuff. Yet the decisions I make on the Big Days of my life are the same ones I must make on days in my own personal ordinary time, as the reading from Mass yesterday morning emphasized:
“The wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
And in that sense, there is no such thing as “ordinary” time.
On the memorial of St. Mechtilde of Hackeborn
Deo omnis gloria!