Sunday, January 22, 2012


What we consider to be "ordinary" has a tendency to change with the times, doesn't it?

Once upon a time, the ordinary way to get around was on foot, maybe on horseback. Nowadays, we think nothing of getting in the car to go to the other end of the block. Once upon a time, the ordinary way to make a call was to use the telephone down at the corner store--the one the whole neighborhood used. Now most of us carry a cellphone in our pocket. (Sometimes, one in each pocket!)

39 years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision which legalized abortion in this country. Since then, it's become a fairly commonplace procedure--one which has resulted in more than 50 million innocent human lives ended before even having a chance to be born. But let us never, ever come to think of this as something "ordinary." Let us recommit ourselves to working and praying together for an end to abortion and all its tragic causes.

   Third Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

Pondering the greatness of God, a man once asked,
“What is a thousand years like for you, God?”
“Oh,” said God, “for me a thousand years is like…one second.”
“Hmm,” thought the man.
“So, God, what’s a million dollars like for you?”
“Well,” said God, “for me a million dollars is like…a penny.”
Hmm,” thought the man
“Then, God, could you spare a penny?”
“Sure,” said God.  “In just a second.” 

It’s certainly a central theme of our readings this Sunday:
Forty days, says Jonah, and Nineveh shall be destroyed;
I tell you, writes Paul, the time is running out;
This, announces Jesus, is the time of fulfillment.

It’s long been a human hobby
to mark and record time.
Various cultures have developed calendars
based on the natural cycles
of the sun and the moon.
We measure time with units
from millennia down to milliseconds.
And as careful as we are to keep track of time,
we nonetheless relish
breaking the regular rhythm of things
both with public holidays
and private anniversaries.

It should come as no surprise, then,
that the Church has a calendar of her own.
At its center is Sunday—the Lord’s Day—
a day to be kept holy,
according to the Third Commandment.
Early Christians adopted the Jewish week of seven days,
transferring their Sabbath rest to the week’s first day—
gathering for Eucharist on the day of Christ’s resurrection.
(In case you didn’t know,
in the Jewish tradition
a new day doesn’t begin at midnight,
but at sunset;
that’s why you can go to Sunday Mass 
late on Saturday afternoon!)

Not only does every week
begin with a special observance,
but two principal annual feasts
arose rather quickly:
first Easter and then Christmas,
each one growing to include 
a season of preparation beforehand
and a season of ongoing celebration to follow.

That covers 18-19 weeks.
But what distinguishes the rest of the year?

Once upon a time, the period we’re in right now
was known as the Sundays after Epiphany.
Before Lent begins, we keep basking in the light of Christmas
as its great mystery continues to unfold:
the Word became flesh and dwells among us still,
even as we await his return in glory.
And also once upon a time, the summer and autumn months
were known as the Sundays after Pentecost.
Until the start of Advent, we keep attending to the work of the Spirit
and looking forward to our own resurrection—
all the while, the risen Christ remaining with us,
as he promised, to the end of the age.

But since 1970, these in-between times have been renamed:
in Latin, the tempus per annum—literally, “time through the year,”
and in English usually rendered as Ordinary Time.

That word, ordinary, can be a little problematic.
In popular usage, to describe something as ordinary
means that it’s regular or plain, uninteresting—
maybe even tedious and dull.
(Just try telling a lady, “You look very ordinary today,”
and you’ll see what I mean.)
That could give the impression
that these 33-34 weeks—the bulk of the year—
are basically unimportant:
a boring lull between the fasting and feasting of other seasons.

As you might well guess:
nothing could be farther from the truth.

The “ordinary” in Ordinary Time
doesn’t mean “common” time,
but “numbered” or “counted” time;
we might do better to call it Well-Ordered Time.
This may not be a period for focusing in
on a particular episode from the life of Jesus
or a certain aspect of the mystery of our salvation,
but this is time for looking at the big picture
and making sure everything is progressing as it should.

So the Church wears green during this well-ordered time.
The color of orchards and forests, of gardens and grass,
green is the color of growth,
the color of hope—especially for us living here with cold and snow.
Ordinary Time is a time for us to mature—
to come out of the deserts of Advent and Lent,
to come down from the mountains of Christmas and Easter,
and to graze heartily in the level, green pastures of the Lord.

You can lead a horse to water,
but you can’t make it drink.
And God can put us in lush meadows,
but he can’t make us eat.
As a member of the Lord’s flock,
what am I doing to feed my faith
during these weeks of Ordinary Time?
Are my heart and mind already filled up with junk food?
Or are they starving for lack of nourishment?
As with our bodies, so with our souls:
they can’t grow or be strong without a regular, healthy diet—
not to mention the exercise of putting our faith into daily practice.

As he did with the fishermen Simon and Andrew, James and John:
Jesus calls us away from what the world considers “ordinary.”
This is the time of fulfillment, he says.
Repent and believe in the gospel.
We mustn’t wait
for some extraordinary occasion—
to find some “greener pasture.”
Jesus echoes the prophet Jonah:
now is the time to repent,
to change the things in our lives
that most need changing.
And now is the time to believe:
not as some sort of mental exercise
or purely emotional affair
but, as St. Paul encourages,
to make faith spring into action—
yes, in how we think and how we feel,
but even more in our words and our deeds.
If we choose to follow Jesus,
then we no longer belong
to this passing world;
we belong to the eternal Kingdom of God,
and that Kingdom challenges us
to leave the old behind
and live in an entirely new way.

I suspect that we human beings
are so careful about measuring time
because we know it’s a limited resource:
we can never be sure just how much of it we’ve got,
and yet we know that, with every moment, we have less.
With the strength this Eucharist gives,
let’s make sure our time is well-ordered.
With Christ, none of it can ever—really—be ordinary…
…and we haven’t a second to spare.

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