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home : our faith : faith alive August 20, 2017

FAITH ALIVE: Rereading the life of Christ in ordinary time
A priest celebrates Sunday Mass in a Catholic church in Gaithersburg, Md. Priests routinely wear green vestments during “ordinary time” in the Church’s liturgical year, which takes up about 65 percent of it. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

A priest celebrates Sunday Mass in a Catholic church in Gaithersburg, Md. Priests routinely wear green vestments during “ordinary time” in the Church’s liturgical year, which takes up about 65 percent of it. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

By David Gibson | Catholic News Service

Take care not to disembody Jesus. That advice is derived from "The Joy of the Gospel," Pope Francis' widely read 2013 apostolic exhortation.

But what is "a disembodied Jesus"? This is Jesus as he might be envisioned by people hoping to satisfy a "thirst for God," but whose quest stops short, ending with a Lord "who demands nothing of us with regard to others."

Pope Francis exhorts the church "to respond adequately" to the thirst for God found among so many. He wants them to discover a spirituality in the church that offers "healing and liberation," filling them "with life and peace." Otherwise, he fears, their spirituality may be marked by "an unhealthy individualism" and isolation from the faith community.

It is a decidedly embodied Jesus who is met in the church's worship during the five weeks preceding Lent, one of two periods during every liturgical year known as ordinary time.

In Advent, the church journeys toward Bethlehem. In Lent, another journey proceeds toward Jesus' death and resurrection. But a journey characterizes ordinary time, too, a journey alongside Jesus as he heals suffering people, invites the crowds drawn to him to a deeper understanding of God's word or dines with individuals considered unacceptable by many.

In the Scripture readings for Masses during the weeks before Lent, we watch Jesus negotiate his way through large crowds and hear repeatedly how he is "moved with pity" for them.

The ordinary time readings reintroduce the faith community to a Jesus who eats with sinners and tax collectors. He explains that "those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do" (Mk 2:13-17).

Jesus in ordinary time is the compassionate healer of Simon's mother-in-law (Mk 1:29-31). He is an excellent teacher, too. His thought-provoking parables perplex and challenge listeners, while holding their rapt attention.

The kindness of Jesus is apparent in ordinary time. When a man suffering from leprosy says to him, "If you wish, you can make me clean," Jesus responds: "I do will it. Be made clean" (Mk 1:40-45).

Jesus' caring concern for the well-being of the crowds surrounding him is clear, too. After realizing that some 4,000 people, with him "for three days," have not eaten, he summons his disciples, saying:

"If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a great distance."

Confused, the disciples ask, "Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?" (Mk 8:1-10).What Jesus does next is well-known and constitutes a lasting call to his followers.

The feeding of so many with seven loaves and a few fish is wondrous. Moreover, seeing Jesus act out of concern for the hunger of others invites his followers to follow suit. As Pope Francis once commented, in sharing the little we have, God's power "comes down into our poverty to transform it."

In ordinary time, the church focuses intently on the life of Christ. His actions in this world prompt reflection and nourish Christian spirituality.

Pope Francis points out in "The Joy of the Gospel" that "by his words and his actions" Jesus teaches a "way of looking at others" (No. 194). Thus, familiarity with the life of Christ is invaluable for Christians.

"Jesus' whole life, his way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily acts of generosity and finally his complete self-giving, is precious and reveals the mystery of his divine life," the pope comments in No. 265 of "Evangelii Gaudium."

Pope Francis frequently accents the centrality of Jesus for Christian faith. When the pope addressed some 200,000 representatives of Catholic lay movements in June 2013, he complained mildly and in "a brotherly way" about the welcome they accorded him when he entered St. Peter's Square. He said:

"All of you in the square shouted 'Francis, Francis, Pope Francis,' but where was Jesus? I should have preferred to hear you cry: 'Jesus, Jesus is Lord, and he is in our midst!' From now on enough of 'Francis,' just 'Jesus!'"

Faith, the pope added, "is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others."

The compelling story of the life of Christ heard during the weeks of ordinary time leading to Ash Wednesday will continue to unfold during the days of Lent that lead to Easter. The seasons of the liturgical year are not isolated from each other or in competition. They are interwoven and often point toward each other.

When Jesus restores a deaf man's hearing and removes his "speech impediment" in the Gospel reading for Masses five days before Ash Wednesday (Mk 7:31-37), I find it difficult not to recall the Lenten reading when he opens the eyes of a "man blind from birth" (Jn 9:1-39). Jesus opens eyes and ears, along with minds and hearts.

The people who brought the deaf man to Jesus are heard exclaiming afterward that Jesus "has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7:37).

Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.

Falling into the richness of ordinary time

By Rhina Guidos | Catholic News Service

It can be confusing to hear the words "ordinary time." In a culture that encourages individualism and ambition, and the need to stand out from the pack, the word "ordinary" conjures up images of the average, perhaps of nothing special.

It just so happens, too, that ordinary time, in the life of the church, comes before and after times of major feasts such as Easter and Christmas, when the atmosphere can feel a bit ho-hum and when some of the festive energy has left our parishes.

But there's nothing ordinary about ordinary time, unless we choose to make nothing of it. To start with, what does "ordinary time" mean or what does it refer to? It has nothing with what we think of as "ordinary," meaning not special or unexceptional.

It has much to do with numbers and its Latin root is "ordinal," which refers to the numbered sequence of the weeks. That's why we hear phrases such as "second Sunday" or "third Sunday" of ordinary time during Mass. It refers to the numbered sequence.

Jesuit Father John A. Coleman wrote a 2010 article in America magazine about ordinary time and said that since it takes up much of the liturgical year (about 65 percent of it), it may feel ordinary in the mundane sense of the word: There's so much of it and there's nothing particularly "special" about it.

Yet life, for most of us, is the same way. We don't celebrate birthdays or anniversaries or graduations every day. That doesn't mean we don't -- or have the capacity to -- do important work during that period, Father Coleman says.

"We must not let the ordinary stay ordinary or simply sit around and wait for something 'special' to celebrate," he wrote. "In a similar way, most spirituality is not mainly about spiritual highs or lows -- dramatic or graphic reminders of God's grace and action in our life or periods of mourning. The best spiritual guides all insist that spirituality is about being present to the real as it surrounds us in ordinary time and place."

Ordinary time brings an opportunity to encounter God, much in the same way that an artist encounters great beauty in what others would see as the mundane. In ordinary time, which may "lack focus," Father Coleman says, much of what we read about on Sundays "simply takes up many different parables and narratives of Jesus' ministry."

This brings an opportunity to examine how Jesus lived, what it means, and take the time to figure out how we'll follow and carry out that example. It is almost like being an artist or a poet, Father Coleman says, of this way of "seeing, dwelling on the ordinary as it presents itself. After all, artists take what we often think is ordinary and, by a deep probing, see in it something luminous."

The challenge for Christians isn't to encounter God solely during Christmas or Easter, during times of great joy or sorrow in life. The challenge is to encounter God even when nothing "great" or sorrowful or painful is happening.

"A genuinely contemplative imagination learns to 'dwell' in ordinary time and gain a special vulnerability to the place where it lives," Father Coleman says.

Yet fear of the ordinary, fear of the mundane, fear of doing nothing special in particular, may prevent some of us from coming into a great encounter. But Father Coleman reminds us of the need to seek out God in all things. The cross "is equally found in the everyday," he says.

He encourages us to come into ordinary time this way: "Like the color of the green vestments during 'ordinary time,' if I enter into it with an appropriate spiritual stance, it can become for me my own kind of 'greening' before, from and toward our God."

Guidos is an editor with Catholic News Service.

When ordinary time is less than ordinary

By Daniel S. Mulhall |Catholic News Service

From their earliest days, humans have felt the need to chart the passing of time. Intricate calendars have been developed to mark the passing of seasons and the movements of the moon and sun across the sky.

Christians have their own calendar known as the liturgical year. Through numerous feasts and seasons the faithful explore the "mysteries of salvation," as noted in the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (No. 108), the authoritative document on the church's worship.

The liturgical year includes the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and ordinary time, which is the longest season, lasting either 33 or 34 weeks.

The title of the season called "ordinary time" comes from the word "ordinal," or simply "counted time." So ordinary time is the period of the church's year when the Sundays outside of the other liturgical seasons are counted.

The use of the English word "ordinary" for the majority of the church year can be misleading because there is nothing common or uneventful about this period. During these 33 or 34 weeks we relive, through the Scripture readings and homilies, the story of Jesus' life, the teaching of the early church, and the mystery of God's love for the world.

As the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy puts it in No. 52, "the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text, during the course of the liturgical year." And in No. 102, the document says, "mysteries of redemption" are recalled during this time.

Ordinary time is divided into two periods: the weeks between the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and Ash Wednesday, and the weeks between Pentecost and the first Sunday of Advent. The readings of the first period focus on Jesus' early life and the beginning of his public ministry. The focus of the second period is on Jesus' ministry and teaching. It is during the second period that we learn how we are to live as followers of Christ.

Perhaps the most important aspect of ordinary time is its length. Just as every day in life can't be a birthday or an anniversary or another special occasion, in our spiritual lives not every day can be Christmas or Easter.

Most of life is lived outside of major events. But it is in learning how to bring our faith daily into our normal routines that we truly learn to be disciples of the Lord.

The weeks of ordinary time give us ample opportunities to hone our faith. Regardless of the name of the season, it is important to remember that each time we gather as a community of Catholic Christians, we gather to recall Christ's life and celebrate the Eucharist. We participate in the sacred and we come into direct contact with God in some mysterious way. And there is nothing ordinary about that.

Mulhall is a freelance writer and a catechist for adults. He lives in Laurel, Maryland.

In a Nutshell

Dominican Sister Barbara E. Reid of Grand Rapids, Michigan, wrote in an essay that during ordinary time in the liturgical year, "it may seem more natural to settle into the ordinary ways in which we have been living out our discipleship."

But we're not supposed to settle into a hum-drum routine during this time.

"Instead, we are urged to recognize that a new time presses upon us, requiring different responses from before," she wrote.

Sometimes our response is only triggered when, like the Ninevites, we sense an urgency approaching and we change our response at the last minute.

But during ordinary time, when we learn about the life of Jesus and his ministry, that's when we should be forming our response, instead of waiting for an urgency or greater event to bring about a great change in us.

"There is nothing ordinary about the invitation to follow Jesus more radically in this urgent time," Sister Reid wrote.


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