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Why there’s nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time


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Brother Silas Henderson, SDS - published on 01/20/18

This "green" season is stripped down for a purpose.
After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” —Mark 1:14-15

On January 9, the day after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Roman Catholics entered upon the first span of that liturgical season called “Ordinary Time.” This “green” season is generally composed of five or six weeks between the end of the Christmas Season and the beginning of Lent and a span of 25 or 26 weeks, lasting from Pentecost through the Solemnity of Christ the King (celebrated on the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time). The term “ordinary” doesn’t mean common or uneventful — though these are not big feast Sundays — but instead refers to the custom of naming the Sundays by ordinal numbers (5th, 16th, 23rd, etc.).

These are the weeks when we take a breath from the more focused seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter to ponder on the mysteries enshrined in those seasons, especially the Incarnation, the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Glorification of Jesus in the Ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. And, to be honest, as I grow older, I appreciate the stripped-down quality of Ordinary Time more and more. At the core of this span of time is the realization that the mysteries we celebrate in these other seasons are so rich, so wonder-ful that we need time to make sense of them.

This means that many of us may need to re-think the way we understand this season. After all, when we hear “ordinary” there is a temptation to shrug off these weeks because “there’s nothing going on.” After all, that’s what “ordinary” means, right? Nothing special. Nothing to see here, folks.

The Gospel proclaimed this Sunday proves to us how wrong that attitude is. Here, in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel (which will be proclaimed on most Sunday’s during the 2017-2018 liturgical year), we find Jesus just beginning his ministry. We almost get the sense that Jesus is picking up where John the Baptist leaves off. After all, the passage opens by observing that John has been arrested and the Good News being proclaimed by Jesus sounds remarkably similar to John’s clarion call to repentance (cf. Matthew 3:2 and 4:17)

There is, however, a significant difference in the proclamation of Jesus and that of John. John’s ministry was oriented toward the One who was to come. Now, we hear Jesus proclaiming that what was promised has been fulfilled: “This is the time of fulfillment.” The wait is over. What John and the prophets hoped and longed for has been realized and Jesus himself is the fulfillment of that promise. As Barbara Reid, OP, has observed, “We are urged to recognize that a new time presses upon us, requiring different responses from before. There is nothing ordinary about the invitation to follow Jesus more radically in this urgent time” (from Abiding Word, Year B).

This sense of urgency is demonstrated in the way in which Simon, Andrew, and the Sons of Zebedee leave their nets behind—no questions asked—to journey with Jesus. The nets they left behind were a symbol of an old way of life. As we will see in the coming weeks, these new disciples don’t leave their families behind (see the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time), but, as Reid notes, “Jesus becomes part of their family, making Capernaum his home, and the disciples become Jesus’ new family, reorienting all relationships.”

In the end, this reorientation—another word for conversion—is what is at stake in these days of Ordinary Time. If we take the revelations of Christ’s presence among us to heart—and this is the heart of the Christmas and Epiphany celebrations—then we also have to recognize that “ordinariness” is no longer a possibility for us. The time has been fulfilled. This is Extra-ordinary Time!

How is Jesus calling you to radical change in these days of Ordinary Time?What are the “nets” that you are hesitant to leave behindWhat does discipleship mean to you?

Words of Wisdom: “In St. Mark, the Good News, or gospel, is the person of Jesus himself, to whom women and men must cleave through faith. When a human being comes face to face with the gospel that is Jesus himself, two things are required of him: he must repent and he must follow Christ in an act of faith.”—Adrian Nocent, OSB, The Liturgical Year (volume 1)

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