Ordinary Time: A Call to Discipleship
The Christmas season has come and gone. The red and green and gold and white decorations have been tucked away. For many, the winter blues have begun in earnest. It’s a time of quiet and gray skies and waiting for spring to come. It’s a time of waiting and wondering, especially this particular year after a distressing global pandemic and, for Americans, a tumultuous election cycle. It’s now Ordinary Time. In the cycle of the Church year, a brief few weeks of Ordinary Time follows Advent and Christmas before the Lent and Easter cycle begins. In between these intense seasons of preparation and celebration what are we supposed to turn our focus towards? The order of discipleship.
Ordinary Time is not called so because it’s just the common, plain season between the great fasts and feasts. We get the name from the Latin word “ordinis” – which simply means “numbered.” The Church numbers the weeks not connect with Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter. “Ordinis” comes from the root word “ordo” from which our English word, “order” comes. This numbering keeps things in order, and helps the faithful keep track of where we are in the liturgy. We often think of the great seasons as a time to get our spiritual lives in order. We want to appear fresh-faced and cheerful with a squeaky-clean soul and some great penetrating insight on Christmas day or Easter morning. We expect the intensity of Advent and Lent to sanctify us as we are not sanctified throughout the rest of the year. And while it is true that these seasons offer an opportunity for deep reflection on the greatest mysteries of Christ’s life, Ordinary Time can and should be an opportunity for continual growth.
During Ordinary Time we have the chance in the liturgy to reflect on the breadth of Christ’s teaching and public ministry, the chance to follow his journeys, the chance to dwell among him as his disciples dwelt among him. During Ordinary Time, the liturgy does not have the momentum the other seasons have, but tracks along slowly and steadily at a more meditative pace through sermons and miracles. The readings dwell on how Christ calls and interacts with the apostles, and how he forms them through daily life. Ordinary Time is our chance to become the ordinary disciples – to put our discipleship in proper order in our ordinary lives. The apostles ought to be the model of how the faithful approach Ordinary Time: respond to the call, listen to the teaching, and dwell with Christ throughout our daily tasks.
Jesus called the disciples out of their ordinary lives to follow him wherever he went. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee when he called Andrew, Simon (Peter), James, and John (4:18-22). Matthew notes that both pairs of brothers dropped what they were doing and immediately followed Christ at his invitation. Jesus interrupted their normal routine to invite them in. He came to them in the midst of their work and invited them to participate in a new work – becoming “fishers of men” rather than just fishermen. Later in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the saint gives an account of his own call out of the tax collector’s office. Matthew, too, gets up and follows Jesus without reservation. He called the two pairs of brothers out of their honest work and called Matthew out of his sin. We hear about the call of the disciples during the early weeks of Ordinary Time in the liturgy and it is a fitting opportunity to take a step back and ask ourselves, “How is Jesus interrupting my routine right now? What is he inviting me to do? What sins is he calling me out of right now? How can I respond to his invitation?” These are questions we can sit and meditate on each and every day of Ordinary Time so that we might respond with the same alacrity as the apostles.
After rising and following Jesus, the apostles listened to him teach and preach. It was his primary role as a Rabbi to demonstrate his teaching to his followers. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount follows the call of Andrew, Peter, James, and John. They hear his words on the Beatitudes, on interactions with others, and how to pray and trust in God. Following his teaching, they witness him performing miracles. Although they do not listen or understand with perfect comprehension, the disciples are there to listen to what he has to say and to watch what he does. In Chapter 10 of the Gospel, St. Matthew describes how Jesus chose and gathered the Twelve to himself. Jesus gives additional instructions to the Twelve about how coming persecutions, those whom they should fear, and the reality of a life of sacrifice in taking up one’s cross. These are the words he impresses them with before sending them out on mission.
Likewise, during Ordinary Time, we spend weeks and weeks in the liturgy focusing on small passages on Jesus’s teaching and miracles. We can use these weeks as a time to get to know what Jesus taught and came to do in and out. This is an opportunity to sit at the Master’s feet and soak in his teaching, which, above all else, is a revelation of the Father. Christ came that we might know, love, and serve the Father more and better. How can we do that if we are not paying attention to the teaching? It can be easy for the mind to wander during the readings or the homily at Mass, but put yourself in the shoes of the fishermen and look upon the priest as he is in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) to listen during the proclamation of the Gospel and let the words sink in. You cannot love what you do not know, and if we do not know Christ’s teaching we cannot love it, or him, as well as we could. Listening and knowing the teaching will help us order our lives towards that true discipleship to which we are called.
The apostles were with Jesus day in and day out. A Rabbi taught his disciples through a shared life. They travelled together, they ate together, they slept in proximity to one another. Their families welcomed him into their homes. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he really came to dwell among us and experience humanity in its entirety. He experienced everything that we experience except sin. He did household chores, he learned how to be a carpenter from Joseph, he probably picked wildflowers for his mother as a child, and played practical jokes with his cousins. He experienced the full range of human emotion – joy, sadness, loneliness, grief, anger, delight. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, so he knows everything because he is God, but he also knows what we’re going through from his own personal experience.
During Ordinary Time, we can remind ourselves that the God of the universe wants to be invited into our daily lives. He wants us to remember that he does dwell among us – he is everywhere. We can find him in the Eucharist when we go to Mass or Adoration, but we can also encounter him everywhere we go if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Encountering Christ can happen while washing dishes, putting a baby to sleep, shoveling snow from the driveway, sitting in a cubicle, driving in traffic, talking to a neighbor, or having our morning cup of coffee. He is there. He is with us. He wants only for us to recognize his presence among us and invite him into the daily routine. Let us dwell with Christ in the everyday.