Ordinary Time: A Time to Grow in Faith
As Catholics we live in multiple worlds. Or more accurately we are aware that we live in multiple worlds. Before you begin to think that I’m going off on some crystal wearing, multiple dimensional delusional tirades, let me explain. We all live in the world in which everybody is aware. We have to go to work, we have to pay bills, we have to buy groceries, and on and on. Everybody has to live in this world.
But we are also aware that the world that I just described, the world that we all know all too well, is not all there is. Some people think this world is all that there is. But we know that there is so much more than this. There is the spiritual life that we have to be aware of. Spiritual realities such as angels and demons, constant spiritual warfare, the invisible world of grace culminating with the Mass, these things are all as real as the job we have to go to, the money we need to buy groceries.
In the same way, we live in two different timelines. We all live in what is called “secular time”. We cannot escape living in this secular time. The word secular comes from the latin word “saeculum” which is the amount of time of a single lifetime. From birth to death, this amount of time is a “saeculum”. Of course, this amount of time is different for each person. For example, my grandfather lived until the age of 94 whereas his wife, my grandmother, lived until she was 87. We all know people who have lived longer and shorter than this. Thus, in general a “saeculum” is the potential of what can happen in a lifetime. But what it cannot be assigned to is what happens before life or after death. So, if you can imagine the timeline one would make of one’s life, it would be a long line. At the left end would be birth and at the right end would be death and all the events of our life would be somewhere in the middle. Graduation, marriage, the birth of children, retirement, etc. all fit onto this timeline.
But, as Catholics, we know that this life is not all there is. We live in a world that also has a different timeline. A timeline that is not a secular life, but rather a liturgical life. And this liturgical life has a timeline as well; but rather than being linear it is circular. But to call it circular is not quite accurate. Or rather, it shouldn’t be. Let me explain.
The Liturgical Cycle
The liturgical year is often displayed in a circle, and we move around it once per year. Things repeat themselves every year. Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and the various feast days of saints and events in the life of Christ and his mother. Come the next year, we celebrate the same feast. In this way, it is easy to see how it could be circular. But rather than circular, we should see the liturgical calendar more like a screw. Yes, it does go around and around, but as it goes around, and precisely because it goes around, it also goes deeper.
Think about the next major feast in your life, it doesn’t even have to be from the liturgical calendar. Maybe it’s a birthday or an anniversary. Are you in the same place you were exactly one year ago? Five years ago? Twenty-five years ago? Hopefully not. Hopefully the moment means something more- if it is an anniversary hopefully the relationship is deeper than it was the last anniversary. So, while it is possible that one is in the same place as one was last year one hopes that it doesn’t happen. So, while it really could be circular, we hope it is rather more like a screw. The same with the liturgical year.
We hope that as we move through the liturgical year we grow deeper in our faith. We hope that by repeating the same feasts over and over again that we grow deeper and deeper in love with Our Lord and His Church. It may seem very easy to do this during some seasons of the liturgical year than others. Advent and Lent help us prepare. Christmas and Easter help us celebrate the major feasts. But what about the rest of the time? The time when the priest wears green. The time we call “ordinary time”?
Often times we think of these times as merely filler times between the times of preparation and of celebration. We sometimes take a little mental break from our spiritual lives because there really isn’t a major feast that we are immediately preparing for or celebrating. But ordinary time cannot just be filler time, we have to use this time to continue to grow in our faith and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church. But this will look different than our times during Easter and Christmas time and different than Advent and Lent. So how can we approach Ordinary Time so that it becomes spiritual fruitful and helps us grow rather than remain stagnant in our faith?
More Than Just Ordinary
Ordinary Time is not called ordinary because it is plain or uneventful. It is called Ordinary Time because it has a particular order to it. Some parishes announce before Mass which week it is, for example, “Today is the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time…” If you follow the readings in the missal you will find which Sunday of Ordinary Time it is written in there. There is an order to the Sundays, and this order can help us deepen our faith lives. Firstly, by paying attention to the Gospel readings.
The Sunday Gospels are on a three-year cycle. Each of these years, generally, follows one of the synoptic Gospels. John is interspersed, especially during the other seasons besides Ordinary Time. So, find out which Gospel is being read this year and do a little bit of research. You’ll find even a tiny bit of knowledge about the Gospel can help you greatly. Even just read the one page introduction to the Gospel that most bibles have immediately before the Gospel begins. Learning who the original intended audience for each Gospel was helps us in listening and hearing how God is speaking to us.
Another thing we can do is allow Ordinary Time to be a time of silent growth. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd simplifies the liturgical calendar when it teaches it to young children and Ordinary Time is explained as a time of growth for the gifts received during the feast times. It is a good time, and not just for young children, to help unfold and develop the spiritual gifts that are given during the feast times. One way this can be done is to keep a little spiritual journal and ensure that you write during the high feast times; what were your reactions to seeing the lights come on during the Easter Vigil. Or perhaps your reflections and reactions to seeing others come into the Church through baptism. Then, during Ordinary Time, go back and prayerfully re-read these journal entries and see how God might use them to continue to speak to you today.
Here in the United States, and many other countries in the Northern hemisphere, a large portion of Ordinary Time happens during the summer break of most schools and thus becomes a time of vacation and a disruption to the schedule for anybody in a family with school-aged children. Some may see Ordinary Time as a placeholder between the feasts and thus if they travel, making it to Mass on Sunday doesn’t become a priority. I encourage you to not fall into this trap! With the technology available today, it becomes easy to find a Catholic Church close to where you may be traveling, and a simple check of their website or a call to the parish can find their Mass times. Do this! Especially if you are traveling to a different country. Even if you can’t understand the local language. It’s a great chance to experience the universality of the Church! Trust me, you’ll understand more than you think you will!
Overall, my encouragement is to not treat Ordinary Time as the little brother of the other liturgical times. We need to continue to treat the liturgical calendar as a screw, always going round and round; but constantly going deeper. Ordinary Time is important to this process!