Saturday, January 9, 2016

No Ordinary Time

Sunday January 10, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, marks the end of the Christmas season. It is the last of the feasts celebrating God’s “showing forth” the Son to the world (as in the birth in Bethlehem and the coming of the wise men from the East).

Ordinary baseball bench
Then on Monday, January 11, we begin what is called on the church’s calendar “ordinary time.” The adjective ordinarius in Latin means “in numerical order, numbered,” and refers in this instance to the fact that the weeks in this part of the liturgical calendar are simply referred to by number. Thus we begin the “first week of ordinary time” on Monday.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 1995 book about World War II and President Roosevelt is entitled “No Ordinary Time,”  a perfect title to describe those war years. I think of this title twice each year -- at the end of the Christmas season and at the end of the Easter season -- when the church calendar returns us to “ordinary time.”

How misleading! At least if we called it “numbered time” we’d realize that the church is not suggesting that we all now return to a life that’s just “ordinary.” No Christian's life is ever supposed to be “just ordinary;” our baptism has given each of us a role that is in fact pretty “extraordinary.” One way to look at your extraordinary calling as a Christian is to reflect on the first reading for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, as we head into ordinary time.

Traditionally taken as a prophecy concerning Jesus in his role as “the Suffering Servant of the Lord” from Isaiah 42, this passage tells us something of our own role received as a result of our own baptism. Try reading the entire citation below as if it were meant for you. If it’s about Jesus, it’s also about you and the way you should live your not-so-ordinary life.

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

In my meditation this morning the verse that caught my attention was “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.”

The messiah in other words, is going to be characterized by a certain gentleness toward people and situations. I pondered that for some time and asked the Lord to help me to be that way towards my students, toward my brother monks, and toward whatever situations I may encounter in the coming weeks and months of ordinary time.

If I could really manage to practice that gentle approach every day, then my life would surely be “no ordinary time.”

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