This church season is no ‘ordinary time,’ but a chance to grow in and share the faith
June 13, 2014
This week, we have entered the season of the church’s year called "Ordinary Time." The name of the season, which stretches all the way until Advent begins (Nov. 30 this year), is a good example of something being lost in translation. We commonly use the term "ordinary" to describe things that do not rate much notice or concern. If we think of the coming weeks and months of our Christian life in that way, then we are likely to miss the many opportunities offered these days to grow in the vocation of discipleship to which each of us is called.
Earlier this spring, we celebrated the canonization of two new saints, John XXIII and John Paul II. As it turned out, they each lived extraordinary lives and displayed heroic virtue. Pope Francis did not make them saints. Rather, he declared what was already true because of God’s grace and their free choice. Or perhaps, it is better to say their choices.
When each of these new saints became pope, he began an extraordinary period in his life. This followed and built upon a lifetime of what we might call ordinary decisions to cooperate with grace, to follow Jesus. And whenever they were asked what sustained them in a time of great responsibility and challenge, they were quick to name what seemed like ordinary practices: prayer, the sacraments, healthy friendships, study and reflection.
God’s plan is for each of us to become saints. That is, God has created us to live forever with him in heaven. This wonderful plan can be realized, in spite of human sin and weakness, by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our cooperation also is necessary since God always respects his gift of freedom in us. The process of our becoming saints takes place for us, like it has for the saints now in heaven, primarily in Ordinary Time.
We will not be tempted to think of Ordinary Time as wasted time in the Christian life when we recall that it is the time following the feast of Pentecost. As we read the Acts of the Apostles, we discover the great vitality that was evident in the early church following the coming of the Holy Spirit. The first disciples of Jesus had heard his teaching and seen his miracles. They had witnessed his death, resurrection and ascension. The Holy Spirit then made it possible for them to take up the mission that Jesus gives to his disciples day after day.
The ordinary life of a spirit-filled disciple was the same then as it is today. We see it reflected in the verses of the New Testament. Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council articulated it for our time. The council fathers have reminded us of the universal call to holiness and of the outgoing or evangelizing nature of the Christian community. The Holy Spirit is giving us all we need in Ordinary Time to grow in both aspects of Christian discipleship.
To affirm the universal call to holiness is to say that each of us is called to be a saint. God announces this call in the church in a very particular way on the day of our baptism. Through the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection our sins are forgiven and we become members of the body of the risen Christ. We are adopted into the household of faith. As full members of God’s family, we are promised an inheritance beyond price, eternal life. This inheritance will surely come to you and me, as long as we do not choose to trade it for something of lesser value.
It would be cruel of God to announce that heaven is our destiny and then leave us alone to find that prize on our own. In his goodness, God sends his Holy Spirit to enlighten and sustain us. Given first in baptism, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are strengthened and enlivened in confirmation. We have been confirmed so we have the wisdom and the fortitude to choose our saintly destiny on ordinary days, every day. As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, we become more fully ourselves, more fully alive and more fit for eternal life.
While the Spirit is given as a personal gift to each of us and lives within us, the Spirit also brings us together in the church. It is not the plan of Jesus that we become saints in isolation. In fact that is a contradiction. Our response to Jesus then, can never be simply a private matter. We might say that Jesus has established the church to be a support group for saints in the making. We are formed and sustained by the sacraments, as well as by a rich Catholic piety. In the teachings of our faith, the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us in our time. The call to holiness involves great consolation and great self-denial. Both are possible within the communion of the church.
At the same time, the church’s mission is not only to take care of her own. As Vatican II has taught so clearly (and it has been clear since Pentecost), those who are called to be saints are also called to be evangelizers. The Holy Spirit has been given to us so we would go out of ourselves, out of the doors of the church, and offer the invitation to life in Christ to as many others as possible. The council made clear that this witness in the world is not to be limited to the ordained or to a few missionaries. In fact, in Ordinary Time, every baptized person is responsible for spreading the Gospel at home, at work, at school, in politics and in social settings.
An essential way for each of us to grow in holiness is by inviting others to come to Jesus. We are aware that we issue that invitation by an attractive example of Gospel living as well as with words. We are called daily to be salt and light, in other words, to have an effect for good in the particular circumstances in which we live.
We are called to become saints now, in Ordinary Time. There is no better time – not when the kids are raised, not when the bills are paid, not when life gets less stressful, but now. We are filled with the Holy Spirit who makes it possible, who makes it a joy.
In the 13th century, St. Bonaventure composed a prayer asking for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We can make this our prayer in Ordinary Time:
Lord Jesus, as God’s Spirit came down and rested upon you, may the same Spirit rest upon us, bestowing his sevenfold gifts. First, grant us the gift of understanding, by which your precepts may enlighten our minds. Second, grant us counsel, by which we may follow in your footsteps on the path of righteousness. Third, grant us courage, by which we may ward off the Enemy’s attacks. Fourth, grant us knowledge, by which we can distinguish good from evil. Fifth, grant us piety, by which we may acquire compassionate hearts. Sixth, grant us fear, by which we may draw back from evil and submit to what is good. Seventh, grant us wisdom, that we may taste fully the life-giving sweetness of your love.