Meeting the Lord in the Ordinary Time of Life
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We have moved from the Christmas season into Ordinary Time in the Liturgical calendar of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.
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Photo credit: K. Mitch Hodge
However, there really is no truly "ordinary" time, in the sense of mundane time, because time itself has been transformed by the Paschal mystery â€" the saving Incarnation - the conception, birth, life, suffering death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, the Christ.
The eternal One entered into our human history, and we are forever changed through His coming.
Ordinary time presents us with an opportunity to consider the fact that living as a Christian challenges each of us to meet the Lord in the real stuff of our own daily life. He is already there, walking before us and beckoning us to follow Him. We simply need to open our spiritual eyes.
After weeks of preparing for -and then celebrating - the Christmas season, all the decorations have come down in our homes and our church sanctuaries. The patterns of daily life now unfold before us and invite us to find the Lord in them.
We do not walk these paths alone. The Lord has broken into our ordinary time and transforms it from within. For those who have eyes to see His work, ears to hear His voice, and Hearts open to receive his gifts of grace, ordinary time can become extraordinary.
All who bear the name Christian are called to ongoing conversion -in Him. We are all called to holiness of life. We are invited to cooperate with grace and give our whole lives over to the Lord who takes up His residence within us and continues His mission through us. This happens in the stuff of our ordinary time.
The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the early Christians in Galatia, No longer do I live but Christ lives in me and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God. (Gal. 2:20) That can become our experience as we give ourselves over to Him and seek to live by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians can live differently precisely because we live now our lives in Jesus Christ.
We can love differently because we love in and with the love of Jesus Christ. We can become different, at the deepest level, when we cooperate with grace and allow the character of Jesus Christ to be formed in us. Jesus Christ continues His life through His Mystical Body, His Church, of which we are members.
During the first week of Ordinary time in the Liturgical season of the Church we follow the inauguration of the Kingdom through the public ministry of Jesus in the account of the Evangelist St Mark. We read of the calling of Simon and Andrew.
These men, upon hearing the words "Come, follow me", abandoned their nets, their jobs and their father, to follow Him. (Mk 1: 14-20)
They were ordinary fisherman who heard the Lord. They did not stay put when they heard that voice. They took the risk which lies at the heart of discipleship. They left their nets, their place of comfort and safety, and followed Him on the adventure of faith.
We will hear Marks account of one of the multiple examples of the authority of Jesus over evil. He enters the Synagogue at Capernaum (Mk 1:21-28) where he is confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. A dramatic confrontation with evil follows - and a liberating deliverance takes place. Evil is real and only Jesus Christ can expose it and overcome its debilitating effects.
The man cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God! Jesus rebuked him and said, Quiet! Come out of him! The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him."
We will hear of the healing of Peter's Mother in Law. (Mk. 1:29-39) Jesus entered the families of those whom He called to follow after Him - and transformed them from within. The account ends with Jesus, rising early to pray and being told by Simon, Everyone is looking for you. (Mk. 1:29-39)
Everyone is still looking for Jesus. Jesus still heals. Jesus still delivers from evil. Jesus still enters into our families, if we but recognize him in the circumstances of our ordinary life. Jesus still calls men and women to hear His voice and follow Him. Do we hear Him call? Will we follow Him?
In Thursdays Gospel passage we meet the leper who kneels before Jesus and says "If you wish, you can make me clean." The account continues, "Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. (Mk. 1:40-45)
In each of these accounts we witness response of ordinary people who learn how to bring themselves, along with their imperfections, suffering and struggles to Jesus. In Him, and by the grace which flows from Him, everything is made different.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews reminded us "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. (Hebrews 14:15)
In the decision to follow the Lord, we choose to bring to Him our weakness, our frailty, our suffering and our inability, on our own, to overcome the deep-seated patterns of life which lead us away from true freedom. These can become the material out of which He refashions us and makes us new.
This is some of what is meant by the expression the mystery of suffering in Christian teaching. Saint Jose Maria Escriva wrote "The great Christian revolution has been to convert pain into fruitful suffering and to turn a bad thing into something good. We have deprived the devil of this weapon; and with it we can conquer eternity.
I have discovered that the older I get the less I know and the more imperfections I discover in myself. As a younger man, I labored under a misconception that living the Christian life would somehow get easier as I figured it out. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
There is, in fact, a reverse reality at work in life. I am more and more aware of my own weaknesses and have only just begun to understand the admission of St. Paul to the young disciple Timothy that he was the chief among sinners"(1 Tim. 1:15).
This honest admission of Paul did not reflect some kind of poor self-image. To the contrary, it revealed the mature self-awareness and humility of a Christian who had come to understand why we call God's redemptive work in our lives amazing grace.
The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Corinth: we hold this treasure in earthen vessels (so) that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. (2 Corinthians 4: 5-11)
The Lord has made our weakness and frailties a path to a deepening relationship with Him. They can be a door to progress in our baptismal call to holiness of life. We constantly need a Savior precisely because we are earthen Vessels. The process of being emptied of self and filled with His life happens by grace but requires our continual response, our cooperation, with His loving plan.
Francis DeSales (1567-1610), a great western saint and pastor of souls, once wrote in a letter to one of the many who sought his holy counsel God wants your misery to be the throne of His mercy. He desires that your powerlessness be the seat of His omnipotence.
So it is with you and me. The reality of our frail human nature is that we are weak and the struggles we face in our daily lives do not necessarily lessen as we age.
We fall and we fail. The Good News is that the Lord is always there, ready to forgive, to heal and to help us to get back up and, with the help of His grace, begin again and again and again. It is not how many times we fall, but whether we get up. This is ordinary time, made extraordinary by our cooperating with grace.
In another letter to a pilgrim seeking his spiritual counsel, Francis DeSales wrote: "Be patient with the whole world, but, above all with yourself. I want to tell you not to lose your serenity because of your imperfections, and always to have the zest to raise yourself up. It gives me joy to see each day you begin again. There is no better way to finish life well than to return to the starting point always and not ever to think that we have done enough."
That great pastor of souls was dispensing very good advice for you and me as we follow Jesus in the Ordinary Time of Life. He is calling us. Let go of those nets and follow Him.