The Christmas decorations are finally put away, and I admit, my house looks a little bare, a little ordinary. In the cloudy darkness of January, I definitely miss the twinkling lights of our Christmas tree and garlands.
I have never truly welcomed the season of Ordinary Time, the way I welcome Advent, Christmas and Easter. Even Lent has this very clear purpose of repentance necessary for Easter. As much as it is hard, I understand its importance. But Ordinary Time? How do I welcome and embrace something that is so ordinary?
Most of my life, I honestly haven’t given Ordinary Time much thought.
But recently, I have started to reflect on the importance of Ordinary Time—the longest of the liturgical seasons—especially as we enter into it after the celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany.
After Christmas, I usually look forward to getting back into my regular routines. Time with my family, making memories and having fun is so enjoyable. However, after two full weeks off of school, after eating too many Christmas cookies and Dove chocolates, I feel the need for normal. As much as I miss the sparkle of Christmas, I do long for routine and order that tends to get lost in the celebration of the Christmas season.
So, if I long for a return to the ordinary routines of life, why have I dismissed the liturgical season of Ordinary Time for so many years? I am not sure, but somehow, Ordinary Time has never really been part of my desire for order or my annual goals. I have learned to integrate the seasons of Advent, Lent, Christmas and Easter into my personal prayer and family activities. But Ordinary Time? What is there to integrate with this season? Why do we have it? What is its significance?
This weekend, we had a visiting priest at my parish, because our pastor is leading a pilgrimage in the Holy Land. As part of Father’s homily, he explained something about Ordinary Time that I had never heard before but that really changed my perspective on this ordinary season.
As I already knew, he explained that Epiphany is about the manifestation of Jesus to the entire world. Every year, during the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany, we get the chance to renew our belief in who Jesus is and why He came into this world as a tiny babe. In Father’s explanation of the different liturgical seasons, what was new to me was how Ordinary Time relates to Christmas and Epiphany.
Ordinary Time comes from the Latin ordinalis, which means “showing order.” Therefore, Ordinary Time is when we as Christians order our lives in relationship to the manifestation of God! So, if Christmas and Epiphany reveal to us who Jesus is, then Ordinary Time helps us discern what we are to do in light of this reality!
Perhaps this isn’t news to you, but a lightbulb certainly went on for me! This explanation has given me new insight into this ordinary season that is all about “showing order.”
During Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, I am always grateful for the renewed experience of Christ’s birth in my heart and in my family. Through prayers and devotions, Christmas carols and stories, my faith in the Christ child coming to dwell among us is reignited. My love for Him grows, and I strive to make enough room in my heart for Him to have a place to rest His little head.
The celebration of His birth is so tangible and beautiful. I cannot help but cry tears of joy at the words of O Come All Ye Faithful on Christmas Eve, as if it was the Christmas Eve all over again.
In light of my new understanding of Ordinary Time, I now wonder: If the celebration of Christ’s birth is made manifest to the world each and every Christmas, what am I to do with the very real encounter with Christ being born to save me, you and the entire world?
Well, according to the true purpose of Ordinary Time, I am to order my days in a way that lives that manifestation out! I am to look at my life, all the various aspects, and discern how to live a life that is as authentic, joyful, hopeful and loving as possible. Easy? No! But definitely worth the effort. Because the effort hopefully will bring me closer to God and His will for me.
Ordinary Time lines up perfectly with the tradition of New Year’s goals, however, rather than doing what we want or what we think we should do, setting goals within Ordinary Time invites us to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our resolutions. We ask the Lord to show us how our desire to be healthier, to be more productive, to spend more time with our family can lead us to making a greater commitment to being God’s handmaid. In light of the manifestation of Jesus at Christmas—that very real encounter with Him being born to us—how can we in turn say YES with more generosity, gratitude and joy?
Ordinary Time lasts a short time this year before Lent begins (Feb. 18) and Easter follows. But when Ordinary Time returns, after the Holy Spirit comes to ignite the flames of our hearts on Pentecost, it gives us a chance to hit the reset button again, as we hit the mid-way part of the year! Ordinary Time after Pentecost allows us to look at those goals we set in January, and recommit or readjust them accordingly. Then, we can carry on with the ordering of our days, until Advent begins again.
The Catholic Church gives us the liturgical seasons for very specific reasons. It might seem easy to understand the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. It is very important for us to have periods of fasting, repentance, celebration and prayer. Ordinary Time also is extremely important, more important than I ever realized. It allows us a pretty lengthy time to work on our goals, to-dos and routines. Not just any goals, though, but ones that are shaped by our faith and guided by the Holy Spirit working in our lives.