June 7, 2013


Ordinary Time is a season of grace

Time is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the involvement of eternal grace in evanescent history. Time is integral to God’s creation. What God made, and determined to be good, includes the movement of history. Time had a beginning—eons ago—and it will have an end when the Lord returns on the Last Day.

This is not the secular understanding of time. Modernity views time as timeless. Science cannot postulate a beginning. Nor can it imagine an end.

Sure, we humans could destroy the world as we know it, or cosmic forces beyond anyone’s control could severely alter the shape of the universe as we now experience it. But an end of time? What could that possibly mean? Our science and understanding are way too limited to conceive of an end of time.

The biblical tradition breaks with many ancient mythologies, and modern theories, in its view that time was created intentionally by God. It has a meaning and a purpose even if we don’t always understand it. Christians believe that time has a beginning (centered on the creation of the world), a middle (the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus) and an end (the Lord’s return in glory).

Why is this important?

Basically, we have two options. We can embrace the passing of time—the movement through history with all its ups and downs, progressions and declines, horrors and joys—as part of God’s plan.

Or we can view history as mindless, directionless movement toward an infinite unknown.

Of course, we cannot know the future. And the ravages of history have taught us that we dare not make the fatal mistake of thinking that what lies ahead will “automatically” be better than what we have already experienced in the past.

But we Christians are people of hope. We believe that time is God’s gift to us, and that the Holy Spirit works unceasingly to influence the course of time and to bring us all to its fullness, the Last Judgment.

The workings of the Holy Spirit are always hard to grasp, and time is something we don’t normally think about. We live our lives as they come—one day at a time, occasionally looking backward or forward, but mainly living in the moment. Ordinarily, we don’t think of time as having any special meaning. It simply passes by, like a river that carries us along to an uncertain destination.

To help us grasp the meaning of time, the Church organizes each liturgical year as a series of reflections on the mystery of salvation. Festive moments such as Easter, Christmas, Pentecost and other solemnities celebrate the high points of life in Christ. Seasons of waiting (Advent) and repentance (Lent) remind us that we have not yet reached the end of our pilgrim journey.

Ordinary Time refers to the period of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year that falls outside of the major seasons. Because of the connotations of the term “ordinary” in English, many people think Ordinary Time refers to the parts of the Church year that are unimportant. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” because the weeks are numbered. The Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, stems from the Latin word ordo, from which we get the English word order. Thus, Ordinary Time is in fact the ordered life of the Church—the period in which we live our lives neither in feasting (as in the Christmas and Easter seasons) or in more severe penance (as in Advent and Lent), but in watchfulness and expectation of the Second Coming of Christ.

Are we good stewards of the precious gift of time? Do we know how to embrace time and cherish it? Do we take time for granted or do we nourish it and share it generously with others?

The older we get, the more we see how we have abused or neglected this precious gift. It is not possible to go back in time and relive precious moments that “got away from us.” Our only options are to desperately (unsuccessfully) forget what we’ve lost, or to remember hopefully both the good and the bad and to move forward, confident in God’s mercy.

Ordinary Time is a season of grace, an opportunity to thank God for all his gifts, including time itself. Let’s not try to forget the past or ignore the future. Let’s live with sacred Scripture—from the Book of Genesis (the beginning of time) to the Book of Revelation (the apocalyptic end of time).

And let’s praise God for allowing us to make the wonderful journey through this life in time to our heavenly home.

—Daniel Conway

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