Most of the world moved on from Christmas as soon as the presents were opened and the dinner consumed, but we Catholics savor the season, soaking up every last bit of goodness right through the Feast of the Epiphany and finally the Baptism of the Lord. As we bring the Christmas season to a close, we leapfrog from Jesus in a manger, held by his young mother, to Jesus in a river, beheld by his heavenly Father. It can be a little disorientating as we navigate the spiritual time travel from Jesus’ infancy to the beginning of his ministry before we re-enter Ordinary Time and await the Lenten season only six weeks away.
As we settle into our non-holiday routines, our churches devoid of poinsettias and manger scenes and our homes swept clean of pine needles and tinsel, it would be easy to fall back into spiritual lives stripped of the extra prayer time and devotion we mustered during Advent and Christmas. So often, when these special liturgical seasons end, we take it as a signal that our spiritual life can shift to the back burner for a bit. But Ordinary Time is really the perfect time to use our ordinary and everyday lives to dig deeper into the extraordinary and transcendent gifts always at our disposal. In the post-Christmas season before us, can we look at our mundane tasks and challenges and recognize that Jesus and the Holy Family faced much of the same during the period of his life not narrated by Scripture, the period that probably looked like an ancient version of our contemporary lives?
After all, Mary and Joseph had to face many of the same struggles new parents face, on top of the frightening realities heaped upon them as parents of the Savior. They had to feed and change the infant Jesus, hoping he would take a nap or sleep through the night. They had to teach him to dress himself and say his prayers, take him to temple and tend to him when he was ill or hurt. Joseph worked and taught Jesus a trade; Mary cooked and cleaned and helped raise her son in the Jewish faith. I’m sure there were many days when they wondered how bringing up the Son of God could be so ordinary.
But that is the miracle and gift of the Incarnation. God comes among us as one of us and experiences life in all its messy, glorious, challenging reality. When something in our life upends everything and makes us wonder how we’ll get through, we can turn to a God who has been where we are. It’s incredibly comforting and confounding all at once. We look up to a God who is almighty, as we should, but we can never forget that our God was also one of us, making our entire faith a celebration of the extraordinary that always exists alongside the ordinary.
Ordinary Time gets its name from the numbered — “ordinal” — Sundays and not for its lack of pizazz. While it is not one of the notable liturgical seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter), it is still important. In fact, it offers us its own endearing challenge: recognizing the majesty amid the mundane, the divine amid the everyday.
Here’s how the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes this season: “The Sundays and weeks of Ordinary Time… take us through the life of Christ. This is the time of conversion. This is living the life of Christ. Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation.”
What does that mean for us? How might we grow and mature in faith in the weeks between the end of Christmas and the start of Lent? As we approach the First Sunday in Ordinary Time on Jan. 15, can we make a plan to seek God not amid twinkling lights or the barren desert but right where we are today, no matter how ordinary?