If you had lived in Galilee when Jesus walked its dusty roads, would you have followed him? Would you have listened to his parables? Would you have believed in his miracles? As the Church enters into the longest part of the liturgical year — a season known as Ordinary Time — these are the questions we are asked to consider.
It is ironic that the term “ordinary” would be applied to any aspect of the life of the most amazing person who ever walked the earth. Absolutely nothing about Our Lord’s life was ordinary. Wherever Jesus went, fascinated crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of him. Yet this is what we call the weeks in the Church calendar that fall outside of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.
We are sadly fooled by the term “Ordinary Time.” We may see it as a time for us to take our spiritual life for granted. We might think of it as a time to get back to our ordinary life and put faith on a back burner. We are free of the sacrifices, penance and preparation of Advent and Lent. We do not have the feasting and celebration of Christmas and Easter. It seems like an easy time of the year. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ordinary Time presents us with the extraordinary opportunity to meet Jesus as the first apostles and disciples met him. It challenges us to determine if we really believe this itinerant preacher is the Son of God. We hear Our Lord’s teachings and parables. We see his many miracles. We watch the people who actually knew him struggling to understand. And through it all, we, too, must decide whether we are true followers of this extraordinary man or just curious bystanders.
The vast majority of Ordinary Time occurs during the calendar seasons of summer growth and fall harvest. These natural seasons — along with the green vestments worn during Ordinary Time — remind us this is a time to grow in our faith by adopting simple and sustainable practices that can help us be better followers of Jesus. The Gospel readings for Ordinary Time challenge us in many ways. We are called to believe, to be healed and to journey with Christ. We are invited to take time for retreat and to be fed by Jesus. We are encouraged to feed others, to serve and to give generously. Quite simply, we are asked to decide how fully we want to follow this extraordinary man named Jesus.
A Time To Believe
“Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” — Mark 4:40
As Ordinary Time unfolds, we see the people closest to Jesus begin to ask themselves who this amazing man might be. Jesus slowly reveals himself as someone much greater than just a charismatic prophet or teacher. This was not an easy time for those who were following Jesus. Some were scared and turned away. Others were confused and uncertain. Surely, we, too, feel doubt and fear at different times on our faith journey. How do we deal with these emotions? Are we committed to staying with Jesus as one of his disciples? Or are we tempted to edge to the back of the crowd and slip away?
A few ways to deal with any weakness in faith might be to:
◗ Take time to study the lives of the apostles or some of the women who stayed at Our Lord’s side. They can help and inspire us in our own faith.
◗ Pick one early follower of Christ and use this individual as a guide in our struggles to follow Jesus more fully.
◗ Consider a book on discipleship for summer reading.
A Time To Heal
“‘Ephphatha!’ that is, ‘Be opened!’”— Mark 7:34
We hear many stories of healing during Ordinary Time. Since we have heard them so many times before, we may take them for granted. Yet, they are extraordinary. A woman is healed from a lifelong ailment by simply touching the hem of Our Lord’s cloak. A young girl is raised from death. A blind man sees for the first time. A deaf man has his ears opened. We are called to see Jesus as our healer, too. He is not just a super doctor who can cure physical ailments; he is the one who can heal us from other forms of pain and suffering in our lives.
To allow Jesus to be a healer in our lives right now, we might try to:
◗ Pick one word to identify the healing we need most at this time. Do we need forgiveness, joy, hope, courage, trust, compassion, gratitude, wisdom, peace or humility?
◗ Listen carefully for this word in Scripture, songs, homilies and everyday communication. Hear how Our Lord offers healing for the areas where we are weak, sad or hurting.
◗ Collect inspiring words that address our unique need for healing. We can use these words to write our own personal prayers.
A Time To Journey
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”— Mark 8:34
Since Ordinary Time covers the summer months, many of us might already be planning journeys or vacations. The Gospels of Ordinary Time invite us to travel in more challenging ways. We are called to journey both for Jesus and with him. He sends his disciples on an evangelizing journey into the towns and villages. He also encourages them to pick up whatever crosses they may have and follow him.
How is Jesus calling us to journey this year? We could:
◗ Get over our fear of evangelizing. It might be as simple as forwarding a spiritual email. Maybe we need to talk more openly with others about our own faith lives.
◗ Reach out with love rather than judgment to a person who is alienated from the Church. We don’t have to be preachy. We just have to show the same wonderful love and acceptance Jesus showed in his life.
◗ Pick up a cross and follow Jesus. We all have crosses to bear. Now might be a time to recognize a cross we have been trying to ignore — an interfering neighbor, an annoying colleague, a difficult relative, a homeless person we pass every day. If we embrace that cross by showing extra compassion, we could help carry that person closer to Jesus.
A Time To Retreat
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”— Mark 6:31
When we read the Gospels in sequential order, we often gain new insights. Immediately after the disciples returned from their first missionary journey into the towns and villages, Jesus told them to come away with him and rest for a while. We, too, need time to rest and to be quiet with Jesus. In fact, the more we are active in service to our parishes, families and communities, the more we need to go to Jesus for renewal. The beautiful Ordinary Time days of summer and fall are perfect for this critical rest and renewal.
Some suggestions include:
◗ Consider a spiritual retreat. Plan to go with a parish group, a group of friends or alone.
◗ Plan a restful and spiritually rejuvenating vacation rather than an impressive but exhausting one.
◗ Take advantage of the longer evenings to spend some quiet time in prayer, possibly in a peaceful place to watch the sun go down.
A Time To Feed
“Jesus took the loaves ...” — John 6:11
The story of the loaves and fishes is the most frequently repeated story in the Gospels. It is the only story to appear in all four Gospels — and it appears twice in Mark and Matthew. It is also a story repeated in all three cycles of Ordinary Time. A most critical — but often overlooked — aspect of this story is that in every version Jesus does not perform the miracle of feeding thousands until someone first brings him a small amount of food to share.
In not one instance of the story does Jesus say to the boy, “Keep what you have, I will take care of this myself.” Instead, he takes the meager loaves and fish which are offered to him and he feeds thousands. This is an important lesson for us. We may think we do not have much to give, but the little we have can feed thousands if we allow Jesus to work through us. With the story of the loaves and fishes we are invited to consider how Ordinary Time might be a good time to feed others.
Ways we could follow Our Lord’s example of feeding the hungry today might be:
◗ Talk to a charitable agency about its need for easy-to-fix food for children who are not receiving free school lunches during the summer months.
◗ Make our own “loaves and fishes” donation to an organization that feeds the hungry in the Third World. Even the smallest amount can create a miracle in someone’s life.
◗ Help our parish cook funeral luncheons. It may be as easy as making a salad, dessert or side dish and dropping it off the morning of the funeral.
A Time To Be Fed
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” — John 6:35
The Gospels in Ordinary Time show the balance in Our Lord’s teachings. He calls us to move outside of ourselves and give in ways we have never given before, but he also invites us to come to him for the healing, rest and strength we need to sustain a Gospel way of life.
After thinking of the loaves and fishes and being challenged to offer what little we have to feed the world, we hear for several weeks how Jesus promises us he will feed us, for he is the Bread of Life. Do we truly appreciate what a wonderful gift the Eucharist can be in our lives?
Now might be a good time to:
◗ Participate more fully in Eucharist — especially paying close attention during the consecration and the reception of the Eucharist.
◗ Participate more frequently in the Eucharist — possibly finding a convenient chapel or church for occasional daily Mass.
◗ Be more quiet and prayerful after receiving the Eucharist. It might be helpful to close your eyes and repeat the prayer of Padre Pio: “Stay with me, Lord.”
A Time To Give
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty.”— Mark 12:43-44
As our Ordinary Time journey through Our Lord’s life begins to come to a close, we find that Jesus becomes more challenging in his teachings. We have seen the miracles and felt his love and care. Now how do we respond? Again, the timing of these Gospel messages seems to match the natural season. The time of growth is ending. Harvest is upon us. Is there a rich harvest in our own souls? Jesus calls us to be extremely — even painfully — generous. He tells the rich young man that he must sell all. And when Our Lord watches a poor widow place her last mite in the temple treasury box, he does not draw it out and tell her to keep it. Rather, he praises her generosity. So now is a time to question whether we are being generous enough, according to the standards Jesus set in the Gospel.
We might want to:
◗ Take a few minutes to determine what percentage of our income we give away.
◗ Consider if we should share with the Lord a portion of bonuses, dividends and other extra income.
◗ Pay closer attention to Pope Francis’ constant call for us to be a “Church of the poor and for the poor.” Is there some way we can live poorer — maybe giving up some luxury — so we can help the Church better serve the poor through our generosity?
A Time To Serve
“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”— Mark 10:43-44
For many years, people have always thought it was difficult to ask for money. Yet, in our very busy world, parish and volunteer organizations are actually finding it harder to ask for service. No one has any free time to share. But as we follow Jesus through his life, we realize he is not calling us to be honored guests at his feast. He is calling us to serve humbly.
Some ways we could serve include:
◗ Become involved in some volunteer activity in our workplace, neighborhood or family.
◗ Look for a parish ministry that could use our service.
◗ Consider how we could use one of our unique talents, skills, life experiences or passions to benefit our parish or another charitable organization.