Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Lent vs. Ordinary Time

It brings a wry sense of amusement, at those times in the church year designated as “ordinary time,” to encounter the explanation that this term refers to Sundays numbered in order (thus “ordinary”) rather than to Sundays and weeks that are ordinary in the sense of “usual” or “normal” and thus somehow less special than Sundays with other designations (the Sundays of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter). When I was growing up, all of the Sundays of the year had some designation tied to a major church festival, with the Sundays following Christmas tied to the Feast of Epiphany, and most of the Sundays of the year being designated as a Sunday After Pentecost.

As nearly as I can determine, the concept of Ordinary Time became the norm in the Catholic Church somewhere around 1970, and we’ve felt the need to explain the term ever since.

But I digress. My purpose this day is to explore the idea of “ordinary time” in the context we most often apply — that of the usual, expected, even same-old same-old kind of time that takes us through our waking and sleeping and working and playing every. single. day.

The ordinariness of our normal daily lives can be hypnotic, and can lull us into a state of quietude that is quite the opposite of what inspires us to pray and to listen for and invite the Spirit of God into our lives and our days. When Important Things Are Happening, they create their own sense of urgency, and they prompt us to pray — often fervently, even desperately, as we seek help and cast about for the outcomes we desire. Think of Queen Esther as she sought to save her people from certain extinction at the hands of the Persian king. She put aside what was normal in her life, fasting and doing penance, and praying, “My Lord, you alone are our King. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand.” (Esther 4:14-15). In answer to Esther’s prayer, “God changed the king’s anger to gentleness.” (Esther 4(D):8). Ultimately, the king, after promising to do anything Esther asks of him, spares the lives of the captive Jews.

So there are two themes in play here. First, if Esther had allowed herself to be lulled by the routines of her life as Queen of Persia — and make no mistake, as queen she enjoyed a life of great luxury — she might have failed to notice the plight of her people; she might never have thought to pray in such desperation of spirit that she risked her very life to even consider asking the king to show mercy.

But the second theme is perhaps more important for us. It is this: We are meant to seek and find an intense relationship with Jesus right in the very midst of the ordinariness of our daily lives. Esther rose above her daily routines in her prayer, and then she used the ordinary everyday routines of her life as queen to persuade her husband, the king, to show mercy and thus save the lives of the entire Jewish people.

We often live our lives in an odd sort of dichotomy — both bored with the sameness, the ordinariness, of our days and weeks and years, and lulled into complacency by that same ordinariness, so that we are not inclined to step out of the routine unless something happens to create a sense of urgency. Likewise, on the spiritual plane, we are lulled into a routine of praying the same prayers, offering the same thanks and praise, praying the same petitions, perhaps even slipping entirely into the rote prayers of our childhood rather than the spontaneous prayer that our conversations with God can be. And having prayed in this way, we “sign” off and end the conversation.

When I think about my human relationships, it isn’t difficult to see how that kind of sameness and routine can be at the same time comforting and yet stultifying to a relationship, whether with a family member or a friend. I know those people are always going to be there; I can connect in an instant with a text, a phone call, or a moment face to face. It doesn’t require any sense of urgency for me to get their attention. When our relationship goes on in the easy comfort of those routines, though, it doesn’t grow and change in the ways that it could and should.

It’s the times that we shake things up and step out of the ordinary that those relationships are both tested and brought to new levels.

When I go to my friend or my sister or daughter with some heartache that needs comfort; when I step out of my own skin to look closely enough to see that someone needs comfort or needs to vent; when I break free of my routines to think about offering something special to one of my own – whether it’s a bouquet of flowers, or an invitation to lunch, or just the treat of special time spent together with no other distractions – then the walls that “ordinary time” has put in place begin to break down. Then we can grow together. And with that growth, we’ll enter into new times when we are lulled and comforted by our routines and simply know that the other is there for us, and we are here for them. But it is important that we remember that growth is not possible without those times when we step away from the ordinary, when we create a little sense of urgency and make that relationship, for that stretch of time, our greatest focus.

It’s not a stretch, is it, to apply this analogy to our relationship with Jesus. He is always with us, always there, and I suspect that He is glad that in our routines and our times of ordinariness, we still turn to Him in prayer – even if our prayers are “ordinary” and prone to distractions. But I also like to think that when we make the effort and take the time to step away from the lull and hypnosis of our own “ordinary time,” when we are deliberate and intentional in our choice to seek Him out and bring our selves, our lives and wants and needs, to Him with a sense of urgency, recognizing how much we need Him – when we do this, we are open to His grace, and then our relationship with Him can grow and deepen. His love for us was always there and always infinite, but by stepping away from our ordinariness to come to Him in this urgent and intentional way, we become open to a deepening of our love for Him.

So I seek to pray, to converse with Him, in a way that is outside and beyond my routines, with a sense of urgency that I create myself, not just responding to the urgencies that come about when life itself jumps the rails and takes us involuntarily out of our complacency.

I seek to converse with Jesus as my dearest of friends, knowing that if He is pleased with the times I come to him just because it’s part of my routine, He must be delighted to receive me when I come with urgent love and intent.

And harking back to the story of Esther for just a moment, it’s also true that when we are nestled in the comfort and routine of our own “ordinary time,” we can easily miss spotting those things around us that ought to send us running to our King with the greatest urgency to plead for His mercy. From the obvious to things farther removed, we can miss the need to bring these things to Him: not only our own sins and failings, but also the deep and great needs of the Church and its leaders; not only the favors we beg for ourselves, but also the great, even overwhelming, needs of the poor and the homeless; not only those people we pray for daily, asking blessings and favor on their behalf, but also the needs and even the desperation of the countless number who have no one to pray for them by name; not only our own loved ones who have died, but also all those who wait in Purgatory for purification so that they may finally enjoy the Light of God’s face in heaven.

I seek to pray, not just daily but constantly, in deep faith and reliance upon my growing relationship with Jesus; to pray urgently and with great awareness; and to pray that the same God who hears and answers all my prayers will lead me to know what and whom I ought to pray for.

I seek to pray, not only in the words prescribed by the beautiful prayers I’ve already memorized, but also in the words of my heart, the words that urgency and love call from the depths of my being, and words that come from being with Someone I love, in a relationship that both of us cherish and seek to deepen daily.

I seek to pray in a way that is anything but usual, in a time that is anything but ordinary, in conversation with a God Who has proclaimed Himself to be love, light, and salvation.

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