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“Ordinary Time” – Anything but Ordinary by Fr. George W. Rutler



January 17, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

It is that part of the year again when some find the prospect of “Ordinary Time” cheerless, like an ordinary meal or an ordinary job. But “ordinary” can also mean, and at its source primarily did mean, elegantly following a plan. Most would prefer ordinary digestion to one more eruptive. “Ordinary” can even be exciting, as when an acrobat swings through the air exploiting the ordinary expectations of gravity, graceful rather than clumsy.

In some places, judges of probate are called the Ordinaries, because their authority is ex officio, and not specially delegated. To say a bishop is the “Ordinary” does not mean that he is unexceptional, although in the history of the Church mediocrity has not always been an impediment to preferment; it means that he is doing “not my will but the will of him who sent me.”

Were most things not ordinary, there would be no complaint if trains never were on time or if clocks never kept the right time. There would be no point to schedules at all. The Liturgical Calendar is called an Ordo, and the set prayers of the Mass, except the Eucharistic Prayer, are the Ordinary of the Mass because they express the continuity of the Church’s praise. The English have had their Book of Common Prayer, because it was intended to help people pray in common, not commonly: its classical diction was gorgeously uncommon.

Most saints are unnoticed precisely because their virtues are so heroic that they are like a finely tuned car motor that seems silent. While extraordinary figures have ornamented the Church, usually the ones that get the most attention are out of step with God’s design. Irving Berlin’s song at the end of World War I was about a proud mother watching her son marching up the avenue with his regiment: “Were you there and, tell me, did you notice? They were all out of step but Jim.” Holy Mother Church indulges her children, but she does not nurture the illusion that disorder is order, or that noise is harmony, or that all the saints are out of step.

Only God who orders all things knows what he wants his creatures to be. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). So we are in God’s image, and not in our own. One’s self-image can disappoint. Thomas S. Jones, Jr., wrote:

Across the fields of yesterday
He sometimes comes to me,
A little lad just back from play—
The lad I used to be.

And yet he smiles so wistfully
Once he has crept within,
I wonder if he hopes to see
The man I might have been.

God does not want his creatures to be extraordinary. He wants us to be faithful. Humility is not banality. The right route to the Heavenly Gates is the one that snobs call routine.

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