First, let’s set the course for the abrupt change in our liturgical taste or style today. You remember that last Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. As John baptized Jesus in the Jordan river, it marked a new manifestation of the trinity of persons in the godhead, first revealed at creation when we heard those sacred words: “Let US make man in OUR image” (Genesis 1:26). The Third Person in the godhead, namely, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, the Second Person of the trinity; and then, the voice of the Father (the First Person in the godhead) was heard from heaven: “You are my beloved Son” (Mk 1:11). Jesus’ baptism ratifies the incarnation or Christmas event with the words of the Father saying: “Listen to Him” (Mk 1:11). And with that feast of the Lord’s Baptism the Christmas season came to a close. Next, we are ushered into the Ordinary Time season, which began last Monday (or Sunday, as the case may be).
Those last words of the Christmas season—listen to Him—coming from the Father sets the tone for the season we call Ordinary time. Typically, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord not only concludes the Christmas season, it also ushers in the Ordinary time season. This explains why we call the liturgical cycle “an end that escorts a new beginning.” As the feast of the Lord’s Baptism this year fell on a Sunday, it became, also, the “First Sunday in Ordinary Time.” Consequently, the liturgy designates no Sunday as “First Sunday in Ordinary Time.” Hence, today is instead the Second Sunday in Ordinary time.
What makes this season “ordinary?” I guess, the question should rather be: “Is the Ordinary time season ordinary?” Out of curiosity, I checked the dictionary meaning of the word “ordinary,” and here is what I found: “Of no special quality or interest; commonplace; unexceptional; plain or undistinguished; somewhat inferior or below average.” Why would the Church assign or give us a season that has no special quality or interest; somewhat inferior? Before searching for any answers, we need to establish that prior to the liturgical changes of the sixties and seventies, the season we call Ordinary time went by the name “Pre-Pentecost and Post-Pentecost” (before and after Pentecost). In the Tridentine Rite, it still goes by that name, and not Ordinary time. Suffice it to say that the Ordinary time season is not anything ordinary. Let’s rather call it “work-season,” when the Spirit’s work is made manifest. And what do I mean by that? Ordinary time is the time when we put into work, into practice, the command of the Father to “listen to His Son” (those words with which we concluded Christmas). Using the work analogy, this is consistent with what farmers do during the farming season—they diligently work to cultivate the land, manure, weed and grow the seed (or the school year when students get into learning and studying their materials). Farmers work hard to ward-off pests and holocausts that attack the crop, and have their eyes set on the plow.
If you take it to the spiritual plane, Ordinary time is the season we cultivate the garden of our soul, grow seeds of salvation, and manure them through the practice of virtue. We work diligently to ward-off the pests of sin and the holocausts of indifference and relativism that would attack the soul whenever a believer leaves the garden of her soul untended. Ordinary time is the time we keep our ears tuned to the Jesus frequency; judging every activity of our life, whether at home or at the workplace, through the purview of the life of Jesus, with the Church always pointing us in that direction.
We must then have an open ear to hear when God calls, just as Samuel heard Him in the first reading. In a world of tones and noises, 24-hour TV coverage, where flattery and manipulation of the word occurs nonstop and eroticism is sold without bargain, the Christian man or woman needs an Eli whom he or she must consult for enlightenment. The Christian needs a John the Baptist to point to him the Lamb of God. When confused about voices calling, “Rita, Rita,” “Bob, Bob,” look to the Church to show you the real face of Christ.
Fr. Jovis Chukwudi Okonkwo