Vantage Point

Ordinary Time

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The evening of the feast of Pentecost brought us to the end of the Easter Season and the beginning of Ordinary Time. I used to wonder what “ordinary time” means; at first glance it seems to mean “a time when nothing special is happening.” In other words, humdrum and routine.

As I discovered, it simply means “numbered time,” from the Latin word “ordo,” which means order. Outside the seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter—which have their own weekly numbers—the weeks of the Church year also are numbered. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing special going on. As the Church tells us, this is the time when we learn about the life of Christ and his work and teaching as recorded in Scripture. This is when we learn more about Christ himself: who he is and what it means to follow him as a Christian.

It’s worth noting that Ordinary Time begins when Pentecost ends. The Gospel of Luke tells us that just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his followers to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” They watched him depart and then they returned to Jerusalem, where they waited for the fulfillment of his promise. It came nine days later, on the feast of Pentecost: the coming of the Spirit. That gift transformed the Apostles. These men who had been terrified by the crucifixion of Jesus now began speaking openly and with fervor about him. Whatever remained of their fear and hesitation was gone.

Luke tells us in Acts that the Apostles began speaking about Jesus to a large group of people in Jerusalem who were from various regions and countries and spoke different languages. Those listeners marveled that each of them heard the Apostles in his own language. It must have been a lively scene, because some of the listeners dismissed the Apostles as being drunk on “new wine.” Maybe they were, but not in the way that those people meant. It was the wine of faith in Christ, fermented by the power of the Spirit, that made them speak as they did, and opened the ears of the crowd without need of translation.

Luke tells us that “there were added that day about three thousand souls.” He continues, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” It was the beginning of the Church, and what the first Christians were doing is very much like what we do today as members of the Church.

The same gifts of the Holy Spirit that were given to the Apostles on Pentecost were given to all of us who have received the sacrament of confirmation. We have been filled with the same Spirit who emboldened the Apostles to leave the room where they had waited and go out into the world to teach the Gospel. This is our time, too. We, too, are called to bring the Gospel into the world in the ways that are most appropriate for each of us. In the words of St. Paul, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord” (1 Cor 12:4-5).

As we resume the weeks of Ordinary Time, it’s worth reflecting on the other meaning of “ordinary,” in the sense of mundane or even tiresome. On that kind of ordinary day, when things don’t go well or we don’t see results, or prayer seems boring and we feel discouraged, we can reflect on the instruction of Jesus to the Apostles to “stay in the city and wait.” We can pause and find a quiet “city” of our own—a room, a church, a favorite spot outdoors—and recall the difference between the Apostles on Good Friday and the Apostles on Pentecost. The gifts of the Spirit made all the difference, and when those gifts need to be renewed in us, the Spirit will come.

We have Jesus’ word on that.

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