Friday, February 16, 2007

Ordinary Time

This coming Sunday, Feb. 18, is the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, according to the parish calendar hanging up in my kitchen.

Or you could call it, "The last Sunday in Ordinary Time for a really, really, really long time," which is what my husband likes to call it.

My husband loves Ordinary Time. It's his favorite liturgical season; it may seem odd, but it's true. And for all of my impatience for Christmas to be packed away, for Lent to start, for Easter to come (and warm weather, and that joyous time of the year which is greeted with shouts of gladness as the children finish yet another textbook for the whole year, and we draw closer and closer to that bright oasis known as Mom's Recapturing of Sanity, a.k.a. summer vacation), for all my looking forward to things I'm waiting for to get here, already, I have to admire his preference.

Most of our lives, after all, are ordinary time. Most of the good we do happens quite ordinarily, with no flash or fanfare. Most of the sin we struggle with is quite ordinary too, and revealing its ordinariness to the priest in the confessional who has heard it all before strips it of its pretense to hold any kind of power over us.

Much of the grace we earn daily comes from doing ordinary things with prayerful attention and heartfelt love. Our homes are filled with the ordinary miracles called children who, in their play, remind us that the ordinary isn't so ordinary after all.

Many of the saints became so not by being extraordinary, but by practicing ordinary virtues extraordinarily well. Kindness, charity, mercy, compassion, patience, faith, and peace--these ordinary things became more than ordinary because for God's holy ones they became instinctive, reflexive, as natural as breathing. This isn't to say they weren't tested, sometimes quite beyond the ordinary trials of daily life; but they persevered, with strength greater than their own, by their free acceptance of God's gift of grace working in their souls.

Sometimes, I have to admit, I look forward to Lent because I think Lent will 'make' me more holy. I'll say more prayers, read more spiritual books, make time for more family activities, give up more fattening--er, nonessential?--foods, become a better person in dozens of ways. Because it's Lent, you know.

But if the spiritual (and physical) benefits of Lent have worn off by Pentecost, what have I really done? In what way have I changed? True, participation in Lenten activities is a start on the road toward holiness, but what good does it do if the seeds I've tried to plant don't really take root, once the purple vestments are packed away?

The real test of virtue isn't that we attempt it for a time; it's that we persevere in it at all times, in all seasons, in all places, under all circumstances, toward all people. Real holiness isn't capable of much dilution, and harboring just a little hate, a tiny grudge, a thimbleful of bitterness, a drop of envy or avarice, a plateful of greed or a pocketful of pride is enough to keep us from it, if we refuse to let go of those things for the sake of the Kingdom. And it isn't enough to give them up for Lent, in the end. We have to give them up for good.

Because in Heaven, it's always Ordinary Time.

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