End of Christmas, Start of What?

End of Christmas, Start of What?

Today marks the end of the Christmas season.  (It seemed to end on Dec. 26 in the stores, but then again our Christmas began on December 25, not on Thanksgiving.)  When we finish celebrating, we get down to work; and that’s what comes next in the church year.

We call it “Ordinary Time,” but not because there’s nothing special about it.  “Ordinary” here has as its root the same word as “orderly.”  Ordinary time is the season when the church focuses on our working together (in an “orderly” way) to accomplish the mission Christ has given us.  So we listen at Mass to the story of Christ’s own missionary work, the teaching and miracles and travels of His public ministry years.  What should we be listening for during this season?

We should be listening for instructions from God on how we are to carry out the assignment He has given to us.

That may sound dramatic, but it’s true.  Some years ago when I regularly worked with a retreat program one of the first talks raised the question for the retreatants, “Why are you here?”  And the answer was simple: “God wants you here.”  It was true for them, and it’s true for us.  We are members of Our Lady of Grace because God wants us here.  We have the particular friends, family, and work/schoolmates we do because God wants us among them, to do His work.  (There may be particular exceptions in abusive families: In those cases God may want you to get out; but as a general rule, “God wants you here – at least at this moment” is a good one.)

How do we listen for instructions?  There’s a story about a Zen teacher who was walking with an apprentice.  The apprentice asked, “How shall I seek enlightenment?”  Since they were by a stream, the teacher grabbed his student and held him underwater for a long time.  When he lifted him out, dripping and sputtering, the teacher told him, “You must want enlightenment as much as you just wanted air.”

When we come to Mass, or sit down to pray, do we urgently want to hear what God might have to say to us?  (“As much as we just wanted air”?)  Rather than consult our feelings, which aren’t a good guide to very much, we can tell how much we want to hear what God might say by looking at our actions.

  • First, do we work to free our lives from serious sin? (If the answer is no, I can tell you what God is saying to you even though you probably aren’t ready to hear it: God is saying, Get your act together, go to confession, and then come back and listen for more instructions!)
  • Second, do we ask God to speak to us, even insist on it?
  • Third, do we consistently – daily – make time to listen for what God might want to say? Do we weekly come to Sunday Mass to listen for God’s message to us?
  • Fourth, when we make time, do we clear our minds and hearts to listen? (If you fill your prayer-time with “saying prayers” or with asking for things, God will have trouble getting a word in edgewise.)
  • Fifth, when we think we hear God, do we test what we hear to be sure we’re not just listening to ourselves?
  • Finally, when we’re reasonably convinced we have heard God, do we make a point not to forget it by writing it down and beginning to act on it?

There is little doubt in my mind of two things: First, our church is weak.  We aren’t attracting many young people to discipleship (look around at Mass), or to vocations (Christian marriage, religious life, diaconate, priesthood).  Many “Christians” don’t do too well at loving even enemies, if you listen to the amount of gossip in churches (our Holy Father called gossip “terrorism” recently).  Second, God does not want us to be weak, and will help us to become strong and effective.  He even has a plan.  We need to listen for what He has to say.  Until next week, peace.