During our New Years visit to see our son and his family, our grandson asked his mom if he could “open the door” when we got home from church. “Open the front door? Sure you can,” she replied. That’s not what he had in mind. He wanted to open “a little door” like the other little doors he opened in his Advent calendar. “Not till next year,” he was told.
Christmas is over and as a friend likes to say, “Ain’t nothin’ as over as Christmas.”
We waited again with Israel of old for the promised Messiah. We marveled at the angel’s announcement to Mary and held our breath until we heard her say, “Be it done to me according to your word,” assuring our salvation. We fretted with Joseph about what to do with pregnant Mary until he too heard the words of an angel. We went on the wearying journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Mary about to deliver only to hear, “No room at the inn” and plop down in the stable. We rejoiced at the birth of Jesus with the angels and shepherds and saw with Simeon the “light to give light to the Gentiles and the glory of… Israel.” We waited as the Magi made their way by the light of the star, worshipped the baby king, and went home by another way.
That is, we’ve relived the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our faith. (Or at least a big chunk of it. We’ll relive the rest from Lent to Pentecost.) Now we begin what liturgists call “Ordinary Time.”
The late Richard John Neuhaus objected to the phrase “Ordinary Time” since, he wrote, for the Christian “no time is ordinary.” And, while I agree at some level, on another level I believe (and I’m sure Fr. Neuhaus believed) that it is precisely in the midst of our ordinary that God works his extraordinary. That’s because it’s during Ordinary Time that we answer the question, “So what?” What difference do the facts of the incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus make in the ordinary, daily grind at home, in the office, at school, in the supermarket, at the airport, in the kitchen, at the gym?
Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) had an answer. He entered the monastery knowing that he hated kitchen work, but no one seems to have asked his opinion. When he received his work assignment, he found himself fixing meals and washing the pots and pans on permanent KP. Over time, the ordinary and endless cycle of meal preparation and clean up took on an extraordinary dimension. “The time of business,” he said in The Practice of the Presence of God, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament,” that is, as if at worship.
2015 will, I believe, be a troubled and troubling year. Religious liberty will continue to be eroded by the press toward greater and greater sexual license and the accompanying demand for affirmation in our schools, corporations, public life, and even our churches. The murderous attack on employees of the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week is a reminder that radical Islam is alive and well across the West as it is across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. And the cyber attack and blackmail perpetrated on Sony last month make it clear that our hyper-connected, technological wonderland may be our worst nightmare. We live in a very dangerous world and many will willingly hand over freedom in exchange for hypothetical safety.
Confronted with this, I keep coming back to the words of Fr. George Rutler who wrote in his book A Crisis of Saints: The Call to Heroic Faith in an Unheroic World, “All I really have to say about this is that each turning point in history is a test of holiness, and the saints make the big difference in the world’s fortunes. As a corollary to this, since holiness is marked by heroic virtue, the real danger to society is not merely a lack of virtue, but lack of heroism.”
What can ordinary people do during ordinary time about the dangers before us? If the events of Christmas time and Easter time are true and we take God at his word and act by faith, the answer will be deeds that are extraordinary, even heroic.
Jim Tonkowich is a writer, commentator, and speaker focusing on the role of religion in our public life. His new book, The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today is available from St. Benedict Press and other online retailers.