“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom”
As a child I was always thrown when the priest announced that we were in Ordinary Time. Sometimes it seemed self-evident; but often it was anything but ordinary. My uncle bagged a moose; someone won the lottery; another had triplets. And in the papers . . . goodness me, nothing seemed ordinary. So why was the priest proclaiming that we were in the fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time?
What, I always wondered, was extraordinary time, and maybe I should come back later when the cool things were happening? Since then, of course, I understand better what’s going on. I know that Ordinary Time, the largest liturgical period of the year, is organized around two major blocks, separated by Sacred Time: Christmas and Easter. And I know that ordinary doesn’t mean mundane; it means ordinal, as in counted time — a countdown, in other words, of the Sundays leading to the sacred.
Yet, even understanding this, I still have a fondness for my initial sense of the ordinary times. There is something comforting about celebrating the spiritual in the context of the quotidian, because God is always there, in the fireworks and in the fizzle; God is there in the glamour, but also in the homely. Indeed, one could argue that it is precisely in the grime and the pain and the ugliness that we should seek the face of God, and in some strange way I have always viewed Ordinary Time as a reminder that we should look toward the daily grind for important meaning.
In the university context, we anticipate the pomp and circumstance of convocation. We delight in awards nights and other celebrations. The bulk of the work I did, though, as a professor, was ordinary time: that exhilarating experience before exams and finals where we met once or twice a week to analyze a book, understand a topic, or present an argument. It was then that we formed bonds, where we learned how to argue and debate, and where we engaged in what I hope were the first footfalls of a journey toward life-long learning — one that I am still travelling.
Pope Francis has deservedly been praised for bringing a sense of renewed joy and purpose to the life of the church. He has done so, however, by reminding us of the value of the ordinary in the every day. His is a call to action that is measured in the streets and in the favelas; in the homeless shelters and in the prisons; and just as importantly, in the churches, which he reminds us so eloquently are the dwelling places of the Lord — and in that sense, they are the most ordinary, and thus sacred, spaces of all. As Pope Francis puts it in Lumen Fidei, “the light of faith” will never allow us to “forget the sufferings of this world.” And so we number our days — counting always toward the sacred, through a journey taken in Ordinary Time.
Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.