Sunday, January 19, 2014

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: Extraordinary Graces in Ordinary Things



Last Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord was the official beginning of the Season that we are now in: Ordinary Time. It had a special focus on how Jesus fulfilled God’s plan to save His people through water, a plan that still unfolds for us to this day, through the Sacrament of Baptism. This Sunday continues that theme but there is no special Feast Day; it is just a quote/unquote “normal Sunday.” But, what is special about Ordinary Time is that rather than focusing on a particular mystery in the life of Jesus or the saints, the focus is now on those day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a faithful Catholic. For example, remembering that every Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation, not just the special holidays; returning to normal routines of prayer that can be disturbed by the busy-ness of the holidays; renewing those small acts of penance that make up the penitential lifestyle of the Catholic; and examining our conscience regularly to see how prepared we are to receive Holy Communion. These are not extraordinary acts, these are and should be the common, ordinary, practices of every-day Catholics. What is beautiful about Ordinary Time, is that it reminds us that through Ordinary things, Extraordinary things can happen.

The “Ordinary” in “Ordinary Time” is similar to the word “ordinal” which simply implies that the season is a numbered series of Sundays – as in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, etc. So, for us, “Ordinary” does not have to mean “mundane,” or “commonplace.” How many times, for example, have you heard me say the same words St. John the Baptist said today in our Gospel, as I hold the consecrated Host over the chalice, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world”? Every Sunday you’ve heard it, maybe even every day. Many of you have heard this thousands of times throughout your life. It could be easy to forget what it really means. But this phrase should never become mundane to us. It is an ordinary expression that has an extraordinary meaning.

“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’” We can imagine him pointing to the Lord as he said it. What this means for us, is that we who are united by Baptism and strengthened in the Eucharist are also called to point others to Jesus, through our words and actions.[1] When the priest goes on to say, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” we are pointed to the Book of Revelation, where God revealed to St. John the Apostle what the Mass in heaven will look like: “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb’” (Rev 19:9). In this prayer, the “Blessed” are not us per se, but those who have been found worthy to share in the heavenly Liturgy, the supper of the Lamb. We pray that one day, we may join them in the everlasting life of the Kingdom of God.[2]

I think it’s important to pause every now and then and reflect on what the different prayers and gestures of the Mass mean. When we understand it better, our experience of the Mass can be much more fruitful rather than simply boring or mundane. If you enjoyed Rome Sweet Home, I encourage you to pick up Scott Hahn’s, The Lamb’s Supper. He says, If we are calling Jesus the “Lamb of God” during our Mass, if John the Baptist called Him the “Lamb of God” as he walked on earth, and if the Book of Revelation calls him, as he reigns in heaven, the “Lamb of God” 28 times in the span of 22 chapters, then what does that tell us about the Mass!? It tells us that we are participating in something that is literally heaven on earth! It shows us that everlasting life in heaven is possible and that this earth is not all that we live for. For something that happens so ordinarily, this is quite extraordinary![3]

This phrase, “Behold the Lamb of God,” is also a challenge to us today. It is a challenge because the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, takes away the sins of the world. How does he take away the sins of my own world, of my life? He certainly doesn’t force Himself on us. We have to accept this for ourselves. The way that we do this is by receiving Communion but also by going to the sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Mass, the victory of the Lamb of God over sin is realized for our own time and place. In Confession, the Lamb of God takes away and forgives the sins of my world, of my life, through the absolution of the priest.

Going to confession should be as common as all of the other "ordinary" practices of Ordinary Time. Just like the prayers of the Mass, our personal prayers, acts of penance, and the examination of conscience, confession is also an ordinary thing that has extraordinary meaning. Saints and popes have consistently encouraged us to go to Confession eat least monthly. When we hear at Mass, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world” we should let that phrase be our reminder. When I hear that phrase I think about how he has taken away the sins of my own world and when the last time was that I let him into my world. After all, he was a friend to tax collectors and sinners and he ate with them. He forgave the woman caught in adultery with the simple words “Go and do not sin again”. In the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee he taught us to pray “God be merciful to me a sinner!” And in the parable of the prodigal son he shows us that we too have gone astray and so our Father comes to us and gives us what we need to come home to stay. Can we ever lose hope of being forgiven when it is Christ who forgives? Can we ever lose hope of receiving the graces we need to be saints when it is Christ who gives them to us? This assurance fills us with great peace and joy.[4]

In this current season, let’s call to mind again that there is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time. Let us use this time to focus on the extraordinary graces offered to us every day through our ordinary prayer lives. Thank God that through the Mass and Reconciliation, by the power of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, graces as extraordinary as forgiveness and the very divine life of God are made ordinary parts of our lives.

[1] USCCB, Parish Guide to Implementing the Roman Missal Third Edition, Appendix D Bulletin Inserts, “Scripture and the Mass,” back.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, p. 9

[4] Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 3, p. 42-43.

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