Tulips at the Old Parsonage by passionate plantsman Charlie McCormick in the lovely Village of Little Bredy in Dorset.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Father Rutler: Ordinary Time

Father George Rutler

The city during summer has a different tone, with many people away but also with all sorts of tourists. In these weeks we are deep into “Ordinary Time” and unless the liturgical meaning of that is understood, it does not seem very interesting. Crowds do not gather to see something that is advertised as perfectly ordinary. But Ordinary Time means that the weeks are numbered. The English word “order” comes from the Latin word for numbers in a series, ordinalis. The fact that there is any order at all in the world is a splendid mystery, but if you don’t believe that a Creator ordered it, the astonishing mystery is only a bewildering puzzle.

Creation is logical, and Ordinary Time is a celebration of the truth that the source of that logic, the “Logos” became a human being and dwelt among us. The ordinariness of Jesus confused those in his hometown: “Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mathew 13:56) In religions invented by ordinary people, the gods and wonderworkers are exotic. In defiance of that na├»ve convention, Jesus was deceptively ordinary precisely because he created the universal order. That structure was broken by the first sin, which is behind all other sins: the illusion that human egos can replace God. That is why the Perfect Man seemed odd, but it was rather like thinking that someone who is healthy is the odd man out: “He must be out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

Ancient cultures held that history is cyclical: the “Wheel of Time” eventually repeats itself, with creatures tethered to an inescapable fate. But God has revealed a different picture: history is progressive, and the Bible, which begins in an earthly Garden, ends in a heavenly City. We have a free will to determine the steps we take in that progression. In As You Like It, Shakespeare might give the impression that biography is a fatal cycle, for on the world’s stage “all the men and women merely players” start as infants “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms” and end life frail again in “second childishness, and mere oblivion...” But that apparent oblivion is not the end, nor do the players reincarnate or linger as dust on some Wheel of Time. The voice of the Logos calls to each soul as to Lazarus: “Come forth.”

The whole mystery is so wonderfully ordered that it hardly seems wonderful at all. George Eliot wrote: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” That is just another way of saying that the most extraordinary thing about the world is that it is so ordinary. 

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