From the wonder of Christmas and the majesty of Epiphany, our energy (and the Church’s, too) now shifts. We’ve knelt with shepherds and sages, mesmerized by the sight of God-with-us as a helpless child. We’ve heard how this child of peace strikes terror in the hearts of tyrants and dawns like light for those who lived in darkness. We’ve seen the circle widen, as travelers from nations far from Palestine acclaim the child Jesus.
Now the Church begins Ordinary Time. What direction can the readings of the Sundays in January offer us? Our readings issue a clear call to choose the way of Jesus, who is servant, preacher, healer, prophet, brother to those in misery. The Scriptures summon us to watch him, listen to him, leave the past behind, sit at his feet, follow him in his mission of bringing good news to those hungry for new life. He calls us to be learners, listeners, disciples.
Second Sunday – Isaiah 49; John 1:29–34 — This call is greater than we could have imagined. “You are my servant, through whom I show my glory. I will make you a light to the nations, that my dream of shalom, of wholeness, may reach to earth’s ends.” We meet a mature John the Baptist. When still in the womb, he leapt for joy when his mother met the Christ in Mary. Now, older, seasoned, his mission is the same: to reveal the Light. The reason John exists, the reason he preaches and baptizes, is so that the Lamb of God, the Messiah, may be revealed. Christ is the One for whom he exists; his mission is to point others to Jesus.
Am I as clear and committed as the Baptist about my mission to spread Christ’s light and love?
Third Sunday – Isaiah 8; Matthew 4:12–23 — Yes, the people in darkness have seen a great light. Their burden is lifted, their gloom dispelled. But the way forward has its challenges. The Baptist is arrested; Jesus begins to preach: “God’s time has come! The reign of God is near!” He calls others to walk and to work with him: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John. He mentors them in discipleship. They teach, heal, console, challenge. Like the angels long before, they proclaim the good news of a God who breaks into history, a God who speaks peace on earth and good will to all peoples.
Will I say “yes” to Christ’s continuing invitation to co-labor with him to bring about God’s dream?
Fourth Sunday – Zephaniah 2; Matthew 5:3–12 – God calls forth humble, simple people, a remnant. God calls and chooses them to model goodness, honesty, humility. Without boasting or bluster, they will lead others in God’s ways. Matthew portrays Jesus like Moses, teaching crowds from the mountaintop, speaking the language of remnant-folks: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger for justice…the merciful…the clean of heart…the peacemakers…those who suffer because of goodness.” Jesus lays the foundation stones for God’s reign. This is how it will be when God leads and shepherds the people. Jesus, who will later describe himself as meek and humble of heart, casts his lot among this remnant, the ones of no account in the world’s eyes but precious in God’s sight.
Where do I find myself in these readings?
The Church begins Ordinary Time. Yet we know that the weeks before us will be anything but ordinary. It’s quite a momentous month in our country as we inaugurate a new President. Some are cheering; many, especially the most vulnerable in society, are unsure about what this change in leadership may mean for them.
As people of faith, we believe that we can trust the God of Ordinary Time to be present in every event and circumstance. Surely the Sisters of Charity who first came to New York 200 years ago knew this. Life in the peaceful hills of Maryland proved to be a world apart from caring for immigrant orphans in gritty, noisy, violent New York. But the God of all charity, to whom they had pledged their life, did not abandon them.
Ordinary Time challenges us to trust that our God will unfailingly show up in the most mundane as well as the most difficult situations. The Spirit of God will speak, summon, lead, stir things up, day by ordinary day. Let’s quiet our hearts to listen, and steady ourselves to follow.
–Sister Regina Bechtle, SC
Sr. Regina serves as Charism Resource Director for the Sisters of Charity of New York. A retreat leader and spiritual director, she gives presentations to lay and religious groups about St. Elizabeth Seton and our Vincentian-Charity heritage of spirituality.