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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XIX No. 2
Pentecost 2004

Inside Voices
Ordinary Time

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

Ordinary time. On the Liturgical Calendar (in English-speaking countries) this term now designates the parts of the year that are neither a penitential (Lent or Advent) nor a festive season (Easter, Pentecost, Christmas). It is "ordinary" in the sense of "usual" or "routine". The longest period of "Ordinary time" in the present calendar is what was formerly the Pentecost season, which lasted until Advent. Pentecost, the birth of the Church, launched the mission of the Church to the world. The long summer season of Pentecost coincided with the growing season, in the Northern Hemisphere; and parallels with the long labor of plowing fields and sowing and cultivating crops in the hope of a good harvest were obvious and universally understood. It symbolized the Church Militant -- surmounting inevitable obstacles and overcoming conflicts and contradictions with unswerving dedication and devotion in order to evangelize -- in order to prepare for the well-earned reward of the "harvest": the Church Triumphant.

Perhaps much of this post-Pentecost symbolism would be lost today, since most of us no longer have any connection with sowing and reaping, tilling and cultivating, withstanding drought and storms, heat and wind, plague and pestilence in obtaining our livelihood, providing for and nourishing our families. It's harder for us, too, I think, to experience what Sabbath meant in the context of the long ordinary days of physically taxing labor. Robin Maas's essay in this issue gives us Scriptural context for appreciating this.

Those of us who grew up on a family farm -- far fewer now than even a generation ago -- do have the benefit of remembering the importance of seasons and our dependence on Providence. Proverbs like "make hay while the sun shines" and "good fences make good neighbors" and "laboring in the vineyard" once had immediate, literal meaning.

Speaking of the "vineyard" in which we labor, we're happy to welcome Onalee McGraw as a contributing editor of Voices. She has used her considerable gifts well in providing guidance for parents, as her essay in this issue reveals.

This summer -- with a national election a few months away -- is an extraordinary time for Catholics. The special section inside on Catholics and Political Responsibility provides an informative resource for preparing ourselves to make wise decisions. Included are pertinent selections of Church documents, US bishops' conference statements, and -- perhaps most enlightening, quotations from the many statements made by bishops. This would be very good "grist" for study groups, as well as for individual reflection. And our WFF web site includes more extensive citations, with links to complete versions, in most cases. (On the web, too, are selected articles and commentaries on this critical subject.) You are free to make copies of these materials for your own use or to share with others, perhaps for a group discussion.

The present conflict in the political realm is another dramatic depiction of the truth of the Church pitted against the evil of the world. As Archbishop Chaput said recently, "The Church is never partisan but that doesn't change the fact that abortion is the central social issue of this moment in our national history -- not the only issue, but the foundational issue; the pivotal issue. For Catholics to ignore it or downplay it or 'contextualize' it would be an act of cowardice".

It is surely not a bad thing to remind ourselves, when extraordinary events in our world threaten to overwhelm and confuse us, and our impulse is to opt out of the fray, that for most people throughout most of the world's history, everything -- life itself -- depended on commitment to duty, willingness to persist in spite of hardships -- and to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of others. We do well to remember that "the gift of finest wheat" is not a simple metaphor. And that we were bought with a price.

It is this inestimable Gift that is the very essence of our faith. And every time Mass is celebrated throughout the world, that same supreme and eternal Sacrifice of Christ who died for all humanity is remembered, made present. Especially in extraordinary times, like ours, where chaos and confusion seem insuperable, this is our anchor and the source of all our hope.

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