I have to admit to feeling a bit down this morning upon the realization that Christmastide is over and we have now entered Winter Ordinary Time (insert sigh). Driving to the office through the snow, I reflected that this part of the liturgical year is almost too well-named.
Indeed, the first “ordinary” days of work and school after the Christmas season are always tough. In addition to the reluctant return to routine, those of us in northern climates endure the added insult of the remaining frigid (especially this year!), cloudy, snowy winter. For some reason the cold feels colder, the gloom seems gloomier, and the slush certainly slushier now that the new year is upon us. While the upcoming West Coast Biblical Conference provides some good weather and a great conference, I still found myself vainly searching the calendar for an approaching holiday on which to pin some hope. Alas, the first prominent date I encountered was February 17… Ash Wednesday. Some holiday! How quickly the glow of Advent and Christmas fades, replaced by the looming specter of Lent. (I know we need it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easy).
Of course, the liturgical transition from Christmas to Ordinary time to Lent reflects the cycle of humanity. We’re born, we live, we die. But it’s also the cycle of divinity. As Catholics, we live and celebrate a pattern modeled on the God Man, who out of passionate love became one of us, “born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7).
But isn’t it true that while we rejoice and celebrate His birth, we often forget that He was born to die (Phil 2:8). Dead through sin, humanity needed to be brought back to life. So Christ, St. Gregory of Nyssa explains, “though he is Life by nature, took a body subject to decay in order to destroy in it the power of death and transform it into life.” And joined to Christ through the sacraments, we “shall all be made alive” declares St. Paul (1 Cor. 15:22). Now that’s something to really look forward to!
Yes, the long winter drags on and Lent looms, but we rejoice knowing our course leads to the glory of Easter and the bloom of new life – eternal life. We’re not there yet, of course. And we don’t want to fast-forward past the hard part that we desperately need. Indeed, it is through penance and suffering we are conformed to our Lord and participate in His life. I just thought that like me, perhaps you might need a little reminder that even in the dead of “ordinary” winter our hope always springs eternal.
Matthew Leonard is the Vice President of Operations and Mission and Director of the Journey Through Scripture program at the St. Paul Center.