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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

gallagher fredThe holiday (or holy day) seasons are winding down now and we are reaching what the Church calls “Tempus Per Annum,” or time throughout the year. We know it as Ordinary Time and our present iteration of it goes from after Christmas to just before Lent. It is good, however, not to make the mistake of equating Ordinary Time with the mundane, the eventless or the boring.

The ecclesiastical rendering of Ordinary Time refers to the word “order,” wherein the things of our life achieve a proper relationship to each other and then, of course, to God. There is also another connotation of the word “ordinary” and that is in reference to one who is called to an office, one “ordained” to fulfill a role. The one called forth in ancient texts is often referred to as “an ordinary.”

So, recently we read about Samuel waking up a few times in the middle of the night having heard a voice, and going to Eli to ask if he called. I imagine Eli deep in sleep rolling over and blurting out his instructions time and again for Samuel to go back to bed! Finally they get the picture: it was God’s voice and He was calling forth Samuel. And the first gospels of Ordinary Time are about Andrew and Simon Peter, James and John making the decision to follow Jesus. They begin to recognize they are being “called forth.”

So Ordinary Time, following the rush of Christmas and New Year’s, is really a time to listen. Who is saying what to us?

What are we called to do in this moment of our lives?

Do we have the physical and spiritual stuff of our lives “ordered” properly so that primary things are first and secondary things are second?

How is my work calling me? What is required of my station in life: as a husband, a father, a brother, uncle, friend, citizen? How am I being called forth in this Ordinary Time?

Invariably in this time of year, for some reason, I think of bucket lists. Maybe it’s the “calling forth” aspect of Ordinary Time, or maybe just because it’s early in the year. I’ve always wanted to: take my family to Rome, run with the bulls, publish a novel, speak another language fluently, play the piano, walk the Way of St. James, see a game (preferably against the dastardly Yankees!) at Fenway Park… you know, the usual things! But I know I have to be careful with bucket lists. They can easily make failures of us all.

I connect bucket lists with Ordinary Time because we all have done some pretty extraordinary things as part of our daily lives, but maybe we just didn’t know it at the time.

Ordinary Time may well end up being anything but ordinary in the usual sense of the word. It is a time to look closely for the “sacrament of the moment” and then have the presence of mind to put that blessed moment in our bucket.

Someone once said, “Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have.” So for each of the experiences that seem more bucket list worthy, there comes to mind a host of “Ordinary Time” experiences that may have called me forth in some special way.

For instance, I’ve hiked to the tops of Rocky Mountain ridges and walked the white hills of a Greek isle – but there’s something to be said for strolling down the cathedral aisle with one of your children about to receive their First Communion, losing a footrace by just a hair to an excited kid, walking the dog on a starry night, or trekking around the block with a friend to talk out his problems. I’ve stood at the foot of the David and looked up from the floor of the Sistine Chapel. But years ago we put on the refrigerator my little boy’s crayon depiction of a plane crashing into a tall tower, a rendering right from his heart that combined great innocence and great terror. I’ve snorkeled on magnificent tropical reefs, but closer to home and in Ordinary Time I breathlessly watched each of my children being born. I once climbed a famous castle to kiss the Blarney Stone (maybe you can tell!) but I’ve also kissed more than one friend and more than one family member on their deathbed…ever so gently.

Bucket lists bring up some of the unlikely places I’ve slept, good and bad, such as monasteries, national parks, European pensiones, even a jail cell or a drunk tank, and a hundred other places – some intriguing, some not fit to mention. But in the wonderful Ordinary Time of my life I’ve also snoozed gratefully on a friend’s couch, snuggled in bed with my kids singing “Galway Bay” softly ‘til we all drifted off, and slumbered extraordinarily safe and sound next to the woman who is mine for eternity.

The sacred moments of Ordinary Time are falling into buckets all the time all around me, but at the time I don’t seem to know it. Bucket lists depend on the outside world for the experience of fulfillment. But if, as the first readings of Ordinary Time profess, the kingdom of God is at hand, then most anything I choose can be of bucket list quality – even my transgressions, because of what I learned from them or what I’m learning from them right now. I can make most anything profane and most anything sacred, depending on how much I trust God to act in my life. If I try to keep on getting to know more intimately the One who made the bucket, then the list doesn’t seem to matter all that much.

At my life’s end, I hope to measure its value not by how intriguing or exciting or dangerous or titillating my list was, but how big my bucket became, how much “ordinary” human interaction gave glory to God, how widespread my desire to do His will was wherever, whenever or however. Perhaps a prayer in the morning, a sigh upward at dusk, a thought at night bursting at the seams with gratitude; and maybe a tear, ordinary as it might seem, for the plight of anyone struggling with a call, trying their best to respond.

Yes, maybe those things should be the next to fall right here, squarely into my bucket in the coming weeks of Ordinary Time.

Fred Gallagher is an author and editor-in-chief with Gastonia-based Good Will Publishers Inc.