A few years ago while talking to the 8th-grade class at St Pascal Baylon Regional Catholic School about Holy Orders and the Diaconate I was asked by one of the students “what was my favorite liturgical season”. As you can guess this question blew me away with its depth. After pointing out what a great question that was, my response was “Ordinary Time”. I could see the kids in the class looking at me with a puzzled look. They were asking in their minds; what about the biggies like Christmas, Easter, or Lent?
I explained that as a Deacon the special liturgical seasons can be busy with the extra events, expectations, and complexity of the liturgies. I find ordinary time to be a more spiritually satisfying time when I can enjoy a more relaxing time for prayer and reading. Even the green color of ordinary time with its tie to creation appeals to me in a Franciscan way of spirituality. The simplicity of ordinary time Masses seems more relaxing and for some reason, I tend to come away feeling like I was more connected. I used to wonder why it felt like I came away with more from daily Mass or Masses during ordinary time than I did during special liturgical seasons until I read a column by Fr Ron Rohlheiser on “Sustaining a Prayer Life”. The part of the column that resonated with me was:
Prayer should be the same, but this isn’t generally respected. Too often we are left with this impression: All prayer should be high celebration, upbeat, with high energy. The more variety the better. Longer is better than shorter. Time and tiredness should never be a consideration. During prayer, nobody should ever look at a wristwatch. People at a prayer service need not be told how long the service will last. The solution to boredom and lack of energy is more variety and imagination.
No wonder we are often lacking the energy to pray and want to avoid church services.
Monks have secrets worth knowing. They know that if you pray regularly boredom and lack of energy will soon begin to wear you down. The answer then is not so much new prayer forms and more variety, but rhythm, routine, and established ritual. For monks, the key to sustaining a daily life of prayer is not so much variety, novelty, and the call for higher energy, but rather a reliance on the expected, the familiar, the repetitious, the ritual, the clearly defined. What’s needed is a clearly delineated prayer form which gives you a clear durational expectancy and does not demand of you an energy that you cannot muster on a given day. [it seems that daily Mass with the short time frame and predictable elements fills this requirement very well]
There are times of course for high celebration, for variety and novelty, for spontaneity, and for long celebrations. There are also times, and these are meant to predominate just as they do in our eating habits, for ordinary time, for low season, for prayer that respects our energy-level, work pressures, and time constraints.
We have entered Advent this week and for many of the early years after my conversion and entry into the Catholic Church, I would have ranked Advent at the bottom of the liturgical seasons. It seemed like a liturgical season that was lost on the world. As I age and have been through many liturgical cycles, Advent has continued to move up my rankings and I would place it second at the current time.
There are three things about Advent that really appeal to me, the culturally radical timing, simplicity, and quiet waiting. It has always amused me the contrast between the “Commerical Christmas” season with all its busyness and stress and the season of Advent that is about quiet prayerful waiting for the second coming of Christ. The Church in wisdom is telling us to focus on what is most important. As the years pass, the placement of the liturgical season of Advent seems so very wise and serves as an important countercultural reminder of what we should be focusing on. In an unusual twist, we remove some liturgical elements like the Glory to God and do not add more elements/prayers to the liturgy. What this means is that the liturgical celebrations for Advent do not take more time and fit into our expectations for Mass that have formed during the long chunk of Ordinary Time that we have been in since the end of the Easter Season. Quietness has become a more desired and reverent time as I get older. I guess the noise of youth, early adulthood, and parenthood wears us down to the point where it feels good and relaxing to sit in quiet. Advent fills my desire to listen to what the 46 Psalm tells us to do: “Be still, and know that I am God” in so many wonderfully simple ways.
I will leave you with some thoughts from Henri Nowen on Radical Waiting:
Our spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, expecting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination or prediction. This, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.
Peace, Love, and Blessings