"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Ordinary Time: Favorite online show on hiatus, meaning, there are no new episodes

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Georges De La Tour, c. 1645

Today we begin what we call the Ordinary Time of the liturgical year. The average length of the Church's ordinary season spans between 33 or 34 Sundays in any given year. I liken this to the NBA off-season and this year will be the shortest one throughout NBA history, hence, there is a very quick turnaround for the players to recondition their bodies for the next season. For the others among us who are glued online, Ordinary Time is like having our favorite online show on hiatus, meaning, there are no new episodes.

What does it mean by having an "off-season" in the Church? How does this dovetail with the Advent and Christmas seasons that preceded it and Lent which will follow in mid-February?

A seminarian whom I accompanied during his 30-day retreat shared this Christmas sermon by Hans Urs von Balthasar entitled “Setting out Into the Dark with God.” Balthasar cautions us not to stop at the grandeur only, never—for it is only a starting point, an initial spark, a stimulus leading to what is really intended. If the shepherds stopped at being star-struck by the glory of the angels that appeared to them then it would have been the saddest part of Christmas. Well we can look at it this way, there may have been other groups who were out in the field and saw the angels appear to them that night, some were terrified, some were star-struck but they just returned to their homes when the entertainment was over. But not for these shepherds who took the word seriously. To one another they said, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” Balthasar says, “They want to see the word that has taken place. Not the angel's word with its heavenly radiance: that has already become unimportant. They want to see the content of the angel's word, that is, the Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. They want to see the word that has 'happened', the word that has taken place, the word that is not only something uttered but something done, something that can not only be heard but also seen... [But, this is] no special child. Not a child radiating a light of glory, as the religious painters depicted, but on the contrary: a child that looks as inglorious as possible. Wrapped in swaddling clothes. So that it cannot move. It lies there, imprisoned, as it were, in the clothes… There is nothing elevating about the manger in which it lies, either, nothing even remotely corresponding to the heavenly glory of the singing angels. There is practically nothing even half worth seeing… Indeed, in its poverty it is decidedly disappointing. It is something entirely human and ordinary, something quite profane, in no way distinguished—except for the fact that this is the promised sign, and it fits.”

The best part of the story is that there were a handful of shepherds who believed the word and who were not just shocked by the revelation. There may have been others passing by the manger but never bothered to stop by and see. Remember the Levite and the priest who just passed by the injured man without bothering to give a hand. These two are separate episodes but are of the same story with different characters—the Good Samaritan and the Good shepherds. When the shepherds began to believe, their hearts were filled with joy to witness God's tenderness made in the flesh. And I would like to believe this is the whole point of entering an off-season of sorts. We need to train ourselves from now on that our God is enfleshed in the ordinariness of the Belen. God has placed himself in such a tiny and tender seed from which all the beautiful plans of our God and all spiritual life is born. Off-season means allowing this seed to grow in our hearts until the next season of harvesting the first fruits will come.

Balthasar talks about the darkness that the Word will enter. He says, "as yet the shepherds do not know, no one knows, how far down into the darkness this Word-in-action will lead. At all events it will descend much deeper than anyone else into what is worldly, apparently insignificant and profane; into what is bound, poor and powerless; so much so that we shall not be able to follow the last stage of his path. A heavy stone will block the way, preventing the others from approaching, while, in utter night, in ultimate loneliness and forsakenness, he descends to his dead human brothers [and sisters].” Like a seed that necessarily falls into the ground and never stops in piercing the darkness through its tender roots. He is what the letter to the Hebrews says, "In these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, whom He made heir of all things and through whom He created the universe" (Heb 1: 2).

Finally I would like to recall the world-wide event last September 25, 2020  dubbed as "Breathing Together: A Global Ignatian Vigil Prayer for the Season of Creation." The Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, is quoted as saying, “the contemplation of the incarnation may enlighten our views of the world. Ignatius invites us to look at it in the same way as the Trinity gazing lovingly at the whole of creation, they hear the cry of the people, they smell the war and violence, they feel the fears and anxieties of the people, however they also see life, beauty, joy and hope in such a large variety of people and culture. With the eyes of the Trinity, we observe the whole of creation." The Divine Persons, through a loving gaze, decided to send the Second Person earth-bound.

Let us pray that we too will have the Trinitarian perspective of the whole of creation. We are invited never to look down on created flesh, no matter how sometimes or even often times it is misled into sin. God, when he decided to be made flesh, did not look down on the flesh. He loved and he marveled at the flesh to the great surprise and even envy of the angels. Even one of their generals turned his back on God. This angel looked at the same flesh as ugly, dirty, good for nothing, not meant for God. He touted it as foolishness and stupidity when God fell in love with human beings, and yes, let us accept it, with the flesh. During this so-called off-season in the Church's calendar, we are yet to see our God getting more involved in the daily grind. Like the shepherds, may we have open eyes and heart always to witness in the coming days and weeks this God of the daily grind. And we will definitely recognize Him just like the assurance that we get from the first letter of John, “But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do.” Amen. Fr. JM Manzano, SJ


  1. Good invitation to gaze lovingly like our Triune God... to His creation and His people... This is also a good time to sharpen our spiritual saw... Thank you Fr. Jom!


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