I’ve recently begun to watch the BBC’s Poldark, a period drama set in the UK at the end of the 1700s. The series follows Ross Poldark, whose family name gives him entry into the well-to-do of Cornwall. But Ross, after fighting and nearly dying in the Revolutionary War, returns with a different view toward society. Rather than follow the typical model his family expects, or moving away from Cornwall due to the collapse of the mining industry, Ross decides to stick it out. He re-opens his father’s mine, hires a crew of workers, and tries to work toward the common good.
Ross is less concerned with how he will be received by the upper-class families he’s known for his whole life, and more concerned with how local business practices will impact the poor. He eschews the divisions in class, and the notion that some people are simply created as inferior to others because of their birth family or station in life. What this leads to is, naturally, a lot of “friends” walking away, and a much harder life. Rather than earning his living at the expense of his workers, Ross oftentimes works side-by-side with others in the mine, and he puts himself at personal risk to try to ensure a fair wage and stable lifestyle for his workers.
All of these decisions lead to Ross having, in some ways, a very “ordinary” life. He’s not out gambling and drinking like many of his upper-class friends. He is not a powerful member of society because he has chosen to live a more just and humble life. Ross’ days consist of doing manual labor, trying to find capital to keep his mine working, and of helping out those he can. To many of his friends, particularly his uncle’s son, Francis, Ross’ life is just too mundane and ordinary. They can’t see how he could choose to live such a life. But in my viewing of the series, there’s hardly a better proponent for the beauty of “ordinary time” than a man like Ross Poldark. We see his boring life lead him to a real concern for others, to fighting for the common good, and to fidelity to his wife when he could very easily have been doing just the opposite.
Considerations on “Ordinary Time”
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Church’s liturgical calendar never had an “ordinary time.” That portion of the liturgical year we now refer to as “ordinary” used to always point to the major feast days of the year. So, the Sundays after the Christmas season was over would be referred to as “1st Sunday after Epiphany” rather than week X in ordinary time, and the current summer season after Pentecost was referred to as “1st Sunday after Pentecost” all the way up until Advent began. Of course, I accept the current liturgical calendar, as all Catholics ought to, but I do think the usage of the term “ordinary time” sometimes gets read the wrong way.
When I was a child (and I spake as a child, etc….), I used to think “ordinary time” quite plainly meant that it was not extraordinary. Thus, move along, nothing to see here. Just the boring months where nothing special is happening. Now, in a certain sense that is true. Advent can only happen for a few weeks per year, Christmas is a short season, and we can’t always be in Lent or Easter. The reason those seasons and feasts (particularly Christmas and Easter) are so special is because we only celebrate them once a year. It requires some sort of “ordinary” time in order to truly be able to appreciate the extraordinary seasons.
And yet, the notion that there is nothing special about the ordinary is a dangerous one.
In fact, the ordinary day-to-day moments of our lives are really where the beauty of human life is found. One of the great truths about married and family life (and I’m sure this also applies in its own way to other vocations) is that the routine and mundane elements of our lives are the very places in which God calls us to holiness. To be a husband and a father is, the vast majority of the time, not a particularly exciting or ecstatic experience. I’m young-ish at this life, but I can already look back on when we had three children in diapers and think “My God, that seemed like such a trivial experience, and so boring, but now I realize how important it was.” Doubtless 20 years from now I’ll realize what was so extraordinary about having three toddlers and being in a doctoral program at the same time.
Though Jesus Christ does call some people for extraordinary missions and lives which seem full of intrigue, the far more common experience in the life of Christian discipleship is about dealing with the very ordinary. But any honest assessment, I think, of “ordinary time” will show that there’s quite a lot of unpredictability in our vocations. But there’s also routine, and a challenge to be faithful to our own callings. Lumen Gentium speaks to this with the notion that
They [the laity] live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven…Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (Lumen Gentium #31)
Perhaps we can take a little inspiration from Ross Poldark, and also Vatican II, and commit ourselves during this season of Ordinary Time to the beauty of the ordinary life. It is where saints are made!
God Love You!