Follow the Ordinary Jesus

User’s Guide to Sunday, Jan. 15

(photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Jan. 15, is the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass Readings: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-10; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

And so we begin the most important time of the year: Ordinary Time.

Yes, there is a clear sense in which Christmas, Easter, Advent and Lent can claim to be the most important times of the year. They are times when God makes a special effort to break into our lives.

But that’s important only if he actually does break into our lives and make a difference. And Ordinary Time is when we find out if he did.

Today in the Gospel, we hear that “John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’”

Here, Jesus isn’t the center of a remarkable story with Magi and mangers; he isn’t dying on a cross or rising from the dead. He is simply walking by a river. If we can recognize him there, on an ordinary day, then we are truly in the process of conversion.

“There are in truth three states of the converted,” wrote Pope St. Gregory I, “the beginning, the middle and the perfection. In the beginning, they experience the charms of sweetness; in the middle, the contests of temptation; and in the end, the plentitude of perfection.”

The special times in the Church provide the sweetness. But you can’t make it to the time of perfection unless you get through that time in the middle, knuckle down and do the true, hard work of conversion.

St. Paul thinks so, too. In his letter to the Corinthians, says Origen, Paul writes “to those called to be saints as well as to those who are already sanctified.” That means he is writing to us. Not we, the wonderful Catholics — we, the Church under temptation, trying to convert. The first reading from Isaiah emphasizes the challenge: “It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant.” He wants more: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Today, God is inviting each of us to join the great project of salvation history. He is inviting us to convert. This is the most exhilarating, liberating thing we can do on earth.

“There is no happiness in the world comparable to that of the experience known as conversion,” said Robert Hugh Benson.

That is because, as Thomas Merton put it, “Ultimately, faith is the only key to the universe. The final meaning of human existence, and the answers to the questions on which all our happiness depends, cannot be found in any other way.”

So, begin today. “Call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as Paul says. And say with the Psalm, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

Recognize Jesus Christ in the clear light of day and follow. Happiness depends on it.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

He is the author of What Pope Francis Really Said.