Thomas Reese: Living and Praying With Mark in Ordinary Time

St. Mark the Evangelist’s symbol is the winged lion, the Lion of St. Mark, which is also the symbol of Venice, in background. This image by Vittore Carpaccio is in the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

There is something exciting about living in extraordinary times — times of surprises, special events and even challenges. These are the days when it is easier to get out of bed in the morning. You have something to look forward to.

Ordinary times, on the other hand, can be boring.

Last week Catholics and other Christian churches began “Ordinary Time,” that part of the liturgical year that is not Advent, not Christmas season, not Lent and not Easter time. Technically, it is called “ordinary” not because it is unspectacular, but because the weeks of the year are numbered, as in ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.).

Despite the origin of the word, Ordinary Time can appear, well, ordinary. But Ordinary Time is also a time for getting back to basics, for taking on projects that will make us better Christians.

There are few projects more important for Christians than getting back in touch with the Gospels. Sadly, 63 percent of Catholics read the Bible less than once a month, according to the Pew Forum. Ordinary Time is a good time to get in the habit of reading a little bit of the Gospels every day.

An easy way of doing that is by reading or listening to the Gospel from the Mass of the day. You can also ask Alexa to “Get Catholic Daily” or look in your podcasts for “Daily readings from the American Bible.”

A St. Mark the Evangelist icon by
Emmanuel Tzanes from 1657. Image
courtesy of Creative Commons

The Gospel reading used at Mass on Jan. 14, Monday of the first week in Ordinary Time, was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry as described by Mark. As the weekdays of Ordinary Time progress, Catholics hear successive passages from Mark’s Gospel. We will get through 10 chapters of Mark before reaching Lent on Ash Wednesday, March 6.

With the choice of these readings, the church is telling us that it is time to get reacquainted with the Gospel of Mark. After Pentecost, when Ordinary Time returns, the weekly liturgical reading will reintroduce us to Matthew, and then Luke.

When I was in high school, a teacher told us we had to read one of the Gospels, so we all read Mark because it was the shortest, not knowing that it was also the earliest of the four canonical Gospels to be written down.

Mark’s Gospel has no infancy narrative. It begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. All of this, plus the temptation in the desert, is covered in only 13 verses of the Gospel before Mark begins describing the public ministry of Jesus.

“The kingdom of God is at hand,” announces Jesus.

He then shows what the kingdom of God is about through his teaching and his compassion for the possessed, the sick and sinners. And he demands a response: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

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Source: Religion News Service