Sunday coming is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, or in the pre-1970 calendar, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost. So you may be thinking that this is a bit late to be mentioning the Great Feast, the Birthday of the Church, and you would be correct.
It’s just that recently I’ve been thinking about the resemblances between myself and Mr. Toad – and it’s not that I’m particularly green and warty, rather it is that like Toad, I do tend to get swept away by new enthusiasms and great intentions of ‘better, faster, more improved’
Ordinary Time is not supposed to mean “ordinary” as in “plain, commonplace, everyday” but rather “not one of the Seasons”; it is supposed to be the time of the Kingdom of God, where we live now that the Good News has been declared. Except I think that for most of us (and for myself especially), we do live in the manner of the old, not the new, life. It is a relief after the feast of the Ascension is celebrated; Jesus has returned to the Father and now He is out of the way, gone, and I can go on in my own comfortable fashion like I did before: until, that is, the shake-up when the Spirit comes as promised – but that’s off in the future sometime, right? Time enough to worry about that when it happens.
There’s no chance of seeing Him face-to-face and running the risk of getting things completely wrong, as the apostles did with the teaching on the leaven of the Pharisees, when they interpreted it as a rebuke because they had forgotten to bring any bread with them. No, now that the Lord is safely back in Heaven, I can get on with my earthly life (all the while saying the right thing, naturally, because I have right belief).
And so I go along until the crash comes and the intervention of the Spirit is necessary. Badger may seem like an odd notion of the Paraclete but here he is acting in the sense of “advocate, one who represents us at law” more than as “comforter”(though Badger is a comfort for Rat and Mole as well as Toad; he is the one they turn to not alone for advice but for practical physical help and defence when confronting the beasts of the Wild Wood).
Like Toad, I am very, very sincere when convicted of my wrongdoings – at least, until I get out of the room (the confessional, in my case). Mr. Toad is very, very sorry when he is caught and he does mean it when he says he’s a bad toad. Until afterwards, when the shock of the immediate moment is over, and he begins to think he’s not that bad, after all. He likes to sing vainglorious little songs about how clever and how wonderful he is, and he goes right back to his own ways.
Until it all goes smash and he ends up in prison, rather like another apostle, St. Peter, who also needed the help of another to escape. Although Peter did not have to dress up as a washerwoman to escape, he did think that it was all a dream and he was only imagining his escape right up until the angel led him into the city and left him. So there is some hope for those of us who really do need to be hit over the head with a sledgehammer before we can see what is in front of our noses.
And although Toad, unlike Peter, deserved his sentence, his escape means that there is no “justice”. Toad escapes his rightful punishment and does not serve out his full sentence. He is liberated by the sympathy and generosity of another, he does not deserve his second chance, and yes, he immediately falls back into thinking he is getting by right what is coming to him by grace, and he starts back with his old tricks.
Then he tries to go home, and finds that his swept and garnished halls have been taken over by those worse than himself, and once again he falls back on the help of his friends that he has used and abused so many times before. This time, when he is in real trouble, it is Badger who saves him, thanks to a knowledge of his own home that Toad himself did not know, and thanks to Rat and Mole being loyal and faithful.
Finally, at long last, Toad settles down to live in Ordinary Time. No more dashing off after new shiny baubles, more exciting experiences. In the words of another frog, “It’s not easy being green” – but it’s well worth it. Green is the liturgical colour of Ordinary Time, it connotates hope, and in the words of the Communion Rite in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, after saying the “Our Father”, the priest prays “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
Toad eventually learned to live in joyful hope, in the season after Pentecost. I hope I can do the same.