Monday, January 11, 2010

Extraordinary ordinariness

For the January-February issue of our Catholic diocesan magazine, Faith, I wrote this article. It seems appropriate for today:

Even though our consumerism-based culture begins its Christmas/holiday season in October and ends it abruptly December 26, those Christians who are aware of an "alternative year"--the liturgical year--try valiantly to first celebrate Advent and then the Christmas season, which begins December 25 and lasts, this year, through January 10--just about when valentines are being put out in Hallmark stores.

After that, the civic calendar marches toward spring and the liturgical one toward Easter. Sandwiched between Christmas and Easter is a little time period--37 days, beginning on Monday, January 11 and ending on Tuesday, February 16, called "Ordinary Time." Ordinary Time picks up again in June till the next Advent; so when both are added together, these ordinary weeks make up over half of the liturgical year.

One of our sisters, Joan Chittister, just wrote a book for Thomas Nelson Publishers, titled, The Liturgical Year. In it she writes about Ordinary Time:

Life is, by and large, more commonplace than exciting, more customary than electrifying, more usual than unusual. And so, not surprisingly, is the liturgical year. Because the liturgical year is a catalog of the dimensions of the spiritual life, it is not unlike life itself. It, too, is made up of the habitual and the common coordinates of what it means to live a spiritual life. What's more, it is precisely this routine of holiness-as-usual that is the ultimate measure of the quality of a soul. It is what we do routinely, not what we do rarely, that delineates the character of a person.

And it is true. If you were with us for breakfast on Monday, January 11, you'd hear unusual greetings being passed around: "Happy feria days." "Ah, we're back to ordinary time." "Wasn't' it nice to have 'nothing special' at morning prayer!" Yes, here they are--glorious ordinary days, a break from weeks and weeks of celebration, hoopla, and special events. Time to just "be," to get back to the everyday, the humdrum, the routine--which holds its own great holiness surely as much as the major feasts do.

When I first entered religious life we had a wonderful sister directing us. She was lots of fun and was not very strict with us at all. To this day I remember one special thought she shared in a rare moment of self-revelation. She confessed that she used to dream of going to far-off missionary lands and doing extraordinary things with her life, but after years of teaching kindergarten and working with young sisters, she had finally come to the acceptance that, as she said, "If I'm going to become a saint, it's going to have to happen right here, right here in these halls, right here with these people, right here every day."

And, I can tell you that, yes, she did become a saint: right there in those halls, right there every single day.

A little "ordinary," corner in our gathering space. That's one of Brother Thomas's larger pieces paired with some greenery.