Category Archives: Ordinary Life

Running to Win the Spiritual Race – May 19, 2016

William Shakespeare famously wrote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” and so it is with us. Each of us “performs” each day on the world’s stage before the spectacle of our fellow man, and before the saints and angels in heaven, and under the watchful eyes of God. We act out our lives from moment to moment, for good or for ill, before the human and the heavenly audience. St. Paul says, “..we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.” (1 Cor. 4:9) The letter to the Hebrews depicts us as competing in a packed stadium filled with all the saints and heroes that have gone before us, cheering us on, competing in a race around the track. “..since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..” (Heb. 12:1) St. Paul urges us to shed “every weight” of sin that slows us down so we can persevere and win the race. The cloud of witnesses, the saints in heaven, are not only cheering us on but also offering personal intercession for us. (CCC 2683) St. Paul must have been a great admirer of runners and athletic competitions, such as the Isthmian and Olympiad Games; he uses the running metaphor a number of times in his letters. To the Corinthians he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25) St. Paul compares the spiritual life to an athletic competition, in which we should strive not for a laurel victory wreath but for the crown of eternal life.

How should we compete for this crown of eternal life? Much in the same way that an athlete must plan his or her exercise regimen each day to prepare for the race, so should we plan our spiritual regimen each day. We can exercise our souls with a schedule of daily prayer. In this way we can grow in faith and holiness, pleasing to God, and on the path to eternal life. First, we must discipline and train our spiritual selves. This can be difficult. It can be so much easier to sit back and watch a TV show or surf the internet rather than pray. I can find a million excuses not to pray at any given moment, but I have found my day is so much better if I do pray. My day is given direction and satisfaction, and a sense of purpose and connection to God. It sacramentalizes my whole day. The best way to approach our spiritual training is to have a simple, fixed schedule of prayer. Basically, we need a plan. It should be a simple one, accommodating our individual circumstances and responsibilities. The key is to faithfully stick to the plan as best we can, and repeat it each day and each week. If we do this, we can “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We can become, as St. Josemaria Escriva described, “contemplatives in the midst of the world.”

Here are some suggestions for us to include in our daily spiritual exercises:

  • The Morning Offering upon waking up
  • Pray the Rosary
  • Attend Mass and receive Communion
  • Pray the Angelus at noon
  • Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet (maybe at the 3:00 hour)
  • Small acts of penance or mortification throughout the day
  • Grace before meals
  • Attend Adoration
  • Pray the Liturgy of the Hours (particularly, in the morning and evenings hours; see phone apps to assist with this)
  • Short conversations of mental prayer (a “heart to heart” talking and listening to God)
  • Spiritual Reading (Bible or other spiritual reading)
  • Meditate on the Stations of the Cross
  • A Nightly Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition before bed

Of these, I have found it particularly important to never miss the Morning Offering or the Nightly Act of Contrition. These help frame our day and orient it completely towards God, sanctifying the hours of the day from morning to night. I also find saying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy particularly powerful, but this is my own particular spiritual affinity. Each of us should determine what we are drawn to personally.

It does not take much time to speak to God each day, even mere minutes. Yet, it can still be difficult. Much like our regular muscles, we need to exercise our prayer muscle to improve. The more we exercise our prayer life, the stronger and easier it will become. Prayer is our connection to Him. Our relationship with God will take on a much more personal flavor and commitment. God calls us friends and His children. He is personally interested in us, even down to the most minute details of our lives. Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Mt.10:30) This should give us comfort. God knows our hearts and thoughts. He hears everything we ask and tell Him. He cares about us more than we could ever imagine. We just need to make the time to speak and listen to Him. Our daily prayer schedules are part of our commitment to Him, and proof that we love Him. If we live this way, each and every day, and continue this over our lifetimes, a “compounding interest of prayer,” if you will, this is the stuff of saints. Then, we can come to the end of our lives, the end of our race and competition, and declare as St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)

 

Laborers in the Vineyard (the Vocation of the Laity) – October 23, 2015

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.  When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; “and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’  They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’” (Mt. 20:1-7)

God is calling each of us to work in His vineyard. Just as the landowner in the parable hires laborers, so too, Jesus says to us, “You also go into the vineyard.” The vineyard, of course, is an allusion to the world around us. God is the landowner, and we are His potential laborers. And, what is God’s work in the vineyard? Jesus Himself answers this saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (Jn. 6:29) Later on, just before His final Ascension into Heaven, Jesus gives the “Great Commission,” telling His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20) The work Jesus commands us to do in the vineyard is to spread His Gospel, the Good News, to the whole world. We are to herald the Kingdom of God. This is the universal mission of the Church. Christianity is not confined to any one region, or to any one people, or to any one time, but the Gospel is meant for all. Our labor in the vineyard is to evangelize all peoples for the salvation of souls. This is the harvest. From the time that Jesus spoke those words, 2,000 years ago, till now, it is estimated that approximately fifty billion (or 50,000,000,000) people have lived. Today alone, the world has over seven billion (or 7,000,000,000+) people. Now, that is a lot of grapes! As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Mt. 9:37) And so, we see in the parable, the landowner keeps coming out to the marketplace in the hours throughout the day each time to call for more laborers.* It doesn’t matter what “hour” we are called; whether in the early morning or in the late afternoon, whether early in life or late in life, God is calling us just the same, now, at this hour, urgently, “You also go into the vineyard.”

“You” is, in fact, us. The vast majority of “us” are the lay faithful of the Church, or the laity. In a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Pope John Paul II, addressed the vocation and the mission of the laity in the document, Christifideles Laici, or “Christ’s Lay Faithful.” It explains the “unique character of their vocation” to “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God.” (CL 9; LG 31) We, the lay faithful, are to live the Christian life in the midst of the world by bringing our spiritual values to our temporal surroundings. We need not recoil from the world or embrace all aspects of it, but should live out our Christian vocation in whatever state we find ourselves. The Exhortation says the lay faithful “contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven.” (CL 15; LG 31) God has assigned us an insider job! We are Christ’s leaven sprinkled throughout the “dough” of the world, specifically into the particular areas and communities that He has sent us. By definition, yeast is to have an “altering or transforming influence.” Jesus Himself compared the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast in making bread, saying even though only a little yeast was used, it “permeated every part of the dough.” (Mt.13:33) And, so it is with us. The laity is to have a transforming influence, like yeast, upon the whole world. Jesus also proclaims us the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” (Mt. 5:13,14) These are strong words showing the unique dignity of our vocation as Christians. We would do well to remember the great significance Jesus placed on His disciples. The laity is called to shine that significance and that dignity in the people around us by fostering a “Christian animation of the temporal order.” (CL, 36) This call is even more urgent today. In the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem (“Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People”), the Council recognized the great need in modern times for an “infinitely broader and more intense” lay apostolate. (AA, 1) Before Jesus would come to a town He sent pairs of disciples ahead of Him to preach to them and prepare them. (Lk. 10:1) So too, “It is the Lord who is again sending them [us] into every town and every place where He Himself is to come.” (AA, 33) We are His messengers still, sent to prepare the way before Him.

God sends us into the vineyard to work for the salvation of each person. Each of us is “unique and irrepeatable.” (CL, 28) We have distinct identities, character, and actions, which, in total, will never be repeated again. Each of us is unique in the history of the world. There will never be another one of you.  We have a unique and irrepeatable contribution to make.  We were all a distinct and individual thought in the mind of God before our creation. As the prophet said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5) God calls us personally by name. The Church exhorts, “from eternity God has thought of us and has loved us as unique individuals. Every one of us He called by name, as the Good Shepherd ‘calls his sheep by name’ (Jn.10:3).” (CL, 58) We receive our dignity as individual persons from Him, for this is the image of God within us. The personhood (“I”) in our consciousness, our minds and souls, is derived from the personhood of God (“I Am”). Thus, our dignity as an individual person is our “most precious possession.” (CL37) It is for this reason that the Church fulfills her mission in the world primarily through the person and in service to all humanity. (CL, 36) All human life is precious. And so, part of the way the laity evangelizes the world is in upholding our basic human rights and promoting a culture of life, not death. The laity must evangelize on the unique, unrepeatable, and inviolable dignity of each person as an image of God; in short, with an authentic humanism. (CL, 38)

Man is important because of our foundational dignity in Christ. He is the source and the primordial sacrament. Jesus references this when He says, I am the vine, you are the branches,” and “apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn.15:5) We are unique and irrepeatable, but we are also, in some way connected as one with Jesus as part of His mystical body. The Church recognizes the “extraordinary and profound fact that ‘through the Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion to every person.’” (CL 36; GS 22) This is an under-appreciated fact of our religion. Because the infinite God became man, we are now connected in our humanity back to God through the human nature of Jesus Christ. The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, or “Joy and Hope,” (ie, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) refers to this unity between God and Man, via the Incarnation, in the human nature of Jesus Christ. It says, “Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in Him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare.” (GS, 22) Christ, the Son of God, has lived the same human existence as us in the ordinary conditions of life. The magisterium teaches that the laity can “through the very performance of their tasks, which are God’s will for them, actually promote the growth of their union with Him.” (AA, 4) We can live in unity with Christ by living out our vocation in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. As the Word of God entered human history, He recapitulated everything in Himself. (GS, 38) So, by gathering up “all things in Him” (Eph.1:10), Jesus sanctified and redeemed human nature. We, the laity especially, can achieve holiness by living “above all in the ordinary circumstances of daily life.” (GS, 38) Our daily activities are actually occasions for us to join ourselves with God. (CL, 17) Christ ennobled the dignity of work by using the labor of His hands in the carpenter’s workshop in Nazareth. When we offer our work up to God, through faith, it is ennobled in association with the work of Christ. (GS, 67; CL 43) In our work, in our leisure, in our sufferings, and in all of our activities, we can unite ourselves ever more intimately with God in our every day lives. Each day is another opportunity to work for the plentiful harvest in the vineyard. And so, here now again, we the lay-faithful, must follow that resounding call of the Lord echoing through the centuries, “You also go into the vineyard.”

*There is an interesting juxtaposition of the hours of calling the laborers matching the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary – 24 August 2015

The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.” (CCC 533)

Jesus spent the majority of His life in relative obscurity, in family life, growing, learning, working and manual labor. Jesus did not come to Earth and immediately set the world ablaze with His divine power and majesty. On the contrary, Jesus came in obscurity, humility and poverty; being born as a baby, completely dependent and helpless, to a poor family in a small village placed in an animal manger. God came as the least among us. How few recognized the extraordinary baby in the midst of that most ordinary scene? How often do we fail to see God in our ordinary circumstances each day? Following His birth, Jesus then spent His childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in continued obscurity. Or, in other words, the God-man, the divine Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, spent the vast majority of His earthly life in a very ordinary, everyday existence; a seemingly average person. Christ lived as one of us in every way, but sin. As the Catechism teaches, “During the greater part of His life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor.” (CCC 531) This is truly an amazing thing to contemplate. Jesus, the divine being, spent most of His life, or approximately thirty years, living a private, ordinary life just like ours. But why? He worked in Joseph’s workshop as a carpenter. He lived an existence in humble obedience to Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His step-father. Little else is said of this time period in the Bible. Of course, when we think of the life of Jesus, we think most often about the last three years of His life, His public life, as recorded in the Gospels. These were the all-important years when Jesus gathered His disciples, preached the kingdom of God and the repentance of sins, worked miracles, healings, instituted the Sacraments, founded His Church, and of course, offered Himself to the Father with His Passion and Crucifixion. There seems to be a huge dichotomy between the ordinariness of His first thirty years and the extraordinariness of His last three years. One can imagine at the beginning of His public ministry the astonishment of His neighbors when they asked, “Where did this man get all this?” (Mk. 6:2) They only recognized the “ordinary” Jesus, and were incredulous at seeing and hearing the divine Jesus.

This begs the question then, why did Jesus live these two almost separate, distinct stages in His life? Why was there seemingly such a difference between the first 90% of His life versus the last 10% of His life?  In part, I think the answer lies in the focus of those stages. Jesus’ mission was to do the will of the Father.  As Jesus said, “For this is the will of My Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.(Jn 6:40) Jesus was born into the world in order to save and bring to Heaven as many human souls as possible. This was clearly accomplished by Jesus in His Passion and Crucifixion. The reason for the Incarnation was the Redemption. (CCC 607) In the midst of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mt. 26:39) Jesus accomplishes His Father’s will in the redemptive act of His Passion. This was the culmination of His public ministry, the culmination of the Incarnation. Yet, to state the obvious, Jesus was God even before His public ministry. For the first thirty years, in His private, ordinary life, He was God. He was already accomplishing the will of the Father in perfect obedience. As the Catechism states, “From the first moment of His Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in His redemptive mission: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”” (CCC 606/Jn 4:34) Jesus’ whole life was lived accomplishing the will of the Father. From the first moment of His Incarnation into the womb of Mary, to His birth in Bethlehem, to His childhood and adolescence, to His young adulthood in Nazareth, Jesus accomplished the will of the Father. The two distinct periods of Jesus’ life, the private and the public, were not at odds with each other. They were one continuous redemptive mission along the spectrum of Jesus’ life. The mystery of redemption was at work throughout His life. As the Catechism states, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption to us above all through the blood of His cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life.” (CCC 517) Thus, Jesus was fulfilling the will of the Father to redeem and save, even in His private life as an ordinary person.

Then, what was the mystery of redemption at work through the thirty or so years of Jesus’ private life? How did this mystery of redemption permeate Jesus’ ordinary existence? Part of Jesus’ mission was to restore mankind to its original dignity and vocation. Jesus could have descended from the clouds of Heaven and begun His life in His public ministry. Yet, that is not what He did. Instead, He followed the same path that we all follow of being born into this world, growing up, and laboring as an adult. Jesus took on all of our circumstances, and lived our daily, ordinary lives. And not only that, He lived in the most humble and extreme of circumstances so as to encompass the breadth and depth of human experiences. He came intentionally to live through all these various stages of life. The Catechism says, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said, and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation.” (CCC 518) Jesus recapitulated within Himself all of our ordinary human actions, our ordinary human vocations, and in fact, our very ordinary human nature. The Catechism quotes St.Irenaeus in this area, “For this reason Christ experienced all the stages of life, thereby giving communion with God to all men.” (CCC518) Within Jesus, all aspects of human life, from birth until death, were sanctified. All of the material nature of man was subsumed in the vastness of His divinity. The infinite efficaciousness of His divine nature was infused into human nature. As such, human nature was raised up, restored, and divinized in the person of Jesus Christ. When the God-man lived our stages of life and our ordinary actions and vocations, He infused them with His eternal grace. Thus, the Catechism can state, “The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of His hidden life was already inaugurating His work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed.” (CCC 532)

Christ was indeed the “perfect man” (CCC 520), the new Adam, who lived a perfect life, but He did not live it for Himself. Rather, Christ lived it for us and for our salvation. Moreover, “All Christ’s riches ‘are for every individual and are everybody’s property.’” (CCC 519) Taking on human nature, all of humanity was recapitulated within the God-man Redeemer (CCC 518) St.Paul uses the perfect phrase to illustrate this idea; that is, in order “to sum up all things in Christ.” (Eph.1:10) This captures it succinctly. Jesus is all that we are and all that we live. The divine man Jesus, lived the ordinary life of each of us, suffering the mundane work and trials of each day, so as to redeem our lives, consecrate them, and divinize them by His own divine life. Jesus cares about us in our poverty. He lived it. He offers eternal meaning to our poor lives. Christ, by living an ordinary life like ours, consecrated our ordinary vocations. The effects of His Spirit are not limited by time or space. We can be united with Jesus in our humanity, in our ordinariness. Our ordinariness should not worry us. We don’t have to do extraordinary things or live extraordinary lives. We can be content in our simplicity. Christ summed up all that we are within Himself. We can live within Him, and He will live within us. In a certain way Christ Himself is united with each man. Christ saves us individually. Being united as one with Jesus – as a part of the Mystical Body of Christ – we continue within ourselves the mysteries of His life, making Him present in the world. (CCC 521) In Nazareth, Jesus lived a quiet, humble and obedient life. He lived in communion with His family. He worked in the carpenter’s workshop. Jesus is our perfect example. We should imitate Him by consecrating to God our family life, our work life, and our everyday activities. We do this through the intentions of our thoughts and prayers. Part of the reason Jesus lived His private life of 30 years was so we could be united to Him in everything we do. Our ordinary lives can have extraordinary meaning. After His Resurrection, Jesus repeatedly shows up to His disciples, sometimes unawares; once walking with them on the road to Emmaus; another time fixing breakfast for them at the Sea of Galilee. What’s to stop Jesus now from being with us as we drive to work? Or, as we sit down for dinner with our family? Or, at anytime in our daily routine? This should be our intention every day: union with Jesus. Whether in family life or at work or in leisure, we should unite ourselves with Him. Then the ordinary will take on the extraordinary. This is our true treasure.