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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Ways to find meaning in the ordinary

In this last week of Ordinary Time, let’s find ways to seek God in the everyday events of life

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Super Bowl is over. The Olympics close Feb. 20. And many of us are asking ourselves: “What do we look forward to next?”

Actually, can I suggest that we push the pause button? We’ve developed, in our culture, a tendency and even a need to go from one celebration to the next. We find ordinary time boring, so we keep running from celebration to celebration to overcome the boredom. Then the running wears us out — it leads to “celebration fatigue.” But we don’t know what else to do. How do we stop this merry-go-round?

Let me suggest that the remedy for all of this is to find meaning in the ordinary. And, interestingly, we’re entering the last full week of Ordinary Time before Lent. Once we hit Ash Wednesday next week (March 2), we won’t see Ordinary Time again until June 6! It would be good to take this week to practice the art and the discipline of finding meaning in the ordinary. How can we do that?

Church documents on priestly formation talk about forming seminarians to become men of intimate and unceasing union with the Trinity. That’s actually a pretty good goal for all of us! And, in fact, seminarians are formed in this habit precisely so that they can become priests who can teach everyone how to do it.

Building on this idea, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that: “The life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of God and in communion with Him.” Notice the word “habit.” How do you experience moments of being in the presence of God? And what would it take to make that occasional experience into a regular habit — a pattern that shapes every day no less than the habit of drinking coffee? If we can find that habit, then the ordinary won’t be boring and we won’t need to escape it. If we can find that habit, we’ll see how the ordinary is filled with the presence of God.

The Catholic spiritual tradition speaks of the “sacrament of the present moment” or the “practice of the presence of God.” But what exactly does that mean? The spiritual writer Father Jacques Philippe sheds light on it when he says: “God is present in His creation, and we can contemplate Him there; He is present in the Eucharist, and we can adore Him there; He is present in the Word, and we can find God by meditating on Scripture … There is, however, another mode of God’s presence of the greatest importance for the life of prayer: God’s presence in our own heart.”

Following this tradition, there are some people who are only ever doing one thing: they’re paying attention to the presence of God in whatever they’re doing. Contemplative prayer, making breakfast, reading a book, washing dishes, driving somewhere, paying bills. They pay attention to God’s presence in the midst of whatever’s right in front of them, and the ordinary becomes rich.

When we learn to do that, we don’t need to rush from celebration to celebration because the ordinary isn’t boring — it becomes a place where we find God! And when we find Him there, we can be refreshed there. And when we’re refreshed by the ordinary, our lives become less frantic and our celebrations more free.

So in this last week of Ordinary Time, let’s lean into the ordinary and work on finding God in the midst of it.

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