Holiness lies in doing ordinary things well


Periodically, I am asked when I knew I was being called to the priesthood. There were many seeds for the origin of my vocation, including my parents and our faith-filled family environment, the formation I received from teachers in Catholic elementary school, and numerous people who encouraged me to listen to that call.

One experience that had a profound effect on my considering priesthood was the high school retreat program in the Archdiocese of Washington. In community with others my age, we experienced what was a mini-immersion in the Paschal Mystery. From Friday night into the first part of Saturday, the focus was on dying with Christ. During the latter part of Saturday and through the conclusion on Sunday, we experienced dying to self and – in a spiritual sense – rising to new life with Christ.

At my first retreat, I heard my peers – people with whom I was in school and activities –  speak openly about their own faith experiences. I was encouraged as team members – previous retreat participants who were close to my age – talked about their interior struggles and how they dealt with them by living a life of faith.

Those witness talks were the heart of the retreat. They were not so much theological as they were practical – peers sharing their experiences of trying to live their faith while dealing with challenges and pressures that most teens face. They shared how God assisted them in overcoming trials in such a way that led to a deeper, more fruitful spiritual life.

During high school, and then in college, I was invited to give a witness talk at those retreats. I didn’t have much of a dramatic story to tell as there was little drama in my life. It wasn’t as though I had this ultimate struggle against evil or that I experienced some major crisis or painful experience.

My life was kind of average – being part of a large family living in the suburbs. We attended Mass every Sunday and on the holy days of obligation, and went to confession several times a year, especially during penitential seasons.

There were practical expressions of faith in our home life, including prayer at family meals, which were a priority. We were aware of the significance of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, as each was always highlighted in our family. Thus, my recollection of my witness talks was that I saw God acting in those many ordinary ways, and I was grateful for that.

Sometimes during Lent and Holy Week, there’s drama in revisiting the Passion of our Lord; there are dramatic representations of that with imagery in movies and plays. The Passion was extraordinary, certainly dramatic to the extent and degree of Jesus’ sacrifice. But he comes to us in the sacraments in an ordinary way, through ordinary elements of bread and wine consecrated to become the Eucharist from which we receive spiritual nourishment.

For the most part, our lives are marked by our willingness to live our faith each day. However, there might be times when we have an extraordinary crisis of faith, e.g., dealing with a major illness, a broken relationship, loss of a job or death of a loved one. It is through our ordinary, daily encounter with the Paschal Mystery – which we experience during Holy Week and Easter in a special way – that we draw strength to handle those challenges.

God wants to be part of our ordinary, day-to-day life, where we are blessed by his fruitfulness. That’s how the Paschal Mystery is integrated into how we live – in our carrying out our vocation, of going to work, of caring for our families. Holiness lies in our doing ordinary things well.

During Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum, pray for ongoing acceptance of God’s invitation to enter his Paschal Mystery, to be transformed by his Passion, death and resurrection. What we commemorate is extraordinary, but living those events can be done in the ordinary, day-to-day sacrifices that we make when we dedicate our lives to following Christ.

May your immersion in the Paschal Mystery lead to the immense joy we will celebrate in this coming Easter season.


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