Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Extraordinary Ordinary


The seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter Tide remind us that the Triune God incarnated himself in humanity and that God with skin on lived among us to reveal to us how his Word made flesh in Jesus is spoken through living, dying and rising again into real life--eternal life. We learn how the Triune God, incarnated in the Holy Spirit, comes alongside our spirits and fills us with the breath of real life--life that is eternal though temporary. The Divine Mystery!
     However, it is during the season of Ordinary Time that our spiritual reading and antiphons echo back to us from the Sacred Scripture, the Saints and Spiritual writers of history what God is saying now, as he said then, as he will forever say to us as pilgrims in this kingdom on earth. It's as if this great cloud of witnesses to our own pilgrimage stand and cheer us on through the reality that is ours for now in the ordinariness of our lives. The beauty, goodness and Truth of the Sacred Tradition keep our eyes focused on the extraordinary through the Liturgy of the Hours and the Daily Readings on the ordinary journey of Faith.
     During this season of Ordinary Time, The Church emphasizes in our daily readings what the LORD desires for humanity. It is hard to ignore the teachings from the Sacred Scriptures. All point to self-denial, self-forgetting, self-abandonment... All call us to be faithful to God's desires for us as we live out our faith in him. They call us to steadfast hope in the middle of the extremes of human existence--the bitter valleys, the valley of the shadow of death, threatening danger -- and our everyday annoyances. We are confronted by the choice to remember who we are, where we are going and to whom we belong.
     One introduction to our Prayer for the Morning reminds us that we are a pilgrim people, journeying through the varied landscapes of life on our way back to our created identity. Rightly so, we are all sojourning through land that should seem foreign to us for it is the temporal, the worldly that would force us to forget the divine purpose of our existence--if we allow it to. Words from St. Catherine of Sienna shore up our resolve to live the rightly-ordered life:

"So we see plainly that whatever God permits for us in this life, he permits for no other purpose. We see that everything that has being comes from God. Nothing, therefore, that happens to us--trouble or temptation or injury or torment or slander or anything else that could possibly happen to us--can or will disturb us. Rather, we are content and hold these things in reverence, reflecting that they come from God and are given to us as good favors, not out of hatred but out of love.
--St. Catherine of Siena

     In another reading Christ calls his disciples to travel light on their mission of grace and mercy. We are called to do the same, to unburden ourselves of useless baggage that weighs us down and saps us of strength--robbing us along the journey in God.  One of the pilgrim psalms (Psalm 84) reminds us that the material and spiritual baggage that we carry is useless.  "They are happy, whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion. As they go through the Bitter Valley they make it a place of springs...they walk with ever growing strength...for the LORD God is a rampart, a shield...the LORD will not refuse any good to those who walk without blame." We could amend this last phrase to say the LORD will not refuse any good to those who walk without baggage...those who travel light. We cannot say that the LORD will not allow suffering to those who walk without baggage. In turn, what is useless to us the LORD uses for our good when we recognize that traversing the Bitter Valley is where we learn that in letting go of what weighs us down is pivotal for our progress to Zion (God's desire for humanity--worship and adoration of our Creator, the LORD God.) It is most difficult to worship when our hands are full and our backs are bent and our minds are cluttered--the Bitter Valley of human existence.
     The psalmist asks of the LORD to make known to us the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. He prays to the LORD to give us joy to balance our affliction (Psalm 90). Paul in his letter to the Ephesians tells the Church in Ephesus that God is rich in mercy and by his grace he has created us, his handiwork, for good works. The theme of this season of Ordinary Time should resound in us a joyful confidence that what we live through on this side of eternity is not wasted. Life and all its turns shape us into the image of Christ when we keep a loose hold on our SELF and a tight hold on the ONE who has created us. We are reminded that we are a moment, a fleeting breath in the world's history. But we are treasured by our Creator as we do his good in our moment in the world's history. Words from the Sacred Tradition and Saints recall in us that we are not meant to dwell in the illusions of this life but we are to live and move and have our being in service to the Triune God, our Creator.
"The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, LORD, and open in me the gates of your kingdom."

"Grant, LORD, that all my intentions, actions and operations be directed purely to your praise and your service."  
--St. Ignatius of Loyola

"This then is what it means to seek God perfectly: to withdraw from illusion and pleasure, from worldly anxieties and desires, from the works that God does not want, from a glory that is only human display; to keep my mind free from confusion in order that my liberty may be always at the disposal of his will; to entertain silence in my heart and listen for the voice of God; to cultivate an intellectual freedom from the images of created things in order to receive the secret contact of God in obscure love; to love all men as myself; to rest in humility and to find peace in withdrawal from conflict and competition with other men; to turn aside from controversy and put away heavy loads of judgment and censorship and criticism and the whole burden of opinions that I have no obligation to carry; to have a will that is always ready to fold back within itself and draw all the powers of the soul down from its deepest center to rest in silent expectancy for the coming of God, poised in tranquil and effortless concentration upon the point of my dependence on him; to gather all that I am, and have all that I can possibly suffer or do or be, and abandon them all to God in the resignation of a perfect love and blind faith and pure trust in God, to do his will."  
 --Father Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O.

    We read Micah's words to the people of God "...And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God"  These same words happen to be inscribed on a plaque above our stove. I (Lois) sometimes idly pray them as I busy myself with one of the quotidian tasks of the day in my ordinary life--cooking. It seems it is in those idle moments that my mind will wander toward thoughts of the injustice I can be guilty of, to some of the unkind motivation behind my actions and the often prideful reactions my mind dwells upon. My baggage can be stuffed with the weight of such thoughts. Thoughts that can lead to obsession that can lead to sin, sucking the life of goodness from me. It is a good thing that our little plaque is placed where it is. Ordinary Time redeemed by the Extraordinary Word of God!

LORD God, we are in awe of the Great Mystery of the Incarnation, your Death and Resurrection, and gift of your Holy Spirit.  We stake our faith on this Great Mystery!

LORD God, along the way of Faith we so easily lose sight of your Divine Purpose for us because our eyes are trained horizontally--ordinary distractions. We need you to train the set of our gaze so that we journey well onward and upward. Lord, give us new eyesight.

LORD God, our self-preoccupation, self-promotion and the burden of our opinions litter the path we travel. We linger there, giving over our minds to the cacophony of self-preservation in a self-centered society. Lord, give us new minds.

LORD God, our tongues choose noise rather than silence. Noise of conflict, strife, bravado, retaliation: Self-justification.  Lord, tame our tongues.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now and forever will be. Amen

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