New days of ordinary time

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia A. Silecchia

June 24, 2022. In the life of a nation – as in the life of each person – days come to face past failings and take steps to correct them. That always begins with an honest admission of prior error.

When the Supreme Court did just this in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, my first reaction was not, and could not be, unfettered joy. Of necessity, reversal of Roe v. Wade, brings to mind the over sixty million unique, irreplaceable lives lost in the United States alone since Roe was decided nearly half a century ago. Moreover, contrary to furious public discourse, Dobbs does not end abortion in America. Rather, it returns the question to individual states. It is incongruous to me that whether someone’s very life is legally protected is now a function of where his or her mother happens to be. When abortion supporters proclaim that fundamental rights should not depend on the state in which someone is located, I agree with them entirely – except, of course, that we differ on which fundamental right and whose fundamental right is at issue.

Lucia A. Silecchia

I hope for the day, not yet here, when the law of our land offers a shield to protect the lives of those in the wombs of their mothers.
Yet, I still found myself grateful on June 24. Although Dobbs does not provide a shield to protect innocent human life, after 49 years the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution can no longer be used as a sword to strike efforts to defend that life. For that, I am grateful.
I am grateful as a lawyer pained to see the enormous power of law used to deny the humanity of my youngest sisters and brothers.
I am grateful as a woman who knows well that the adult that I am has grown entirely uninterrupted from the vulnerable single cell I once was.

I am grateful as an American who cheers any step – large or small – that sees the law of the republic that I love become more protective of those least able to defend themselves.

I am also grateful for the fortuitous date, June 24, on which we will remember this landmark. In important matters, I believe there are no coincidences. There is something about June 24 that speaks to the two ways in which we might best shape the post-Roe world with which we are now entrusted.

Due to a quirk in the 2022 liturgical calendar, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus fell on June 24. The heart was made for love. As I watch the explosive reaction to Dobbs, see the crude, vulgar signs carried through city streets and sense the deep fear and profound anger that rages, I am reminded by this feast day that the first response to the times in which we find ourselves must be radical love.

This love, in a post-Dobbs world, should be tangible. This is the time for renewing material, emotional and spiritual help to mothers in need; lending a hand to those caring for infants; supporting mothers in their workplaces, schools, universities and homes; adopting children with open arms and giving hearts; consoling mothers who grieve in the aftermath of abortions; reminding men of their obligations to their children and the women who carry them; caring for those in the midst of difficult pregnancies; comforting those facing frightening pre-natal diagnoses; and engaging abortion advocates with the peaceful confidence that comes only from a wellspring of deep-seated love.

The pro-life advocates I greatly admire pursue the defense of life with great, gracious love. This love – which I have seen in action – belies angry accusations that those who are pro-life care only for children before they are delivered into the world. This love has deep roots planted not in the shallow soil of politics but the deep soil of loving hearts.

The days and years ahead will need this great response of love. We now have a less fettered opportunity and sacred responsibility to find loving ways to welcome new life, cherish that life through all its stages, and support women who carry that life within them – often in difficult, lonely situations that demand great self-sacrifice.

Usually, however, June 24 is the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist. So, it will be in the years ahead when we mark the Dobbs anniversary. This suggests the second crucial part of a response to Dobbs.

John the Baptist was a prophet, proclaiming both the need to turn away from wrong and the promise of something greater to come. He died for his courageous witness but was undeterred. As battles for life itself are waged now in statehouses across the land, at medical facilities, and across dining room tables, we need prophets who continue to speak with conviction about the dignity of human life at all stages and in every condition. We need prophets who confront attacks on life wherever they are found and have the courage to defend it.

We need prophets who use their gifts to build a culture of life, advocate for just laws, and prevent innocent life from being discarded in a “throwaway culture.”

We need prophets who challenge us to reform our adoption and foster care systems, improve pre- and post-natal physical and mental health care for mothers and their children, and encourage all that can be done to improve the safety of pregnancy and delivery. We need prophets who demand that women be treated with equal dignity and that those who violate or assault them be brought to justice.

We need prophets who speak about the sacredness of sex, the obligations of men, and the dignity of those born with disabilities. We need prophets who remind us of all that a woman with a child can do and can be. We need prophets who proclaim the promise of something better than the violence of abortion.

Dobbs is but one step forward. It was, undeniably, an important one, but a far from final one. A better future now lies in the hands of all who have the strength to be loving prophets in these new days of ordinary times.

Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.

May God go with you into ordinary time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia
As a teacher, I have mixed feelings about graduations. While commencements launch new beginnings for graduates, they are also bittersweet farewells.

Each year, the basic formula of our graduation ceremonies remains the same. The setting, order of events and cherished traditions remain remarkably unchanged, reflecting the enduring desire to mark important passages with predictable rituals. In spite of their comforting sameness, however, each graduation ceremony heralds a significant change in my own life, not just in the lives of my students.

Lucia A. Silecchia

Each year, I see my students’ joy and am happy for them. However, as a teacher left behind there is a certain sadness knowing that each year’s graduating class – as individuals and as a group – will no longer be part of my everyday life. Certainly, commencement day is about my students and not me. Yet, the day when this celebration no longer tugs at my heart may be the day I should start another path of work.

The years I spend with my students are brief – only 3 or 4 years do we walk together. For that time, I am privileged to be part of their lives and to have them as part of mine. I am deeply grateful to my students for all they share with me during the time we travel together along the path of life. The class of 2022, in a particular way, crossed my path in a unique set of pandemic-provoked disruptions. Thus, in a special way, I am grateful for their good will through some challenging days.

I am grateful for all the ways they shared their joys with me. Some of them knew great joy in the years we spent together as they welcomed children, became aunts or uncles, achieved academic success, or wore new rings on their fingers. Some overcame great obstacles, were surprised at wonderful job offers, and learned that they had talents they did not know that they had. Some made life-long friends and I have celebrated at the weddings of those who sat together in my class.

I am grateful for all the ways they also shared their sorrows with me. Some of them had loved ones who started the journey with them but are no longer at their sides to share the joy of graduation. Some had struggles with finances or health, watched plans disrupted and mourned dreams denied. Like life itself, the journey through school has its highs and lows.

I am grateful for all the ways they shared their families with me. Those who teach young children rather than adults see far more of their students’ families than I do. Yet, my students tell me of their loved ones – their parents, children, spouses and siblings. Many tell me much about beloved grandparents because, often, it is in the years of young adulthood that their grandparents pass away.

In particularly entertaining ways, my students share their families with me at graduation. I still feel a vague dread when someone’s proud dad says, “I’ve heard all about you!” because that is not necessarily a good thing. I sense that my students feel similar dread when a proud mom says, “How did he do in your class?” Fear not, students! I have a well-practiced repertoire of non-responsive answers to that question.

I am grateful for the ways my students thank their loved ones, my colleagues and their classmates as we share our pride and common joy with them. As they receive their diplomas while wearing the strangest of hats and smiling the biggest of smiles at their cheering families, they remind me that few accomplishments are achieved alone.

I am grateful for the ways in which many students have shared their faith with me. Although much is said by many – myself included – criticizing Gen Z’s and Millennials, I have been inspired by them. In an age of shallow soundbites, some have asked me the big questions. In an age of secularism, some have prayed with me. In a time when faith is thought to be private, some have prayed for me. In a time when the world can seem thoughtless, they reach out with commitments to service, good-hearted kindnesses and traces of that idealism a cynical world so desperately needs.

My students – soon to be my former students – were once strangers to me and to each other. Through many different paths, they and I came together for a time and shared a unique season of our lives. As May and June unfold, teachers like me will be saying our good-byes.

“Good-bye,” however, is a comforting word of farewell – an ancient abbreviation of the phrase, “God go with you.” So, to all those whose diplomas say “2022,” I pray that God does, indeed, go with you as you embark into our fragile world. Bring that world your courage, your hope and your love. And, if you think of it, say a prayer for me – I’ll miss you. Thanks for sharing with me some of your ordinary times.

Congratulations! May God go with you, Class of 2022.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America.)

Women of Ordinary Time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia
Throughout March, myriad celebrations of “Women’s History Month” unfold. I understand the sentiment behind this and see the great value in recognizing the contributions that so many of my sisters, past and present, have made to building our society. This is particularly true when it comes to celebrating those who have too often been overlooked.

Yet, I find myself wishing that the world would celebrate women year-round in ways more akin to the way in which I see women celebrated by the church. Let me explain.

In Women’s History Month, I see honor paid to those women who – with the odds frequently stacked against them – succeeded in the eyes of the world. Women who were pioneers, or public figures of influence, or daring “first” women to achieve great feats, or those beckoned by history to play extraordinary roles on the world stage are celebrated with great enthusiasm. Those who used their great scientific, literary, intellectual, entrepreneurial, artistic and musical gifts to advance culture as we know it are honored this month with often overdue praise and gratitude.

The church also recognizes among our saints those women who did extraordinary things in the eyes of the world. We celebrate women who were great warriors like Joan of Arc; intellectuals like Hildegard, Edith Stein and Teresa of Avila; royalty like Margaret of Scotland, Jadwiga of Poland, Elizabeth of Portugal, Elizabeth of Hungary and Helena of Constantinople; foundresses like Elizabeth Seton, Scholastica, Frances Xavier Cabrini, Katherine Drexel and Jane Francs de Chantal. We also celebrate women like Teresa of Calcutta and Catherine of Sienna, whose unique roles led them to challenge those who held great influence in the world at their times.

Lucia A. Silecchia

These women who did great things with great holiness are honored as examples for those called and gifted to do such things with fidelity to the will of God.
Yet, I am proud and grateful that the church also holds out as examples those women who lived lives that were simple in the eyes of the world. That is, after all, the way in which most of us live our lives on this side of eternity.

Honored as saints are women like Ann, Gianna and Monica who lived the vocation to motherhood with extraordinary grace; Therese of Lisieux and Clare of Assisi who lived lives hidden from the world; Zelie of Lisieux who spun lace for a living and raised holy children; Josephine Bakhita and Felicity who, separated by centuries, both bore the abuse of slavery; Kateri Tekakwitha, an orphan scarred by smallpox; and girls like Bernadette, Dymphna, Maria Goretti, Jacinta, Agnes and Lucy who died long before the fullness of years would have given them the chance to have worldly accomplishments to their names.

More than all others, the church honors Mary of Nazareth who did the greatest of all things when, in an instant, she gave the “yes” on which salvation turned. She is honored by such great names as the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angels, and Queen of All Saints. Yet, the only title she gave herself was “handmaid of the Lord.”

I hope that this month we continue to celebrate those women whose great deeds have made our world better. Yet, if that was all we did, much would be missing.

I hope that, like the church, we also take time to honor those women whose lives are not marked by the extraordinary deeds they did, but by the extraordinary love, grace and fidelity with which they did the simple things entrusted to their care. History is full of those women even if their names and stories are lost to time.

If you are blessed to know such women in your life, this month may be a chance to say a simple thank you. If you were blessed to know such women who have left this life, this month may be a particular time to pray in gratitude for the goodness of their lives – a goodness perhaps hidden from the world but known to God. May God bless the great and the good women of ordinary time.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America.)

The Prayer of Ordinary Times

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia A. Silecchia

Can a lazy lack of creativity ever be good for the soul? Normally, I would answer no – unless you asked me during Lent when I was 19 years old.

That was a Lent I intended to take more seriously than I had before. A growing realization that, ready or not, adulthood was dawning led me to reflect more thoughtfully on that sacred season. Even then, I understood that in the wisdom of the church’s ancient calendar, forty days is a perfect length of time for a season of preparation.

I know that number has its origins in sacred traditions. But, as is true with so many things, the sacred tradition is beautifully matched with human nature. Forty days devoted to preparation is a season that is short enough that a commitment to something ambitious is less frightening than it might otherwise seem. Yet, it is long enough that a new practice or habit of the heart and soul has a chance of becoming more permanent.

In spite of my good intentions, when the Sunday before that long-ago Ash Wednesday rolled around, I had not yet decided what I could do so that my 19th Lent might be the season I hoped it would be. There were three days left, and nothing of note had crossed my mind.

Lucia A. Silecchia

Fortunately for me, that Sunday I was blessed to hear a homily that changed my life. It was filled with practical suggestions about Lenten practices that seemed especially intended for those of us who had not planned ahead. One that caught my ear was the simple, obvious invitation to attend Mass during the week during Lent. I had rarely given that any thought. Unless it was a special occasion, I was on the Sunday plan.

However, to my practical mind, this was a do-able Lenten suggestion. Conveniently, I walked past my parish church every morning on the way to my college classes. The three Masses celebrated every day meant no early wake-up was required. It was merely a half-hour time commitment. Most importantly, although I did not know the exact words from the Catechism at the time, I knew in my heart that Mass was “heart and summit of the church’s life.”

Thus, for want of another plan, I very casually began a practice that has lasted, with varying degrees of regularity, to this day – decades after that long ago Lent drew to a close.

I found that I began to treasure this weekday celebration, secure in the happy knowledge that around the world in tiny remote chapels, grand urban cathedrals, crumbling city churches, secluded mountain monasteries, far-flung military bases, parochial school auditoriums, and quiet convents, countless others were doing the same. A weekday morning Mass is the Eucharist at its simplest. Without distractions, it is a quiet, intimate start to the day and a cherished oasis before the hectic pace of life begins anew.

I love a grand liturgical celebration. Whether it is celebrated with an enthusiastic student choir, or majestic organ music shrouded with incense, or, yes, even the felt banners and tambourines of my childhood years, such celebrations fill the heart with awe. A large Sunday crowd gathered to praise the same God together is a beautiful reminder that we are all part of the family of God. A stirring Sunday homily, carefully planned, and an altar reverently adorned with flowers all point the way to God in a powerful celebration. The sometimes-too-rare moments of silence in a large Sunday crowd offer a chance to offer praise, petitions, apologies and thanks in the company of an extended parish family.

Yet, when I have the wisdom to make time for it, I also treasure those quiet celebrations during the week when two or three or more of us gather in God’s name, bringing Him the hopes, happiness, worries and woes of the day and receiving far more in return. I am grateful for the silence before and after this celebration, the way this time of the day reminds me that the journey through the day is never traveled alone or without sustenance.

I am grateful for that chance invitation years ago that introduced me to the sacredness of the simple, daily Mass. Now, I share that invitation with you. Come and share this beautiful prayer of ordinary times.

May your journey through Lent be filled with blessings this year.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at The Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.)

Racing through ordinary time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia
Recently – when it was still July – a friend sent me a text from the supermarket with a photo of a Halloween candy display in the aisle. I expected that the Halloween blitz would be coming soon. Yet, “back-to-school” sales are still in full swing and, in my mind, August is still summer!

I guess I should not have been surprised. After all, I did see “back-to-school” sales advertised in June, making me wonder how someone could possibly go back to school before even leaving school for the summer. Perhaps Halloween candy must be sold in the summer so that Christmas decorations can come out right after Labor Day and Valentine’s Day cards can be on the shelves the day after Christmas. Of course, they too will disappear quickly so that the Easter candy can come out before Lent even begins. Maybe next year, Halloween costumes can be on the shelves in June.

Lucia A. Silecchia

Why the rush?

I appreciate the joy of anticipation. I understand the need to plan. I know the satisfaction of checking things off a “to do” list early. Yet, as the race through the months seems to accelerate every year, I have to wonder why.

I know much of this is driven by commercial interests. The longer that products sit on the shelves the better it is from a consumption perspective.

Yet, I worry that this also reflects an all-too common and, I fear, growing tendency to anticipate our tomorrows at the expense of treasuring our todays.

I’ve done this myself. From the time I was a toddler and well-meaning adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, tomorrow seemed like an exciting place to be. When I was in kindergarten, the most adventurous thing in the world seemed to be starting “real school” in the first grade. Then, like most eighth graders, high school seemed to be a great journey on the horizon. Then, in high school it was college, in college it was graduate school, in graduate school, it was a first job, and then a second job, and then moves and new escapades were eagerly planned and anticipated.

But, as time goes by and I have gotten older, I am starting to realize two things.

First, time seems to be passing by far too quickly on its own. My parents warned me this would happen and, as with so many things, they were right. Thus, I am coming to resist all of those things that try to, artificially, hasten time along. Halloween can wait when these precious weeks of summer still linger.

Second, and more importantly, I am coming to appreciate the way that today holds so many joys – and sorrows, too, – that I will miss if I constantly keep my eyes on what will come next. Prudence and planning for tomorrow are important parts of adult life. But so too is realizing that the 1,440 minutes that God has given me today deserve my full attention, deep gratitude and wise use. I have no promise of anything beyond today. Indeed, if I have learned anything this past year and a half, it is that precise planning for the future is so often impossible.

But what is possible is to wake up grateful for the gift of today. To look at the people I love and be grateful for their presence today. To pray for my “daily bread” without demanding the long-term meal plan – confident in the assurance that God will provide what I need for today. Seeing a blazing sunset, a friendly stranger or wide-eyed kitten are the joys of today. Hearing my phone ring, or a favorite song, or those cherished words “I love you,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Thank you” or “Don’t worry” are the joys of today. Feeling a friend’s embrace, a summer breeze or the sand of a beach are the joys of today. Smelling a late summer rose, fresh bread, or a whiff of hearty food are the joys of today. Having quiet moments alone with God and hectic hours with the people I love are the joys of today.

I pray that there will be blessings that fill your tomorrows and mine. But, as I get older, those words “tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matthew 6:34) mean more to me. I understand them a bit more now. I understand a little more with each day that races by how precious each one is – even those days that are hard.

I hope that when I shop for my Halloween candy in October, there is still some left for me. (If not, I’m sure I can get Christmas candy canes then.) But for now, I still want to hold on to the gift that is August. The gift that is now. The gift that is today. I want to walk, not race, through ordinary time.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.)

A mother’s prayer for ordinary time

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia A. Silecchia

I saw them in the department store – a mother and a little girl about five years old. The child, in her restlessness, sought to wander away during what must have struck her as a very dull way to spend time. Sifting through a clearance rack is not the excitement five year olds appreciate.

Whenever the little girl strayed too far, her mother would say, with care and concern, “Please don’t get lost.” I smiled to myself when I heard this. I am blessed with a good sense of adventure but a horrible sense of direction. That combination means that when I was five – and now that I am much older than five! – getting lost was and remains a routine state of affairs.

Lucia A. Silecchia

But when I heard that mother say to a beloved daughter “Please don’t get lost,” it struck me that this is not merely a mother’s plea to an unwilling young shopping companion. It may also be the prayer that loving mothers say for their beloved children every day of their lives. It may be a prayer that goes something like this …

When you lie in your crib alone and the darkness of your room and the shadows on the wall frighten you and the night seems long, please don’t get lost.

When you take your first steps and you fall not just once, but over and over again, and your knees and your pride get bruised, please don’t get lost.

When I leave you alone at school for the first time and you glance back toward me and ahead toward a roomful of strangers and uncertainty overwhelms you, please don’t get lost.

When a schoolyard bully ruins your day, when you fail your first exam, when you lose the spelling bee and when you don’t get picked for the baseball team or the school play and you never want to go to school again, please don’t get lost.

When you are discerning your vocation in life and deciding how best to spend your love and the future seems exciting and frightening, boundless and burdensome all at the same time, please don’t get lost.
When your heart gets broken in all the large and small ways that happens and you think life will never hold joy for you again, please don’t get lost.

When illness or injury strikes you – or someone you love – without warning and the suffering is more than you ever thought possible and each day is a stunning new struggle, please don’t get lost.

When you pray and God seems far away and so you stop praying for a time, please don’t get lost.

When life is going well and you stop realizing how much you need God and, once again, you stop praying for a time, please don’t get lost.

When your cherished plans fall apart or a lifelong friend betrays you or a dearest dream is dashed, please don’t get lost.

When success surrounds you and you let it go to your head, please don’t get lost.

When you make a stunningly bad mistake and no one is angrier at you than you are at yourself, please don’t get lost.

When your heart, your home, your bank account and your stomach are all full and you neglect gratitude and compassion, please don’t get lost.

When you start to feel, for the very first time, that you are growing older and might not accomplish all that you hoped to do in this life, and that emptiness hurts your heart a bit, please don’t get lost.

When I myself grow old and the painful privilege of walking me home falls on your shoulders, just as care for you once fell on mine, do the best you can, and please don’t get lost.

When you yourself grow older and with grace and dignity – or, perhaps, against your own will — you start to shed the outward signs of success and strength by which we too often measure our worth, please don’t get lost.

But most of all, when your journey through this life draws to an end, then, more than ever, please don’t get lost.

When you are scared, hold onto all I tried to teach you, the faith I tried to share with you, and the love I left behind for you. Please don’t get lost – because I want to see you again on the other side of eternity, when we have both left behind our ordinary times.

On Mother’s Day and always, may God bless all our mothers in this world and the next. And thanks, Mom, for all the times you prayed for me.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.)

Spring comes to ordinary times

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia A. Silecchia

It was a happy confluence of mundane events that brought three long awaited signs of hope in a single week.

First, the temperature reached 60 degrees for the first time in months. On that sunny and (relatively) warm day, everyone I greeted on campus, running errands, or walking in my neighborhood had something joyful to say about the spark of springtime that we all shared.

Lucia A. Silecchia

Second, I saw the first crocuses of spring bloom from my neighbors’ snow glazed lawns. As if on cue, these giddy optimists of the floral world burst forth with the solemn purple and bold gold of their blooms.

Third, the owners of a small-town ice cream shop that is a favorite summer destination of mine began a springtime countdown on their Facebook page. The post listed the number of days until spring and teasingly asked “Who’s Counting?” I certainly am!

These three events, coming together as closely as they did, were especially welcomed this year because it has been a long winter in more ways than one. There is something in human nature that seems to seek for the good ever more eagerly in challenging times. To me, the warmth of a bright sun, the bloom of a new flower, and the promise of ice cream to come are all things I am celebrating just a little more than usual this year.

A few days after the sunshine, snow fell again. There will still be a wait before other flowers join my neighbors’ crocuses for a genuine start to spring. And the promise of long summer nights eating ice cream on a park bench is still too far away to taste.

But, maybe the glory is in the glimmer. Maybe it is just enough to see that there is good that lies ahead. Maybe it is promise that provides the joyful hope that brightens the lingering darkness of winter.

Life, too, is that way. So often, what makes challenges possible to face is to be able to hope for what comes ahead and lies beyond today. Anyone who has lost a job and seeks another knows that. Anyone who has had a dream dashed and dares to dream again knows that. Anyone who hopes for the return of a wayward loved one knows that. Anyone who endures long days of illness hoping for healing knows that. Anyone who weeps at the grave of a loved one, with a broken heart that whispers “life is changed, not ended” knows that.

Lent, too, is that way. It is no mere coincidence that the ancient root of the word “Lent” is the word for spring. It is that time that bridges the darkness of winter, of longing, of weakness, and of suffering and connects it to the joyful hope of fulfilment, triumph and Resurrection after suffering and death lose their grip.

When I think of the joy that fills my heart when I contemplate sunshine, flowers and ice cream, I have to stop and think how small and, even, trivial, those joys are compared to what is yet to be and what lies ahead. And, yet, I am so deeply grateful for a God who gives me these small pleasures to cherish because He knows that, most often, my heart cannot quite contemplate much more.

In April, I will rejoice in the glory that is beyond my comprehension when Easter joy fills a weary world. But for now, for Lent, I will say a quick and quiet “thank you” for the promise of joy that unfolds when slowly and gently, spring comes to ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.)

The Gospel of Life in Ordinary Times

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia A. Silecchia

Respect Life Month is an annual October opportunity to recommit to respecting the unique dignity of each human being, made in the likeness of God and created with an irreplaceable part in the human family that no other will ever fill. This year’s theme, “Living the Gospel of Life,” invites a thank you note to all those who live this “Gospel of Life” in their ordinary times by welcoming the most vulnerable. So …

Lucia A. Silecchia

Thank you to the elderly couple with full hearts and an overflowing basement bursting with the cribs, strollers, clothes, diapers, formula and toys they collect for expectant mothers in need. They know what may seem small never is.

Thank you to the man who sits in a quiet bar while his friend confides that his wife is pregnant with their fifth child and he just lost his job. Hearing this despair and knowing the desperate thoughts that fill the fearful father’s mind, this loyal friend pledges his support. He means it. This friendship means the world and can save a life – or two.

Thank you to the high school teacher with the picture-perfect family life who consoles a student facing an unexpected pregnancy and fearing her bright future is lost. After the standard words of encouragement fail, this teacher takes a deep breath and confides in her student what she has always kept private: “I was once there too.”

Thank you to the woman who carries her child for months, knowing she will place her greatest treasure into the heart and home of another family. She also knows this great act of love will exhaust her body and break her heart in ways few will understand.

Thank you to the parents with full hearts and empty arms who adopt children and raise them with a love that, in turn, inspires others to see the beautiful gift of adoption and continue this circle of selfless, aching love.

Thank you to friends who console a mother who miscarries her child. They understand this grief is deep and raw because a life has ended. So, they do not blithely say “it’s better this way” or “you’ll have another” because they know far more than a dream or a hope died within.

Thank you to those who speak kindly and with respect for women who give birth to and raise children in less than perfect circumstances. The children in their lives will overhear them – and remember their words more than anyone will ever know.

Thank you to all who dedicate their lives to caring for, teaching, employing and advocating for those who live with disabilities. In the opportunities you provide, families facing an unexpected pre-natal diagnosis might just see a glimpse of a promising future for their child. They may desperately need your witness to resist the pressures they are so likely to face as they wait to welcome their child.

Thank you to the parents of boys who teach their sons to respect the dignity of women, the sacredness of sex, and the obligation to support the children they father in every way they can. Thank you to those same parents who care for the mother of their son’s children – regardless of whether she is a beloved daughter-in-law whose pregnancy answers years of family prayer or a frightened teenage girlfriend whose name they do not even know.

Thank you to the religious sisters who, in so many ways, live the radical hospitality that welcomes women in need and their children by offering the love and material support that our busy world pays lip service to say but too often neglects to do. Thank you to the priests who hear the pain-filled confessions of those who carry heavy burdens and lifetimes of regrets. Through the ministry of the church they grant the pardon and peace that frees so many who are so broken to become some of the best protectors of life I have ever met.

Thank you to the friends of a frightened young woman, abandoned by her boyfriend, who accompany her home when she fears telling her family she is pregnant. Thank you to the friends of an overwhelmed father-to-be when they have the courage to tell him that fathers support both their children and the women carrying those children – and then help him to do this. Extra thanks if those friends also have the courage to tell him that, popular opinion notwithstanding, saying “I will support you in whatever you decide” is not support at all.

Thank you to the friendly Mass-goer who gives a wink and a smile to a crying infant rather than a cold stare and a judgmental glare. The harried parents trying to keep their children corralled in their pew will appreciate this and be grateful that those who celebrate the sanctity of life are not curmudgeons when they see the beauty of that life in the house of God.

Thank you to the knitters and quilters in retirement homes who make baby blankets for infants they will never know and donate them to pregnancy centers. They hold the loving hope that an exhausted mother may derive the strength to carry on just knowing a handmade gift was specially prepared for her unborn child.

Thank you, most of all, to parents who welcome children into the world in so many situations that are unexpected, unsupported, and unappreciated. What you do is sacred – not only on day one, but each and every day.

To all of you, and so many others, my “thank you” seems so small. May God bless you all for all the ways you live the Gospel of Life in all the days of your ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.)

Ordinary Times in St. John Paul II’s Hometown

Lucia A. Silecchia

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia A. Silecchia

Had this May unfolded differently, I planned to be in Rome to celebrate the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s birth in the jubilant grandeur of St. Peter’s Square. I was eager to celebrate because he was the first pope I really remember and the one who shaped my youth and young adulthood as part of the “John Paul II generation.” I remember the way he confronted a broken world in the vigor of his youth and how he faced his very public suffering and death with the strong serenity of his age.

Since the extraordinary celebration is no longer on my calendar, my thoughts turn instead to more ordinary times and some days I spent in St. John Paul II’s Polish hometown of Wadowice. There, I saw the places sacred to his youth that may have seemed ordinary at the time, as so many of our own hometowns seem ordinary simply because they are so familiar. But, it was this small town that shaped the life of an extraordinary man.

I saw the parish church where St. John Paul II was baptized and the baptismal font where, in his words, “it all began.” I saw the town square where he played with his friends — many of whom would soon have their lives stolen from them in Nazi death camps or on the bloody battlefields that engulfed their young lives. I saw the programs from his high school drama productions, and thought about how different the world would be if he had followed his early ambitions to be a poet or an actor.

I saw the photographs of the whole Wojtyla family he loved and lost — a sister, Olga, whom he never knew; a beloved mother, Emilia, who died when he was only eight; a brother, Edmund, who died as a physician caring for his patients; and his devoted father, Karol Sr., who died suddenly when young Karol was merely twenty. Years before Karol Wojtyla was ever ordained a priest, his entire family had already passed from this life.

I saw the dining hall where his father took him to eat when the two lived alone. I saw the orphanage run by religious sisters who cared for him as a boy during the times when his father was traveling. In the interest of serious historic inquiry, I ate at more than one bakery that claimed to sell the very crème cakes the future pope enjoyed as a boy. In the interest of curiosity, I visited the museum devoted to his life.
Most poignant to me, I visited his very ordinary childhood home. In a small flat on the second floor of a modest building, was a simple bedroom he shared with his father, a tiny kitchen and a neat sitting room. The sitting room was the nicest – and it went unused after the shadow of Emilia’s death. In those few rooms, he grew up and came to know the God who would sustain him in the many sufferings of his youth, the blessed Mother who would comfort him in the trials of his life, and the understanding of what it is to live with fear and hope, with joy and sorrow, with great love and great loss.

This home was located just across an alley from the parish church where Karol and his father would go to Mass each morning. What caught my eye was a large sundial mounted on the side of the church — a sundial now permanently marked with the precise time of Saint John Paul II’s death. Over the sundial was, and is, a Polish inscription that read, “Czas Ucieka Wiecznosc Czeka” or “Time Flies, Eternity Waits.”

These were words that young Karol Wojtyla would have seen out of his window every day. In those words, lies an important truth by which to live. It is a reminder to do what is urgent, pressing and necessary — but not at the expense of those things and people who are truly important because they point the way toward eternity.

For me, it is so easy to get caught up in the things of this world that keep life busy and make time fly. But, perhaps what gave St. John Paul II the serenity, courage, and fortitude to live the life he did was knowing that, in spite of all that makes time fly here on earth, it is eternity that waits — patiently and peacefully. It was a truth learned in his own hometown.

I would like to think that, in the joy of eternity, St. John Paul II prays for those of us still occupied with the busy-ness of life that makes time fly. I hope too, that the same eternity waits for us when we, cross the “threshold of hope” and leave behind our ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America.)

All creatures of ordinary times

Lucia Silecchia

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia Silecchia

Kittens have eyelashes. I distinctly remember the moment I first noticed this. Years ago, a cat welcomed a litter of kittens in my family’s backyard. Happily, they were unafraid of their accidental landlords but had a wide-eyed curiosity about us. As they let me approach them, I saw perfect, nearly invisible, rows of eyelashes above the bright yellow eyes that looked up at me.

I was well beyond the age when this sort of discovery should have struck me so deeply. Yet, it did. There was something about such minute detail on such tiny creatures that overwhelmed me with a sense of creation’s glory – and the far greater glory of the Creator. God had planned every tiny eyelash above every tiny eye on every tiny face of every tiny kitten throughout time.

Often, it can be overwhelming to think directly of the glory of God because it is so far beyond what I can start to comprehend. Indeed, it is also overwhelming to contemplate the great dignity of human persons created in the image and likeness of God. Thus, I am grateful for all the ways in which the more accessible, but often overlooked, everyday miracles of creation show a glimpse of the face of God.

Each autumn, October’s feast day of St. Francis of Assisi turns our attention to the particular way in which the creatures of this world reflect their awesome Creator. In so many churches, blessings of animals take place – perhaps with some trepidation! Household pets are blessed during these days in an expression of gratitude for the ways in which they brighten our ordinary times in so many ways.

Cats will come, with that look of disgruntled ennui that cats wear better than anyone else can. Good-hearted dogs will frolic joyfully at the chance to meet new two and four-footed friends. Fish will slosh around in their bowls when they are carried to church steps and gardens – and it is hard to fathom what they may be thinking as their serene existence is interrupted in this way. Birds will dart around in their cages as they go on this peculiar fieldtrip, and the turtles, toads and lizards will wear the inscrutable looks they always sport. Gerbils and hamsters may nervously burrow in their cages when they discover that they are in a crowd that includes cats and the occasional snake. More exotic and larger animals will be welcomed too, in the hopes that nothing unexpected happens as they assemble.

As people and pets gather in holy places, I hope it will be a chance to think again of the ordinary extraordinariness of the animals who share our world. If I had an eternity, I could never imagine into creation the octopus, the elephant, the starfish or the giraffe – or any of the creatures that dart in the depths of the sea and fill the sky with fluttering. Who but God could conceive of a butterfly, a dolphin, a porcupine or a sea urchin? Yet, they grace my world and for the gifts of them, I am grateful.

Paradoxically, there are circumstances in which it seems as though our animals are treated better than our neighbors are. Conversely, there are other times when animals are treated with cruel neglect and thoughtlessness. Yet, despite these failings in the ways we share our world with others, I hope that this year, our tributes to St. Francis are a time for gratitude.

It is a time for gratitude for the blessed gift of creation, and for the gentle power of God the Creator who brought humanity and all else that lives into creation. It is a time for gratitude for the animals who share our homes, hearths and hearts – and for all those creatures we do not know. Most importantly, it is a time to be grateful to a God who even gives kittens those eyelashes that to this day remind me to be thankful for the smallest of miracles in ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.)