Companions for the journey through ordinary time

By Lucia A. Silecchia

“If you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.” So goes a line from the prelude to “Getting to Know You,” one of the songs that punctuates the classic musical “The King and I.”

After many years as a teacher, I can vouch for the truth of this observation. I am particularly reminded of it during this time of year. Invariably, as I watch my students prepare for final examinations, they teach me much about how we should and could be companions to each other on our journeys through this life.

Anyone who has been to school will remember final exam season as a time in the semester that is fraught with work, worry and the desire to perform well on the examinations that will determine course grades. (Students may not realize that this season can also be one of equal stress for their teachers!)

Each semester, I am pleasantly surprised when I see my students navigating this season together. I see them working together in study groups, coming to my office hours with friends, and lingering after class to continue discussing the material we covered amongst themselves or with me. When I meet with them on Zoom, there are sometimes two, three or four on the screen, bringing to me their debates and their questions – or asking me to resolve a friendly dispute they have had about the correct resolution to a problem. I see them gathered around tables in our student lounge or our courtyard deep in discussion and notice that they share their notes with each other when one seems to grasp some of the material better than his or her peers.

In one sense, this is not what many would assume to be rational behavior. After all, there is a temptation to don blinders during the final weeks of the semester and focus solely on individual preparation for the exams that lie ahead. It can be tempting not to “waste” time helping others in the hope that all will cross the finish line together. To cynics, it might even seem counterintuitive to share wisdom or understanding with others out of fear that this will propel them to outperform the one who first shared that wisdom.

Yet, each semester I see my students traveling this final stretch of the semester together, and I am both proud of and grateful to them.

Lucia A. Silecchia

I am proud of them because they have not let the stress of exam season distract them from the opportunities they have to be of help to each other, to support each other, and to share the highs and lows of their common adventure.

I am also deeply grateful to them because the way they treat each other during exam season teaches me something about living the Christian life.

As human beings made in the image and likeness of God, we are made to live in community with each other and to share our lives with those entrusted to us and to whom we have been entrusted. We are not made to travel through this life to the next life alone. Rather, we are called to a faith that we do not keep to ourselves, but that we share freely with others.

 We are called to help each other through the seasons of doubt and to rejoice with each other in the seasons of fulfilment. We are called to wrestle with the challenging questions of life together and help each other bear the burdens of difficult times. We are called to share freely “the reason for our hope” with those who ache to hear it. We are called to pray alone, but also to gather with our parish families, our friends and family, and even strangers to pray as a community.

My students show me this. In the mundane ways they walk together through exam season, they show me a glimpse of the more glorious way we are to walk together through this life and enter the next one in the company of each other. They show me what it means to be companions for the journey through ordinary time.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at

Remembering in ordinary time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

On Memorial Day last year, an acquaintance of mine visited a parish not my own and brought home a church bulletin. I glanced through it and saw, prominently displayed, a colorful graphic wishing everyone a “Happy Memorial Day.” I found myself surprisingly angry to see this festive greeting. I have come to accept the misunderstanding of Memorial Day by secular advertisers pushing Memorial Day sales and promoting the start of the summer vacation season. Yet, Memorial Day is not a “happy” day for those who see its real purpose: to remember with gratitude and to mourn with sorrow all those who gave their lives in defense of this nation we call home.

Lucia A. Silecchia

Memorial Day has its origins in the state and local “Decoration Days,” begun in the bloody aftermath of the Civil War. On those days, loved ones would follow ancient traditions and bring flowers to decorate the graves of those who died in battle. In doing so, robust spring blooms brought a hopeful sign of life and respect to the resting places of their beloved. In 1868, General John Logan’s General Order No. 11 proclaimed that such days were a time to visit soldiers’ burial sites and “garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”

With the passage of decades that brought future wars and future sacrifices, Memorial Day was eventually fixed as a federal holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May. While Veterans’ Day in November expresses gratitude to all who have ever served in the military, Memorial Day has a more solemn significance. It specifically honors those who served in the military and gave to our nation what President Abraham Lincoln eloquently called “the last full measure of devotion.”

I have never spent Memorial Day kneeling with teary eyes at a grave dug too soon – or burdened with the aching angst of having no grave to visit. Since the days of World War One when my grandfather became both an American citizen and a private first class in the United States Army, multiple generations of my family have served in uniform. They came home. So many families – including, perhaps, some who saw “Happy Memorial Day” in their church bulletin – have not been as fortunate.

The Catholic Church knows so well how to honor, remember and pray for those who have passed from this life. She also understands the depths of grief carried by those who mourn and offers the profound hope that death does not have the final word. I hope that as Memorial Day comes again, our Catholic churches, cemeteries, nursing homes, hospitals, schools and universities will all be places that are filled with many who comfort those who grieve and pray for so many souls lost in battle since the birth of our nation. I hope, too, that all people of faith will bring to the public square a sense of grateful reverence for those we honor on Memorial Day.

Family gatherings, beach trips and much-anticipated barbecues all have their places on this national holiday. They are the good and beautiful things that were no doubt held dear by so many who lived to see so few of these celebrations.

But I hope that in the midst of this, we take time to pray for those we memorialize – and honor them by remembering them every day of our ordinary time.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at

Wonder of ordinary time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

By now, the eclipse glasses have been put away. The photos of the April 8 nature show have all been posted to Facebook and Instagram to prove that it really happened. The stories from the day have, likewise, also been told – ranging from the “wow” from those in the path of totality to the “meh” from those who saw a partial eclipse through a cloud shrouded sky.

I was in the latter camp since my cloudy neighborhood seemed merely and anticlimactically overcast. Yet, it was still a “wow” day. For me, the excitement was not what I saw in the heavens. It was, rather, what I saw here on earth. For a day, I saw busy people catch their breath and look skywards. I saw genuine excitement about a natural sky show. I saw all too cynical people embracing the excitement, without seeming self-conscious at all.

Since then, I have wondered why. Perhaps it was simply a case of FOMO, the fear of missing out of a big event. Perhaps it was mere curiosity. Perhaps it was the desire to be part of something bigger and to be connected to others even if only for a few minutes.

Perhaps it was something else.

Perhaps there is, in all of us, the search for wonder. Perhaps there is the fervent hope to catch a glimpse of the face of God in those things that seem far bigger than ourselves. Like many, I learned more about eclipses these past weeks than I have ever known before. To my amazement, I learned that the sun is both 400 times larger than the moon and 400 times further away. This is a symmetry that demands wonder at the One who made it thus. What demands even more wonder is that He also cares deeply and completely for each one of us.

I almost wished, for a while, that I had become a student of science because that seems a direct path to the divine. It is not surprising that so many great men and women of science have been, through the centuries, people of deep religious faith. It is perhaps far more surprising that any true scientist can remain unconvinced of God.

Yet, we do not have to wait for the next eclipse to keep that sense of divine wonder. I am a person of little patience, so I cannot wait until 2044 when an eclipse next returns to the continental United States!

Fortunately, every single day, I can see a flash of a sunset and the rise of a silver moon and know that Christ himself once gazed on them too. I can listen to the roar of an ocean and know that God filled the seas. I can see a bird fly and marvel at how well engineered the tiniest feathered creature is, or watch a cat lie in wait for that same bird and wonder how well designed the lowliest feline is.
I can see a butterfly and know that nothing exactly like it has flown before or will again. I can see a crocus burst from what was just soil a day ago and wonder how it got there.

I can be dwarfed by a tree whose peak I cannot see or be amazed at photographs of the cacti that dot our deserts and the creatures that fill the dark depths of the oceans.

I can look at a coral reef or smell the first rose of summer and know that I need not look to the heavens for a rare burst of wonder. I can touch the tiny toes of the smallest child or gaze into the gleaming eyes of a great-grandmother and be left without words. There is so much that inspires awe down here too.

As the eclipse of 2024 recedes in memory, I hope that it leaves in its wake that sense of wonder that turned our eyes upward. May that same wonder also turn our hearts upward, to the God who gave us all the extraordinary splendor that fills our ordinary time.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Email her at

Growing up in ordinary time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

Recently, I was in the happy company of a seven-year-old. She asked me the delightfully shocking, and shockingly delightful question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The question was shocking to me because it has been decades since someone asked me this question with the earnest sincerity of my young interlocutor. Perhaps she has been asked this question so often that she thought it was a standard part of social etiquette. Perhaps she dislikes this question and thought she could avoid it by going on the offensive by asking it of me before I could ask it of her. Regardless of the “why,” the question certainly surprised me.

Lucia A. Silecchia

Yet, it surprised me in a delightful way.

When we ask young children “what do you want to be when you grow up,” we are usually asking them a superficial question about the role they hope to have in life. Most often, they will reply by telling us the occupation of their dreams, the trade they hope to learn and, perhaps, as they get older, the state of life they anticipate will lie ahead.

But, when this inquisitive young child asked me that same question decades into my adulthood, I had to think about it for a while. That was a delightful excuse for reflection.

Too often, when the date on the calendar tells us we are adults, it can seem as though we have already answered the big questions about what our lives will be. Indeed, we have likely made some of the sacred commitments that will define the rest of our lives. Yet sometimes it takes a small question from an earnest young child to remind us that, even then, we never stop growing up.

It takes a small question to remind us that even if we think we know “what” we hope to be when we grow up, we have a lifetime to become “who” we want to be. There are times – blessedly frequent times – when I meet someone I admire for who they are, not what they do. When I meet such good people, I sometimes say to myself, or in jest to a friend, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up.” It is never too late to be inspired by the good and holy people in our lives and to hope we will “grow up” to be like them.

It takes a small question to remind us that there is great value in asking ourselves throughout our lives whether we are doing what we should be doing or whether there is something more or something else to which we could and should devote our time and energy. It is easy to get used to a routine, ignore an unrealized dream, fear a new invitation, and avoid a new beginning. Prayerfully seeking guidance about new ventures such as these is yet another way to learn what life may look like as we continue to “grow up.” If somehow, we can do that with the fearless optimism of a child, we are truly blessed.

It takes a small question to remind us that no matter how old we think we have become, we remain, in the eyes of God, still His children. Each day He gives us is still another day not to tell Him “what I want to be” but to prayerfully ask Him “who I should be” when I grow up.

It takes a small question to remind us that we should not only ask the children in our lives what they anticipate it will be like to “grow up.” Perhaps it is also a question to pose, with love, to the adults in our lives who need to know that there is a newness of life unfolding in all the days of their ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Email her at

March through ordinary time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

This past weekend, side by side in the grocery store, lay both bags of salt to pour on icy sidewalks for winter’s last hurrahs and bags of topsoil to spread in flower beds to welcome spring’s first blooms. This juxtaposition perfectly represents the unique place of March in the cycle of the year.
Some say March goes “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” However, seeing March as the season of salt and soil captures its essence as well.

On the one hand, March still remains very much part of winter. Some infamous blizzards have buried cities with snow just as winter-weary residents let down their guard. In a single week, a warm day that beckons the start of spring can be followed by a dip in the temperature that, once again, sets furnaces humming for a week. Light spring jackets and heavy winter coats both wait in our closets. Somehow, it still seems too daring to put away winter boots.

Lucia A. Silecchia

We set our clocks forward and relish the longer nights that seem like summer. Alas, though, our mornings are dark and still tinged with winter chill. Whenever there are a few spring days in a row, we dare to believe that spring is here to stay. Yet, we remain cautiously unsure.

In many ways, March seems like the perfect metaphor for the human condition and for our journeys through this life.

We are so often torn between the shadows of our winters that hold us back and the bright joys of spring for which we hope. We know the temptations, weaknesses and faults that keep us from being who we are meant to be. We also know those things that are good and true toward which we move. Yet, just as March toggles back and forth between winter and spring, so too can human nature seem to do the same thing.

We rejoice when there are hard won victories over vices and look forward to each new day lived better than the one before. Then, sometimes, just as a string of spring days in March can disappear with a returning gust of winter, so too can come the setbacks in our own lives. We know that each day can bring us closer to God and the good, just as we know each day of March brings us, undeniably, closer to spring, Yet, sometimes, this progress can feel fragile.

In all its frustrating challenges, in all its uncertainties, and in all its tensions between victories won and setbacks endured, life can sometimes seem to be a season that looks suspiciously like a very long March!

This year, though, March is a little different. Whatever its first thirty days may hold, there is something uniquely beautiful about celebrating Easter on the very last day of March. It is joyously comforting to know that the tempestuous days of this unpredictable month will end with the joy of Easter.

When we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, it is the definitive end to the darkness of winter. It is the victory over all those things that pull us back when we ache to move forward to new life. It is the triumphant celebration of a new life that is no longer temporary and tenuous. It is not a timid warm day in March that can be easily overtaken by a returning gust of winter. It is, instead, a final victory over sin and death.

Through the roller coaster that is March, and through the highs and lows of life, there remains the beautiful hope of Easter joy. It is a hope that sustains and strengthens through our turbulent march through ordinary time.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Email her at

I remember it well

On Ordinary times
By Lucia A. Silecchia
Many years ago, I stopped at the supermarket for groceries on my way home from work. The gentleman who rang up my order said, “that will be nineteen eighty-nine, miss.” I ran my credit card through the terminal, authorizing the charge of $19.89.
It was then that the cashier said, either to himself, or to me, or to both of us, or perhaps only to God, “1989. That year …” His voice trailed off and he did not finish his thought out loud. If there had not been a lengthy line behind me, I might have stopped to ask him what it was about 1989 that crossed his mind. In retrospect, I regret that I did not – even if that would have roused the ire of other shoppers in a hurry to be on their way.
That cashier has crossed my mind from time to time since that day long ago. I have wondered what was on his mind as he thought back on that one year of his life, a year that obviously made a deep impression on him. The year 1989 may have been a good year, but the look that crossed his face led me to believe, instead, that it was a year that held sorrow in his life. I will never know. That grocery store closed years ago.

Lucia A. Silecchia

Yet, as a new year dawns I have thought of him again. All of us likely look back on certain years that have been pivotal in our own journeys through this life. Perhaps they were years of immense joy when we celebrated the births of loved ones, marriages that expanded our families, accomplishments achieved, and dreams come true. However, it is also possible – perhaps even likely – that some of the most pivotal years in our lives were those that held a measure of sorrow. Perhaps the death of a loved one, the dashing of a hope, the fading of a dream or the limitations brought on by illness made a particular year a turning point.
Now that 2024 has begun, none of us know what it will hold – for us as individuals, for those we love or for the human family. Some of us begin the year anticipating this will be a momentous year. Those whose calendars hold plans for graduations, weddings, ordinations, job changes or moves are likely to look back at 2024 as a year when life changed in a dramatic way.
Yet, at the dawn of a new year it is impossible to predict all of the unanticipated, unplanned and, yes, ordinary moments that will be less dramatic but no less profound pivot points in our lives. It is these that so often are the things that change our lives in ways we cannot yet know.
It may be a seemingly random conversation or chance encounter with a stranger that changes the course of our lives. It may be a decision to forgive another or ask forgiveness that sets a new path for a future. It may be reading a book recommended by a trusted friend or hearing a word spoken in a homily that offers insight into a truth that will shape the rest of a lifetime.
It may be in time “wasted” with the very young or the very old on a random afternoon that gives a glimpse of something we have never noticed before. It may be a glance at an explosive sunset or a sky full of stars that makes us feel small in the best possible way – and in that smallness we get our first true sense of the greatness of God.
It may be an unexpected crisis or loss that we could not foresee – a cross that breaks our heart in a way we never thought possible. And, it may be that same crisis or loss that shows us the strength a broken heart can hold and the deep kindness that dwells in the loving hearts of those who sustain us in sorrow.
When 2024 ends, many of us may look back on it with the same profound reflection as a stranger long ago pondered 1989. I hope, though, that it will not only be the big things that catch our attention this year. Often, it is those things that, at the time, seem most ordinary that leave lasting marks in our lives. So often, I have realized only in retrospect that seemingly little things have changed my life in the most unexpected and important ways.
There is something both exciting and frightening about the start of a new year with all the unknowns that lie ahead. I do not yet know if in the future I will ever say to a stranger, “2024. That year …”
But there is one thing I do know. The start of a new year is the perfect time to repeat a prayer of St. Francis de Sales that I keep in my office, so I see it every day. It pleads “Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day.”
May God bless all that happens in the tomorrows of our ordinary times. Joyous new year!

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Email her at

Vision in ordinary times

On Ordinary times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

I miss shopping for clothes with my mom.

Some of that stems from that too-familiar ache known to all those who have loved and lost. The desire to run an ordinary errand, exchange a quick phone call or share a cup of coffee together just one more time is a deep longing with a permanent home in my heart – and the hearts of so many I know.

But there was something unique about shopping for clothes with my mom. She was an accomplished seamstress. When we shopped together, she had an eye for salvaging clothes that I, in my quick judgement, was so often inclined to reject.

I could look at a dress and, after a passing glance, reject it because the sleeves were too long, the buttons were the wrong color, the collar was awkward, or an otherwise tailored skirt had an inexplicable, oversized bow at the waist. I could look at a jacket and move along quickly because it had bulky shoulders, an awkward pleat or a flimsy zipper.

But, my mom did not see the forlorn inhabitants of the clearance racks the same way I did. In her mind’s eye, she could see what they would look like if she tailored the sleeves, found better new buttons, replaced a collar, turned a bow to a belt, streamlined shoulders, sewed up a pleat and switched a flimsy zipper for a classier closure. More often than I can recall, I would come home with something new to wear – and my mother would come home with a sewing project.

I miss that.

I miss the example of someone who could, in something as trivial as clothing, see not merely what was, but what could be. Someone who could see not merely what was wrong, but what could be right. Someone who could see that a quick judgement may mean missing out on something very good.

I wonder if there is something in those ordinary shopping trips to teach about life and the way in which it can be all too easy to see in others – and in ourselves – only what is and not what could be.

Yes, there is a real danger in relationships and friendships when we see others merely as works-in-progress, not accepted for who they are but only for who they might be if they could only change to our liking. But I learned on those long-ago shopping trips that it is also dangerous to see only that which is before us without also seeing potential and optimism about all that could lie ahead if we seek out the good that is so often hidden away.

Lucia A. Silecchia

Maybe I also learned something about God. I like to think that the God who loves us “as we are” is also a God who sees our best selves – not just the flaws and failures that makes those who love less perfectly turn away. I like to think that the God who made us is also a God who sees not only the way we are today, but all we can be tomorrow. I like to think, too, that with God’s help we might also be able to see ourselves and others with eyes a bit more like His.
There are still days when I wear a favorite outfit and see my mother’s small stiches tucked away. When I see these relics of repairs and remodels of yesteryear, I am grateful.

Yes, I am grateful that awkward bows and tacky buttons have been replaced with something better. But I am more grateful for that subtle example of one who could say “yes” when a quick “no” may have been the easier, first reaction. This is the blessed, better vision that can brighten our ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Email her at

Respecting life in ordinary times

On Ordinary times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

Nearly ten years ago, Pope Francis recounted a story from his youth. He spoke of a man who lived with his wife, children and aging father. As the elderly father’s abilities declined, he started to eat sloppily while dining with the family. His son lost his patience. He got a small table, placed it in the kitchen and left his father alone in the kitchen at the little table, to dine messily and alone.

Soon thereafter, the man came home to find his own young son constructing a small table. When he asked the boy what it was for, the lad’s innocent reply was that he was building a table for his father to use when he himself grew old and would be banished to dine alone.

When I first read this story – and whenever I have contemplated it since – it has always held an exquisite sadness. The contours of this narrative are achingly common. Although the story was told as part of a teaching on respect for older persons, it seems equally poignant for Respect Life Month, observed throughout October.

Lucia A. Silecchia

There are three intertwined tragedies in Pope Francis’ vignette – tragedies worth contemplating this month.

The most obvious tragedy is that of the elderly man. He was a victim of the “throwaway culture” that tossed him aside when he became an inconvenience and required care that was unpleasant or difficult to offer. Sadly, this happened not in a crowd of strangers but within the very heart of his own family. A child discarded before being born, a grandmother in a nursing home who yearns for a visitor, and a person whose mind works differently than that of others can all be, metaphorically, banished away with him if there is no one to embrace them with love.
This month is a time to consider all those who, like the aged man in the story, are tossed aside in a busy world with no time for those who are unborn, ill, elderly or weak in the myriad ways in which humans experience frailty.

The second tragedy is that of the young boy. Children see and hear everything that their elders say and do, and they learn by example. In this tale, the boy obviously loves and respects his father because he wants to imitate him in all he does. He has learned well and is prepared to grow up to be just like his dad. Yet, how sad it is that the lesson he has learned is one that devalues a life that is inconvenient when he could have been taught how to serve those in need. How sad it is that he will not have his meals with his grandfather and share the bond between generations that binds families together. How sad it is that, like so many young children, he will be kept away from those who suffer and will spend his youth only with those who are healthy and strong. How sad it is that he may learn these lessons on life not just from a heartless world but from his very own parents.

This month is a time to reflect upon what we teach children about respect for life. They hear what we say but, far more importantly, they see what we do.

The third tragedy is that of the man in the middle who is both son and father. He is not entirely the villain he seems to be. He is, after all, caring for his father in his own home and is providing him with his material and physical needs. He may be struggling with the demands of providing for his own family and may simply be following the examples he saw in his own youth. The story does not go on to report what his reaction was to his son’s carpentry project and whether he changed the way he thought of his father. I like to think he did.

He is a tragic figure too. Like so many in the peak of strength, he does not realize that a vulnerable time will come for him as it does for all of us. It is easy to overlook those whose lives are fragile if we do not see how vulnerable each of us is. Yet, I know I was once unborn. If I am blessed with the gift of years, I will grow old. In between, there will be the illnesses and unknowns that fill my life and all of our lives. They may lie just around an unseen corner.

This month is also, then, a time to reflect upon the ways in which those who seem weakest and those who seem strongest are, in fact, linked together as part of the same family.

The theme for the 2023 Respect Life Month centers on “radical solidarity.” This begins with radical solidarity with women and the children they carry. To live and witness to such radical solidarity begins with a commitment to turn away from the throwaway culture and to respect life in all of its stages in all the days of our ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Email her at

Wisdom of ordinary time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

If it is graduation season, then it is graduation speech season too.

High schools, colleges, and even elementary schools seek out high profile speakers to impart their wisdom to graduates – or, at least, they aim to. I am a bit dubious about what a pampered celebrity or popular sports figure could possibly know about the life of an average graduate, and I am disappointed when political speakers bring disheartening division to what should be a final moment of unity for a class that has lived four or more years together.

Lucia A. Silecchia

When I think about the wisdom imparted to me in the speeches at my graduations, I cannot recall what any speaker said to my classmates and me.

What I have recalled, through decades of university life, is all the wisdom imparted to me by those who did not tell me how to live a good and great life, but by those who showed me how to do so. With prayerful gratitude, I can remember so many people whose lives well lived told me more than the most eloquent of speeches ever could. In the quiet, humble ways so loved by Christ, their lives were silent speeches I will never forget.

So, if you are graduating this year, enjoy your graduation and the speeches given that day. I hope that they inspire you to goodness, greatness, and holiness.

However, I hope that you will also think about what you have been taught by the people you met along the way. In their silence, not in their speeches, what did you learn from:

  • The maintenance worker who, after long days at work, left for a second job to support his family and see his children attend college and live the dreams he dreamt for them?
  • The staff member battling a serious illness who still spent time patiently helping students with problems that must have seemed so trivial to her?
  • The teacher who taught an early morning class with grace and good cheer after spending most of her evening awake with a parent suffering with dementia and unable to sleep – or to recognize the daughter who kept vigil with her?
  • The campus chaplain who became the voice of hope and courage when public tragedy struck campus – or private heartache struck any member of the campus community?
  • The fellow student who made sure that a classmate who went home after the sudden death of a parent did not fall behind, and shared notes, wisdom and review time with kind generosity?
  • The server in the university cafeteria who greeted everyone with love, asked how all were doing – and really, truly wanted to know?
  • The quiet classmate who found the courage to confront a bully, and in an instant changed the culture of the playing field?
  • The student athlete who lost a critical match and, with grace and good sportsmanship, congratulated a victorious opponent with genuine admiration for a job well done?
  • The roommate who prayed quietly at the break or close of day and whose example reawakened your own faith?
  • The professor whose family extended a Thanksgiving invitation to anyone who could not travel home for the holiday weekend?
  • The classmate who gave birth to a child – planned or unplanned – and did not sacrifice motherhood for mortarboard? All those who supported her with material and intangible support?
  • The professor who noticed that you were not yourself and cared enough to ask what was wrong?

I have known some of these people. Others have told me about some of them.

The truth is that schools and universities are filled with people such as these. They are people who will often not be well known, whose names will not be announced as graduation speakers, and who will not be receiving honorary degrees.

Yet, if you are graduating, I hope you will think about those whose lives touched yours and whose lives were loving lectures without words. If you can, thank them with your words and with your prayers. No matter how eloquent your graduation ceremonies may be, it is those such as these who impart the wisdom of ordinary time.

May God bless them, and the class of 2023!

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Email her at

The spirit of ordinary time

Lucia A. Silecchia

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

If you enter a church and find the sanctuary decked out in red flowers, chances are that, unless it is Christmas, the parish has just celebrated Confirmation. This is particularly true in spring when so many such celebrations take place in the wake of Easter.

I wonder, though, if this Sacrament is in danger of being deeply underappreciated.

Unlike Communion and Reconciliation, Confirmation is celebrated only once in a lifetime. Thus, it is not repeatedly recalled in such a tangible way.

Unlike Holy Matrimony and Ordination, Confirmation does not bring forth an obvious reorientation of daily life and the organization of that life to meet the demands that come with a new state of life.
Unlike Baptism, it does not come with such constant reminders as the Baptismal candle prominently placed in every church or the annual renewal of Baptismal vows at Easter or the reminder of Baptism at every Christian funeral.

Unlike the Anointing of the Sick, it is often celebrated amidst the myriad distractions and angsts of teenage life rather than in those days when the mind and heart are intensely oriented toward the spiritual.
It is also centered on the Holy Spirit, perhaps the most intangible member of the Holy Trinity.

Yet, when considering the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of that Spirit, and the great promise of strength that comes with it, there may be more that can be done to emphasize the importance of this Sacrament for those receiving it this year, those for whom Confirmation was a long-ago celebration, and for the life of a parish as a whole. So, perhaps:

• If space allows, all parishioners should be invited to and urged to attend the parish’s celebration of Confirmation to remember their own celebration, hear the beautiful prayers of Confirmation, and support the newly confirmed with their presence and their prayers. Attend if you can and recall the graces you received that special day of your own life.

• Consider hosting a parish wide celebration each year for those who are confirmed – perhaps on the Feast of Pentecost or on a Sunday close to the Confirmation celebration. This can be an occasion for all to rejoice in the gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit.

• Occasionally the beautiful words of the Confirmation rite might be printed in the parish bulletin or website so that those who last heard these words long ago can have a chance to reflect on them once again.

• Confirmation sponsors may consider all the ways they can help the one they sponsored grow in wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Often, godparents are chosen for their critical role because of their relationships with the parents of the infant to be baptized. Typically, however, when a teenager or adult is being confirmed, he or she chooses the sponsor. Hopefully, those special relationships will inspire sponsors to play active roles in the lives of faith of those they presented for Confirmation. Perhaps the anniversary of Confirmation day, or the Feast Day of the Confirmation patron saint can be particular occasions to renew and strengthen that commitment.

• To the extent possible, the years after Confirmation might be given greater attention. All too often, Confirmation can become a day that marks the end of religious education rather than the beginning of a newer and deeper life of faith. Those who lead parish organizations might consider how to reach out to the newly Confirmed to play an active role in parish life. Yes, this may mean a vibrant youth and young adult ministry program. But it should also involve real invitations for the newly confirmed to join every other activity and form of service that is part of parish life.

• Planning for Pentecost Sunday – celebrated on May 28 this year – might include ways to recall the celebration of Confirmation, remember what it meant, and pray for continued openness to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

• If those to be Confirmed are still teenagers or younger, their parents – the first teachers of the faith – have a sacred role to play in helping them to prepare, by sharing with them a strong witness of a faith-filled life and prioritizing their growth in faith above all the other demands on their time.

• Likewise, godparents should accompany their godchildren as they journey toward Confirmation. With the intimate connection between Baptism and Confirmation, this support can be essential.

My own Confirmation was decades ago. I have happy memories and some photographs in which I am wearing a red robe and a white felt stole bearing the name of my patron saint, “Ann.” I wish I remembered more. However, with every passing year, I get a bit more grateful for that long ago day and what happened on it.

Perhaps as individuals and as parish families this can be the year to celebrate Confirmation and its important role in the life of Baptized Christians and in the very life of the church herself. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, these men who had trembled and hidden in fear were strengthened to do great things boldly and bravely for the rest of their days. May we seek ways to more fully embrace the Holy Spirit in our own lives and to rejoice in the way it fills our ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Email her at