Remaking ordinary time

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia A. Silecchia

She was selling her wares at a rural autumn festival – the hand-knitted scarfs, sweaters, baby clothes and blankets that she made to sell to those of us gathered around her table to admire her creations.

I had purchased a few things from her last year – for myself and for loved ones. So, I was glad to see that she was back. Patience is not a strong suit of mine. Hence, my admiration for those who take so much time to make something beautiful by hand is particularly great. This year, I bought a blanket knitted with some favorite colors in a joyful design.

Lucia A. Silecchia

There was a fortunate, brief lull in the activity around the table – interrupted only by a young woman who stopped by to buy a dinosaur hat that, somehow, she managed to wear with style. The chill in the air, perhaps, prompted this otherwise unlikely fashion choice.

In that interlude, I asked how long it took to make a scarf, or a baby blanket, or, yes – a dinosaur hat. The friendly artisan gave me her best estimates. But then she told me that it could take much longer because sometimes she found herself in the midst of a project, would look at it honestly, decide it was not right, unravel it and begin again.

I suppose it should not have surprised me that someone who created such beautiful things would have a bit of the perfectionist in her. Yet, it also struck me that it must be difficult to look at something that had taken so much time and effort to make and be willing to unravel it all and start anew.

I wonder, though, if there is great wisdom in having the strength to do just that. To make a change and to unravel errors, misplaced values and mistaken priorities takes grace and strength. To start afresh without clinging to the false starts of the past is a gloriously difficult challenge.

Perhaps, as the days shorten and another year is winding down, the knitter’s wisdom may have a place. When we start to look back at the year that is drawing to a close and prepare for the excitement of a new year with its fresh starts and resolutions, it is easy to tinker around the edges of things and make some small adjustments to the patterns of everyday life.

Yet, sometimes in life, there can be an invitation to do more and to make more radical new beginnings.
I suppose that I would never have noticed if the blanket I bought had defects in it. “Pretty good” would have been good enough for me. Yet, it would not have been good enough for the talented woman who knitted it together. She knew that sometimes starting over was the best way to move beyond “pretty good.”

Maybe in this season of joyful hope and new plans, a prayer for the grace to unravel the old and begin again is a prayer worth praying.

A blanket, hat or sweater created from the unraveling of imperfect ones are beautiful things. Yet, we have also been promised that “whoever is in Christ is a new creation.” 2 Cor. 5:17. I have to think that a newly created son or daughter of God is far more beautiful.

So, with gratitude for the good example of a knitter willing to unravel the old and reweave the new, I hope she is an inspiration to do the same and remake our ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research 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 seasons of ordinary time

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia A. Silecchia

Recently, I enjoyed one of my favorite rites of autumn – the search for perfect pumpkins for home, office, and anywhere else that might be brightened with glorious gourds. In a long drive through quaint corners of the countryside, I relished the splendor that is autumn.

Yes, the pumpkins were the excuse for the journey. But the trip was made more beautiful by the showy splash of autumn surrounding the corn fields gone gray and the farmhouses hung with Halloween wreaths. There was enough of a crisp chill to announce that summer was gone. Yet, the bright sun that bounced off the red, orange and gold in the trees heralded a new season with a loveliness all its own. I rejoiced in the simple beauty of a world made new.

Lucia A. Silecchia

It will not be long until I marvel again when I awaken to the first snow that dusts my city streets. The silent brightness of that blanket, the sound of my neighbors’ shovels that beckons me out of bed, and the hot chocolate I promise myself when I am back inside are all part of a new type of wonder. (I would rather ignore the icy sidewalks and high heating bill that will follow!) In this, I will rejoice again in the simple beauty of a world made new.

Just when the snowy season starts to lose its charms, there will be shy crocuses rising tentatively from the earth, faint traces of green in lawns coming back to life and trees getting ready to burst forth in the lacy splendor of spring. As the days lengthen and the sun grows brighter, I will rejoice again in the simple beauty of a world made new.

While I might, in the fullness of May, doubt that I would ever want to bid farewell to spring, a day will come when the days last long into the night, tomatoes ripen on the vine, and the beach beckons. Summer will hold joys of its own, and yet again I will rejoice in the simple beauty of a world made new.

I am deeply grateful to live in a corner of the world where seasons change around me and every few months life feels different.

Yet, it is not just in the world around us when seasons change. Life, too, has its own seasons.
Some of the people I admire most are those who have the faith and hope that allows them to welcome each new season of life with the same joy I have when I welcome the new seasons of the world around me.

Some seasons of life are filled with excitement and eager anticipation as the start of the adventures of a new school, new job, new home, marriage and parenthood. Some of those that are most important are those we do not remember well, like the transition from infant to toddler. Some are filled with angst – the so-called terrible twos and the terrible teens – and others with peace. Some seasons change of our own volition when we choose a new path. Other seasons come unwelcomed and unbeckoned.

Some are seasons of dreams fulfilled, and others are seasons when a dream moves out of view. There are seasons of suffering and loss that come to each life, and seasons to surrender the things to which we cling. There are seasons that are filled with companionship and those when, for a time, we find ourselves walking alone.

In the depth of our hearts, there are those seasons when we walk closely with God, and other seasons with the taste of the “dark night of the soul.”

As years pass and I look back at the ways in which life’s seasons have changed, I can see that there is, indeed, something to be grateful for in each of them. At the time, some have seemed to me far more beautiful than others. Yet, in their own way, each season of life made my own heart new – whether I wanted it to or not.

I hope that as I watch autumn unfold and winter follows, it will be a reminder to cherish each season of life – to thank God for the blessings it brings, to ask Him for strength through what it may take away, and say a trusting “Amen” to every season of ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research 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 rest of ordinary time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

Whenever someone asks how I am, one of my most frequent replies is “Good, but busy.” That is rarely more true than it is in September’s back-to-school season.

For those whose lives ebb and flow with the school year, as does mine, autumn bursts into our lives with a rapid increase in the events, activities, gatherings and obligations that will again fill our days.

For those whose days are not directly driven by school life, there is still something about the fall that brings a rapid new rhythm to life as parish activities, clubs, sports teams and community events get underway after a hiatus. Indeed, after the past two years, this return to community life seems to have an extra urgency about it.

Lucia A. Silecchia

The rapidly filling pages of my calendar are welcome to me since I like the busy-ness of life. Yet, there is also much to be said for the wisdom of rest.

The commandment to “keep holy the Sabbath,” and the Biblical traditions of sabbaticals and jubilees are reminders that time is sacred. In a particular way, they are a reminder that there are certain times that deserve to be safeguarded from the demands of our daily lives.

The Catholic Church proclaims the dignity of the work, the value of labor and the importance of treating workers with respect and concern for their well-being and that of their families. A critical demand of church leaders through the decades has been ensuring that workers are free on the Sabbath to worship God and to be with their loved ones. As St. John Paul II wrote in Laborem Exercens, his encyclical on human work, workers have a “right to rest” that “involves a regular weekly rest comprising at least Sunday.” This Sunday rest from work would allow the worker to meet obligations to God on a day of worship.

He went on to say that “man’s work too not only requires a rest every seventh day, but also cannot consist in the mere exercise of human strength in external action; it must leave room for man to prepare himself, by becoming more and more what in the will of God he ought to be, for the rest that the Lord reserves for his servants and friends.“

These words are worth considering as life fills up again. As demands on our time increase, it is tempting – and can often even feel necessary – to treat Sunday just like any other day. This would let us catch up in a fast-paced world and not fall behind in what seems to be a constant seven-day whirlwind of shopping, working, answering emails and doing the work that just did not get done in the six workdays of the week.
School sports and similar activities – good as they may be in their own right – split families apart on Sundays as they race in different directions. Sunday can all too easily become merely the start of the new work week.

Yet maybe the start of the new season of busyness is a time to resolve to keep Sundays holy, to keep them sacred, and to appreciate the wisdom of a God who rested on the seventh day.

In a paradoxical way, this season of new busy-ness is launched with Labor Day, the civic (but not meteorological!) end to summer. Since 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed a bill establishing our national Labor Day, it has been celebrated as a federal holiday honoring the contributions of workers to the social and economic life of the nation. One of the most significant achievements of the secular labor movement was the drive toward the 5-day work week. This should, in theory, free modern laborers for the worship and re-creation of a Sabbath rest. Yet, in a sad irony, we often surrender this freedom to the temptations to many things that creep into our Sundays.

Maybe this year, as I watch the pages of my calendar fill up, I will take a special look at those things with which I fill my Sundays to see if they honor God and serve my loved ones. I also hope to do so with appreciation for the ability to do so … something that I know so many do not have.

I hope you will have the chance, too, to celebrate Sundays as a slice of the extraordinary that comes to each week of our ordinary time.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research 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.)

El resto del tiempo ordinario

Por Lucía A. Silecchia

Siempre que alguien me pregunta cómo estoy, una de mis respuestas más frecuentes es “Bien, pero ocupado”. Eso rara vez es más cierto que en la temporada de regreso a clases de septiembre.

Para aquellos cuyas vidas van y vienen con el año escolar, como la mía, el otoño irrumpe en nuestras vidas con un rápido aumento de eventos, actividades, reuniones y obligaciones que volverán a llenar nuestros días.

Lucia A. Silecchia

Para aquellos cuyos días no están directamente motivados por la vida escolar, todavía hay algo en el otoño que trae un nuevo ritmo rápido a la vida a medida que las actividades parroquiales, los clubes, los equipos deportivos y los eventos comunitarios comienzan después de una pausa. De hecho, después de los últimos dos años, este regreso a la vida comunitaria parece tener una urgencia adicional al respecto.

Las páginas de mi calendario que se llenan rápidamente son bienvenidas porque me gusta el ajetreo de la vida. Sin embargo, también hay mucho que decir sobre la sabiduría del descanso.

El mandamiento de “santificar el día de reposo” y las tradiciones bíblicas de sabáticos y jubileos son recordatorios de que el tiempo es sagrado. De manera particular, son un recordatorio de que hay ciertos momentos que merecen ser resguardados de las exigencias de nuestra vida cotidiana.

La Iglesia Católica proclama la dignidad del trabajo, el valor del trabajo y la importancia de tratar a los trabajadores con respeto y preocupación por su bienestar y el de sus familias. Una demanda fundamental de los líderes de la iglesia a lo largo de las décadas ha sido garantizar que los trabajadores tengan libertad en el día de reposo para adorar a Dios y estar con sus seres queridos. Como escribió San Juan Pablo II en Laborem Exercens, su encíclica sobre el trabajo humano, los trabajadores tienen un “derecho al descanso” que “implica un descanso semanal regular que comprenda al menos el domingo”. Este descanso dominical del trabajo permitiría al trabajador cumplir con las obligaciones con Dios en un día de adoración.

Continuó diciendo que “también el trabajo del hombre no sólo requiere un descanso cada siete días, sino que tampoco puede consistir en el mero ejercicio de la fuerza humana en la acción exterior; debe dejar espacio para que el hombre se prepare, haciéndose cada vez más lo que en la voluntad de Dios debe ser, por lo demás que el Señor reserva para sus servidores y amigos”.

Vale la pena considerar estas palabras a medida que la vida se llena de nuevo. A medida que aumenta la demanda de nuestro tiempo, es tentador, y a menudo incluso puede parecer necesario, tratar el domingo como cualquier otro día. Esto nos permitiría ponernos al día en un mundo acelerado y no quedarnos atrás en lo que parece ser un torbellino constante de siete días de compras, trabajo, respuesta de correos electrónicos y hacer el trabajo que simplemente no se hizo en los seis días laborales del semana.

Los deportes escolares y actividades similares, por muy buenas que sean por derecho propio, separan a las familias los domingos mientras corren en diferentes direcciones. El domingo puede convertirse fácilmente en el comienzo de una nueva semana laboral.

Sin embargo, tal vez el comienzo de la nueva temporada de actividad sea un momento para decidir santificar los domingos, mantenerlos sagrados y apreciar la sabiduría de un Dios que descansó el séptimo día.

De manera paradójica, esta temporada de nuevos ajetreos se inicia con el Día del Trabajo, el final cívico (¡pero no meteorológico!) del verano. Desde 1894, cuando el presidente Grover Cleveland firmó un proyecto de ley que establece nuestro Día Nacional del Trabajo, se ha celebrado como un feriado federal en honor a las contribuciones de los trabajadores a la vida social y económica de la nación. Uno de los logros más significativos del movimiento obrero secular fue el impulso hacia la semana laboral de 5 días. Esto debería, en teoría, liberar a los trabajadores modernos para la adoración y recreación de un descanso sabático. Sin embargo, en una triste ironía, a menudo entregamos esta libertad a las tentaciones de muchas cosas que se deslizan en nuestros domingos.

Tal vez este año, mientras veo que se llenan las páginas de mi calendario, le daré una mirada especial a aquellas cosas con las que lleno mis domingos para ver si honran a Dios y sirven a mis seres queridos. También espero hacerlo con aprecio por la capacidad de hacerlo… algo que sé que muchos no tienen.

Espero que también tengan la oportunidad de celebrar los domingos como una porción de lo extraordinario que llega a cada semana de nuestro tiempo ordinario.

(Lucia A. Silecchia es profesora de derecho y decana asociada de investigación de la facultad en la Universidad Católica de América. “On Ordinary Times” es una columna quincenal que reflexiona sobre las formas de encontrar lo sagrado en lo simple. Envíele un correo electrónico a silecchia@cua.edu.)

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.)