Here at Stately Kennedy Manor, the Halloween to Easter juggernaut of holiday and birthday celebrations is finally over. This domestic church is also ready for a break. With an early Easter, Lent was close on the heels of Christmas. We still have chocolate bunnies out and it is already Pentecost. The green chausible has gotten precious little air time in 2016. But now, we are coming down the liturgical and personal mountain top to face a long stretch of Ordinary Time.
I know this has been particularly hard for us, as we come down from the mountain top experience of our pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Every daily Mass there was life-changing, charged with meaning and hyper-spiritual. Now, back in the pew at home, I am screeching into the parking lot (before the gospel – it counts, people), juggling my daughter’s crayons, getting my son to actually follow the service and trying to decipher yet another unintelligible homily from our latest International House of Priests rep. As in marriage, it can be hard to keep the romance alive in your faith.
I didn’t have so much a gradual descent from our mountain top, as a leap off the summit. Still, all is not lost and even without our pilgrimage endorphins surging, we are changed. In an effort to keep the spiritual magic alive during ordinary time, I am inspired by two sources: one my favorite books on WW II and the US Olympic Training facility. You, too?
We may be in Oridnary Time on the liturgical calendar but real life in always a battle. I am fascinated by my dad’s generation, the Greatest Generation. These people persevered through intense challenges with a can-do spirit and no whining. Doris Kearns Goodwin named her award winning book about the home front in World War II, “No Ordinary Time,” after a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt’s address to the 1940 Democatric Convention: “We cannot tell from day to day what may come. This is no ordinary time.” Can you think of better counsel for those of us on the front of the domestic church?
Personal struggles aside I find value in these reflections, as we are in dangerous times. The Pope has already declared we are in World War III, Christian persecution has risen to the level of genocide and here at home we are in the midst of one of the most bizarre election cycles ever. Our faith becomes even more important and we struggle to be better Christians and climb back on that mountain top. Again, I find comfort in an Eleanor Roosevelt quote from Goodwin’s book: “We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.”
We need to value Ordinary Time and the valleys as much as we do the feasts and the mountain tops. Take nothing for granted. As Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissman Klein said in her famous 1993 Oscar speech,”In my mind’s eye I see those days and years and those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home.” I have many boring evenings at home, particularly when Blacklist in not on, but it can sometimes be hard to appreciate in the magic in them. And why should we value the boring evenings at home, the every day, Ordinary Time? I think it is not only because we should value the gift of the day for itself but because we need the downtime as much as we need the highs.
The body breaks down faster at higher altitudes and we can break down the self more easily in our extreme mountain top experiences. Crises, retreats and pilgrimages intensify our focus on what in important. A recent visit to the US Olympic training facility gave me insight into the cyclical nature of spiritual growth. No really. Training at high altitudes for a few months in an oxygen-starved environment allows athletes to break down the body more quickly and to eventually build more muscle and make it stronger. It is equally important for them to return to sea level to allow the body to recover, absorb and integrate the changes made to it. They cannot become better athletes without recovery time. These years of training and intense focus are for just a few short moments of competition. I like to think of ordinary time as spiritual recovery time, allowing us to heal and integrate the new growth in our faith we gained while on pilgrimage or during all our special liturgical seasons. A relatively short period of spiritual adrenaline can spark the soul to put in the every day training needed for spiritual growth. I also learned that the elite athletes usually get too eat 6-8000 calories a day and have their own massage therapists, so maybe this would help make us better Christians, too. It’s a theory.
One of my favorite pictures from the trip was at Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in which tears were streaming down everyone’s faces. We all look like we were in intense pain. I was emotionally and physically overcome to the point that I had to lean on you after the service. That was an amazing experience but not one we could replicate every day. Not only would you become inured to the feeling but no one would sit next to you at Church. So we take our memories and experiences and use them in our everyday lives, to make them richer, share with others and, hopefully, be better witnesses to our faith. And when when you wonder why the IHOP priest is talking about the “Prison Mass” (Wait, what did he say? Oh, Chrism Mass…I get it now), you can just drift back to the memory of you favorite pilgrimage Mass and smile.
So remember, we need this Ordinary Time if we are to have the strength to get to that mountain top again. Enjoy your recovery time. You’ll have to arrange for your own messeuse, though.