By Sister Lois Anne Palkert, OSF
With the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord this past weekend we bid farewell to the Christmas Season and welcome Ordinary Time, the weeks that reflect the normal monotony of life, where most of life is immersed. As a result, I don’t pay too much attention to my ordinary daily tasks, performing many of them by rote, blinding me to the extraordinary nature of my life.
In his book The Catholic Imagination, Andrew Greeley reminds us that Catholic tradition offers human beings a deeper and a more expansive vision of life:
“Catholics live in an enchanted world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, rosary beads and medals. These Catholic paraphernalia are mere hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility which inclines Catholics to see the holy lurking in creation. As Catholics we find our houses and our world haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of grace.”
The world is, in fact a sacrament-revelation of the presence of God made visible in the humblest of objects. What seems ordinary in our day-to-day living is not ordinary at all: everything is “enchanted”. The stories of our lives seen in the light of the “sacramental imagination” are gifted with meaning and importance, from our first breath to our last.
In her book Mortal Blessing: A Sacramental Farewell, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, writer, professor and associate director of the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University, describes the rituals she and her siblings devised, quite unconsciously to deal with the consequences of a broken hip their mother sustained as a result of a fall. The break would ultimately lead to the death of their mother 48 days later.
In her book, O’Donnell refers to an essay: “Sacraments” by Catholic fiction writer Andre Dubus. Dubus, wheelchair bound –the result of an accident, describes in detail the ordinary process of making sandwiches for his school age children. His limited range of motion required him to develop elaborate methods for accomplishing simple tasks. These ordinary actions, performed slowly and deliberately took on the quality of ritual, providing him the opportunity to ponder both the practical ends they accomplished and the greater meaning that lay beyond them.
Dubus’ ordinary task of feeding his children and each our daily ordinary tasks are a kind of sacrament, an outward sign of God’s love. As a student of the Baltimore Catechism, I dutifully memorized the definition of sacrament and could name all seven. O’Donnell’s experience of caring for her mother led her to propose that “there are seven times seventy sacraments to infinity.” Did not Francis of Assisi recognize all of creation as an outward sign of God’s presence and love?
During the 48 days she cared for a dependent parent, O’Donnell was able to experience and recognize the sacred in the mundane. The “Sacrament of the Pie” became a daily ritual. She and her siblings would process to their mother’s room each evening with the pie of the day which was ceremonially uncovered and fed to their mother, who would savor each bite. After eating the slice of pie their mother would pronounce with delight: “Dee-LISH-OUS.”
To O’Donnell and her siblings the ritual “was Eucharist by another name, food for the body and the soul that originates in the infinite generosity of God who came to live among us, that we might have life”.
The sacred ritual “served to circumscribe the sacred relationship between mother and child, embracing our shared past even as it unfolded in the present moment,” said O’Donnell. “Through the agency of pie, I was offering my mother everything I had unconsciously withheld from her for years: understanding, compassion, forgiveness and yes, even love. Her “delicious” served as “Amen” acknowledging: I know, I forgive, I’ve always loved you.”
During these days of “ordinary time” may we, like Francis of Assisi, be attentive to God’s presence in each daily event and circumstance.