Saints to help us discover the extraordinary in the ordinary

Daily we experience the punishments incurred by our first parents’ fall: sickness, pain, the toil of work, life’s tediousness. We live the latter daily, finding our lives slipping into a rhythm as we accomplish our day-to-day activities: commuting, working, caring for little ones entrusted to us, household chores and projects, appointments and varying obligations. Though we occasionally break from this routine with exciting transitions — such as a wedding, a new job, a baby, a move — as well as celebrations, pilgrimages or vacations, we ultimately resume the familiar pattern that governs our days.

As a wise mother, the Church understands this. She responds by dedicating the majority of the liturgical year to Ordinary Time, a season where she ponders Christ’s first 30 years, hidden in Nazareth. Before his public ministry, Christ’s life mirrored ours. He spent these years in the mundane workings of daily life: engaged at the carpenter bench with St. Joseph, helping his mother, and partaking in the daily activities of a first-century Jew.

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Despite this, Christ experienced something extraordinary. He was continually united to his Father and always accomplished his will. Christ later shares this secret with his disciples: “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him” (Jn 8:29). Christ worked, rested, prayed, studied, reflected, ate, drank, conversed and suffered as one abiding always with his heavenly Father.

By dedicating the majority of the liturgical year to ordinary time, the Church instructs that our daily lives also be swept into the eternal, taken up into the mysteries of Christ. Four saints aid us in recognizing this and discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary.

St. Thérèse

Though there seems nothing exciting or supernatural about running errands, cooking, working, feeding the family or paying the bills, St. Thérèse sees these moments as opportunities for grace. God extends his grace to us throughout the day. We respond to grace when we accept each moment as coming from God’s hand and give it back to him. For Thérèse, the ability to do so stems from love. This Jesus taught her: “do everything through love.” Everything can be offered to God in prayer and completed for love of him, whether it be a simple task such as washing the dishes, or as difficult as being charitable in an irksome situation. By giving God all in love, Thérèse shows we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17) — our lives become a prayer. Offering all to God in love, the ordinary, now sanctified, transforms and unites us to Christ.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Perhaps most famous for establishing the Society of Jesus — also known as the Jesuits — and writing the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius helps us discover God and these hidden moments of grace each day through his examen, a daily examination. This simple, five-step approach to reviewing the day aids us in discerning the various movements of our heart, God’s work in our lives, our response to grace offered throughout the day, and our awareness of God’s presence.

The prayer starts by asking the Holy Spirit for clarity and for the grace to see how God is working in our lives. Ignatius then prompts us to review our thoughts, words and actions during the day, allowing God to bring to mind specific moments of the day. Moved by these memories, we express gratitude toward God — including for the times we responded to his grace and the joys we experienced. Likewise, moved by our failings and shortcomings, we ask God’s forgiveness, reflecting upon the ways in which we resisted his grace and specific ways we can improve. Ignatius ends the examen with a purpose of amendment: resolving to serve God more faithfully the following day and pondering the manner we can do so. By using Ignatius’ examen, we become more attuned to God’s presence and grace throughout the day.

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity kept a continual gaze upon God by allowing her life to be shaped by the truth that she was a sanctuary of God. Impressed by this reality, she keenly understood her soul to be the house of God where each person of the Trinity resided and worked within her. Consumed by the beauty of the Divine Indwelling, the Carmelite nun often entreated her correspondents to develop within them a cell — a quiet place to commune with God — and to think of God often. Immersed in the Trinity’s gaze, Elizabeth saw herself to be a “praise of glory.” No matter the day, no matter the circumstances, Elizabeth looked only to Christ, accepting all from “His love both joy and suffering.” Responding to all by giving God praise and glory, this saint commenced living heaven on earth. We, too, live ordinary life well by experiencing “heaven on earth” each day: remaining united to God, communing with him in the recesses of our souls, and praising him throughout the day.

St. Benedict

Founder of Western Monasticism, St. Benedict provides practical advice on fostering and retaining a spirit of recollection and praise throughout the day. He does so through his rule, which aids the monk in seeking and listening to God in all things. Balancing prayer and work, the rule governs the monk, safeguards him against idleness, and encourages him to offer brief prayers throughout the day. These conscious acts of prayer, which should be “pure and short,” allow prayer to permeate all aspects of the monk’s life: singing in choir, working in the fields, cooking, resting or displaying hospitality to guests.

With St. Benedict’s help, we can direct our lives similarly. For the monk, faithfully abiding by the rule is the manner in which he encounters God, listens and responds to him. Likewise, the routine of our lives — often imposed upon us by work or necessitated by family or other circumstances — become our means of finding God, listening to him and responding to him. Thoughtful arrangement of our day — setting aside certain times to pray, work, and enjoying communal life with family and friends, and placing limits on activities that prohibit us from living our day well — helps us better find and listen to God. Finally, as does the monk, consciously uttering short prayers such as Scripture verses or aspirations throughout our daily activities aids us in recalling God’s presence and doing all with him.

When we follow the example of these four saints, we don’t need to seek God any further than our daily duties. For in his wisdom and love, God sanctifies us in the mundane workings of daily life if we but permit him. In this way, God has made it easy for us to be a saint. He is found within us and amongst our tasks — he “walks amidst the pots and pans” as St. Theresa of Avila reminded her nuns. To find him, all we need to do is think of him, speak to him, and, motivated by love, give him each moment.

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