The Illusion of Ordinary

sun on mist through trees

I recently moved from a very big city in England to an outrageously small town in a remote corner of Canada. This community is home to about 1000 people and its closest neighbouring town is an hour away. But none of this came as a surprise to me when I arrived here, as this town is where I was born and raised.

The city had been such a great place to be Catholic! I found it easy to believe God was doing big things when everything around me was so impressive and dynamic! There were so many beautiful churches, prayer groups of any style you like, and all kinds of brilliant faith and social events. Best of all, I was surrounded by other young Catholic friends who became like family and inspired me to go deeper in my faith. Over time, I began to feel as though my eyes had been opened to spiritual realities all around me which I had until then been oblivious to. I was seeing my prayers answered in powerful ways, and came to know God as a very real Father who was involved in every moment of my life and provided for all my needs with incredible generosity. My sense of purpose in this deeper relationship with him satisfied a hunger that I had previously tried anxiously and unsuccessfully to fill with other things, and I felt more free and at peace than I ever had before. In short, my new understanding of how real God is had caused me to become a very different person, and I didn’t want to go back to the way I was.

When I came back to my hometown, I literally increased the Catholic young adult population by over 33% (the other two members of this demographic being my sister and her husband). So as you can imagine, I could no longer rely on stimulating events and novelties to energize my faith. I also felt the strong pull of my old life, and the expectations of the people who have always known me. I was afraid that in the crushing ordinariness of this spiritual and social desert I’d lose sight of what I’d experienced in England. I couldn’t let that happen. I could not allow myself to slide back into the belief that life is ordinary and boring when I had so recently learned that it’s actually dramatic and miraculous. That would be a kind of death! So I decided if I couldn’t see God in big things, I would have to start seeing him in little things. I asked the Holy Spirit to breathe life into me and my surroundings, and I pleaded with God to show me he was here with me in this little town just like he had been before.

Of course he was here, and even though I should have known that, he was kind enough to reassure me. I had arrived just after Christmas, and at one point my little niece noticed there was a present under the tree with my name on it, so she brought it to me and asked if she could help me open it. She pulled out the gift – a set of Dove body care products. Then at the bottom of the gift bag she found an ornament that had fallen off the tree. It was a dove! I took it as a sign the Holy Spirit had heard my prayer, and was revealing himself to me exactly where I was. I still have that ornament hanging in my room to remind me of this fact.


I gradually became aware that in this little town, God was often asking me to pray for little things and sometimes for little people. At one point in my supply teaching work I encountered a four-year-old girl who was painfully shy. She would rarely speak in class and at playtime would always stand next to the teacher instead of playing with the other kids. When I noticed this I felt really sad for her. The next time I was there I asked God to draw her out of herself, give her confidence and help her to form good friendships with the other kids in her class. Later that day at the end of playtime I was trying to round up all the kids from the playground and get them lined up by class before they went inside, but I noticed three little girls way out at the other end of the field, struggling to walk back through deep snow. At first I thought, “Come on, girls! The whole school is waiting for you!” I sent two older girls to run out and help them. As they got closer, I realized one of them was the little girl I had prayed for. She had been playing with two of her classmates! It was a little thing that felt like a major victory!

I even discovered that God speaks through my least favourite hymns at church. Once during mass I noticed my dad was coming down with a cold, and he was supposed to be going on a long trip the next day, so I said a prayer for him. The next hymn was “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” – one I find particularly grating. But this time, one of the lines jumped out and resonated with me: “He is your health and salvation”.

The next day I asked my dad how he was feeling. “Fine. I thought I was going to have a bad cold! Weird.”

God has been showing me that he is just as much in the little things as he is in the big, sensational things. He’s been challenging me to look deeper at life in this little town and see that the ordinariness of it is actually an illusion. It often reminds me of the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Any passer-by that night might have looked at it and seen nothing but a poor family trying to put their baby to sleep in a feedbox-turned-cradle. Only a few people were able, by God’s grace, to see beyond that and understand the disadvantaged child in the manger was actually the Son of God. Don’t be fooled! “Ordinary” is nothing but a thin veil over the supernatural reality of every human being’s existence.


But…He said he loves me


Around two years ago, I was at my part time job when I got a text from my friend asking me whether we could talk. After work, I went to her place and she was in tears. I asked her what was wrong and she told me that her boyfriend had come over to visit and used her computer. When he left, she realised that he was still logged unto Facebook and was about to log him out when a girl he had been talking to, suddenly started a chat on Facebook. She then saw the history of their conversation and could see that her boyfriend had been flirting with that girl and even told the girl he wanted them to meet. My friend then said: ‘But he said he loves me’.

I couldn’t help but go back to the beginning of their relationship. My first concern arose when my friend suddenly disappeared, I could hardly get hold of her. Furthermore, I didn’t see her at Mass anymore, which was worrying as we first met at our university chaplaincy (after Mass). When I finally got through to her, she told me that she had a boyfriend. To which I replied (probably not my best answer): ‘So that’s why you are not coming to Mass anymore?’ and she got annoyed with me (rightly so). I was concerned back then because I always thought relationships should not pull you from your friends. Anyways, I thought maybe that was just I being jealous of her happiness so I let go.

The thing is romantic relationships are not meant to pull you away from your family and friends. I know it may seem thrilling to elope with your partner or go out with a guy who is the complete opposite of you and doesn’t believe in God. But let’s ask ourselves this question: ‘When you are both old and have grey hairs, will this be enough to sustain your relationship?’ For flesh and bones alone are not enough to sustain a relationship. What I mean by flesh is that this initial attraction you feel for a guy. That alone isn’t enough to sustain your relationship. For a relationship to be fruitful, God must be within. That’s why we should worry if a romantic relationship leads us away from our family and friends. Is this relationship based on the Lord? Does it go beyond flesh? A way of looking at it is, if I stood before God with this man, will I be standing next to him or hiding him behind me? Relationships are meant to make us holier. This is not to say the liability of our holiness is the responsibility of a guy but, rather that we don’t feel in the relationship that we ought to hide our faith because it’s killing the vibe.

Now, back to my friend. She was mostly hurt because she was confused. She didn’t understand why her boyfriend will do such a thing after telling her he loved her. So I told her this: ‘’maybe he really thinks he loves you’’ and she looked at me puzzled so I added: ‘He may think he loves you but what if he doesn’t know what love really is? Just because he said it doesn’t mean he understands the meaning of it. He might think he does but clearly what he has just done, proves that he doesn’t’.

This experience made me reflect about miscommunication not just between couples but also in general.

For example I used to be an avid football fan (this must be due to the fact that I have 4 brothers who love football so they introduced me to it during my teenage years.) Let’s say, I come to the USA to visit a friend and I tell this friend that I love football and my friend decides to treat me to a football match. We arrive at the stadium and we start watching the match. I then realise that this isn’t football, this is American Football. My friend may look at me and say: ‘But you told me you like football’. That statement is true but the definition of football varies per continent. I still love football, but not the football my friend thought I liked.

Love is similar. Unfortunately love has been tainted by culture and someone’s definition of ‘love’ may not be yours. That’s why Jesus came down from heaven. To show us what love is because, back then, they were already confused! I still can’t believe Sodom and Gomorrah was in Genesis, the first chapter of the Bible; we didn’t even make it past the first chapter to damage love. To understand love, we need to look at the Lord because only HIS definition of love is accurate. I love the fact that Jesus Christ didn’t stay in heaven to tell us what love is, He came down) to show us love.

So my friends, when a guy says ‘I love you’, asks him what he believes love is. And don’t just take him on his words, look at his actions.  We cannot give what we don’t have, so in order for us to recognise love, we need to know what it is. And we will know what it is by encountering Christ, most especially in the sacraments.


Are you asking the right questions?

photo credit: pedrojperez

‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life?’ 

Every Wednesday, those who gather for the Pure in Heart holy hour hear these words spoken. Matthew 6:25-34 may not be an obvious choice of scripture for Pure in Heart to take as its emblem; there is no mention of sexuality, chastity, purity or morality. If these were the only words of Jesus’ that you were to ever hear, you would think his only concerns are that we live like the rest of creation – in the moment, utterly dependent on the Father’s providence, and to recognise our inherent beauty and worth. Yet these things lie at the heart of purity, beneath the lifestyle choices we make.

The roadblock: fearful questioning

As we journey deeper into God, we hear the Lord inviting us, ‘You trust in God, trust also in me’ (John 14:1). We long to do as He did, putting His whole life in the hands of the Father. Though we may desire this, so much fear stands in the way. In his book In the House of the Lord, Henri Nouwen observes we have become so accustomed to being fearful we no longer notice it. He explores how our fear reveals itself in the types of questions that preoccupy us:

‘Fear engenders fear. Fear never gives birth to love. If this is the case, the nature of the questions we raise is as important as the answers to our questions. Which questions guide our lives? Which questions do we make our own? Which questions deserve our undivided attention and full personal commitment? Finding the right questions is as crucial as finding the right answers. A careful look at the Gospels shows that Jesus seldom accepted the questions posed to him. He exposed them as coming from the house of fear [Nouwen lists some examples]. To none of these questions did Jesus give a direct answer. He gently put them aside as questions emerging from false worries […] Therefore Jesus always transformed the question by his answer. He made the question new – and only then worthy of his response.’ 

The scripture that came to my mind when I read this, reinforced by hearing it week after week, was Matthew 6: 31-33. Jesus exhorts us, ‘do not worry, do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?” It is the gentiles who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well.’ Nouwen’s prompt to take a good look at the questions I ask with my life exposes the ways I still live like a gentile within. It all comes down to the questions that lie in the heart. It is entirely possible to go to Mass, have a committed prayer life, live chastely, and still be uncertain whether God will provide.

The way forward

The good news is that prayer and sacraments are the means by which God gently uncovers our unbelief as well as our great worth. Jesus knows when he asks us to lose control that this terrifies us. He saw through His disciples’ questioning to the fear that lingered in their hearts even though they had dropped their nets to follow Him. As with them, He wants to help us replace questions born of worldly anxiety, fear and self-sufficiency with questions that empower us to live like God’s children. My heart sincerely desires to give God all of my trust and to be surprised by his loving care for me, but do I give him much opportunity? Often I don’t, but sometimes I do.

Trust in God is itself a gift received, but like all virtues, it grows when we practice it in little things. We can exhaust ourselves straining to hear answers to big questions like, ‘Where should I live? What work should I do? Where is my husband/wife/community?!’ We desperately try to trust God in all these things, but do we trust him when we’re running late and the bus hasn’t shown up? Do we trust Him when we get exasperated with own weaknesses that His grace is nevertheless at work within us? If we seek His kingdom first, everything else follows. The point of all this personal growth is never oneself. However, it is only a heart that loves and trusts God that is free to love. Shortly after reading Nouwen, I came across this short video of Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, SV, of the Sisters of Life:“>

As an answer to prayer I didn’t even know I’d made, she gave me a question to steer my heart towards the future: ‘The most important question in your life is, “What will you do with your love?”’ For all of us, especially the young who are discerning God’s call, ‘what we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed’ (1 John 3:2). I encourage you to put aside your fretting, your attempts to figure it all out, and ask how you will love God today – with this body, this heart, this life you have, through the people He has placed before you.