By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.
Recently we have seen many reports of strange, dangerous and violent behavior. One doesn’t know if these are increasing or if the reporting has increased. There have been regular mass shootings. People have fought in airplanes, baseball stadiums, grocery stores, bars and other places. Why all this frustration and anger?
One could logically presume that these outbursts are the result of stress from the confinement and other inconveniences of the past year of the pandemic. Whatever may be the reason or cause of these behaviors, they do not remove responsibility from those involved.
A few months ago, someone sadly characterized the new American spirit in this way: “No one can tell me what to do!” This doesn’t do much to enhance the common good, much less connect at all with “love your neighbor.” Much of this attitude and the behavior mentioned above flow from an inflation of ego, or a distorted sense of self. “It’s all about me, and I don’t care about you.”
We are often told what to do and are expected to obey. We have stop signs, traffic lights, seat belt laws, as well as laws against bodily violence. These are simply parts of good social order.
We have all been under stress this past year. We all ought to take a deep breath, turn and look at our neighbor, and see how we can mutually support each other rather than shouting or throwing the first punch.
In the Catholic calendar, now that Pentecost is past, we return to “Ordinary Time.” In Church language, “ordinary” here simply means a way of counting days and weeks, using the “ordinal” numerals: first, second, third, and so forth.
But as soon as our minds see the word “ordinary” we easily jump to other meanings of that word: simple, plain, unremarkable. And perhaps that is the way we judge many hours and days. “Oh, it was nothing special; just an ordinary day.” And we may want to be satisfied with that. Ordinary does not have to mean “boring” or “disappointing.”
We can, however, take another look at some ordinary moments and see that they can be special and not “merely ordinary.” To get a feel of that, I suggest looking back on some “small” moments which, recalled in memory, can now seem special. Maybe it was a recent visit with a friend, or noticing the visit of a hummingbird or other birds to the feeder. Maybe there was a chance, pleasant encounter with an old acquaintance at the grocery store. Ordinary and yet special.
Teachers of prayer are always urging us to pay attention to the present moment. Noticing how some past moments were special may encourage us to focus on new present moments and be willing to see that the moment has a special quality of its own.
You look across the table at a beloved face. You behold the fresh face of a grandchild. There is a special moment of prayer in church. I see a mother duck and a row of ducklings in a parking lot (which I did!). These can be openings to gratitude: not merely “ordinary” at all.
By Fr. Tom Zelinksi, OFM Cap.
In recent years I have been thinking that it’s important for us to look and look again at familiar things so that we really see and appreciate them.
Here in the upper Midwest we are surrounded by signs of spring. Little ducklings already; soon little geese; buds and new leaves on trees; soon new fawns will appear. The birds flutter in their nest building. Hummingbirds, tiny creatures, return after traveling hundreds, maybe thousands of miles from their winter homes.
The skeptic may say “So what? This all happens every year.” Indeed it does, and it all appears like so many miracles. We ought to pay attention. Against this backdrop of the “peaceable kingdom,” we see less appealing news. I saw a scary statistic that said 75% of all plastic is NOT recycled. Where does it end up? Our planet home is sick. We need to do better for the sake of all the creatures, including ourselves.
There is the steady drumbeat of war and violence in the news; some things seem downright evil. I watch the silent holy deer in our woods and ask “How can there be evil in such a world?”
We come back to ourselves in the springtime. Can we look, and look again, and appreciate what we see? Can we find peace and justice in ourselves and share these with all neighbors?