Faith and Ordinariness

Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners

Christians have faith in the supernatural and live supernatural lives. So why is it that so much of Christian life seems ordinary? Given the extraordinary experiences of the saints, it may seem that they lived a different kind of life than other Christians. This feeling of being all too ordinary can also arise if we speculate about other people’s prayer experiences. Does that man who comes early to Mass and prays in his pew have mystical experiences? Does the religious brother or sister we meet live a life wrapped in God’s consolation?

Most people have wondered about the spiritual experiences of others, since it’s hard not to think about those around you in church. But dwelling on this is not only an occasion of envy, it also betrays confusion about the nature of faith. Even if we have the fullness of faith, we can lack a spiritual awareness of Jesus’s presence and can feel alone in prayer. This condition is referred to as “spiritual dryness” and is common in Christian experience. It does not indicate weak faith, because faith involves what is unseen, that is, unperceived and not felt in any way. What is true for dryness is also true for ordinariness. Faith is sure knowledge about God and His work in Jesus Christ, knowledge that we couldn’t have on our own power. To willingly say the Creed at Sunday Mass is a sign of God’s supernatural work in our lives!

Faith is based on God’s testimony, similar to how we believe the word of other people in our lives. If someone’s spouse says to him, “I just picked up the kids from school,” he believes her on faith. Driving to the school to check on the truth would give the same knowledge, but it would also show the man’s distrust of his spouse. With God, we have no way of checking on the truths He revealed in Christ—we accept them as Truth Himself speaking to us, entrusted to the Church in Scripture and Tradition. Assenting in our mind and heart to the truth of the faith is a supernatural act, made possible only by God’s gift.

The practical implication of this is that we should be content with the seeming ordinariness of our lives. We need not look for any sort of confirmation of God’s word in our own thoughts or experiences, but should seek to order our lives according to the knowledge of faith. This is a sure foundation for us, giving us the peace of knowing that there is a fundamental rightness to our lives whether we are having a good day or a bad day. When we live by faith, the supernatural is present in our ordinary thoughts as we direct them to God and live for Him.

This knowledge is a consolation of its own, and much stronger than spiritual experiences that come and go. Such passing spiritual experiences are beneficial if we use them to exercise our faith and love of God, but by no means are they necessary for a holy Christian life. Knowing this, we can take courage because our life is supernatural through living faith. We are not alone, because God’s help is present in the ordinary details of our lives.

Image: Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners

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Br. Norbert Keliher, O.P.

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Br. Norbert Keliher entered the Order of Preachers in 2012. He is a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied Latin and Greek. Before entering the order, he spent a year teaching in New York City and a year studying theology at Notre Dame.On