03 March, 2007

The Extraordinary Ordinary

Thomas Howard's Hallowed Be This House (now printed as Splendor in the Ordinary, I believe) is one of the few books (along with The Lamb's Supper, Story of a Soul, etc) that has really altered my entire point of view and helped me to view life in general from a more Catholic perspective. He talks of the home, of finding the sacred - as he calls it, the "hallowed" - in the circumstances of everyday life. It reminds me in fact, of The Story of a Soul. But whereas St. Therese brought out the fact that God loves even the "smallest" souls in an extraordinary way, and that spiritual extraordinariness is most found in humility, Thomas Howard focuses on the ramifications of the Incarnation in the everyday stuff of life. St. Therese's point of view is largely spiritual; Thomas Howard's, largely physical.

Hallowed Be This House is a response to the modern idea that life, and everything encountered over its course, ultimately means nothing. The Catholic Church points to the Incarnation in answer to this. All "stuff" of this world has been hallowed by God becoming man. God "mixed" with matter at the moment of the Incarnation, and so sanctified it, and gave it meaning beyond imagination.

This meaning is almost uniformly overlooked in modern culture, but to forget it is fatal for any Catholic. So where do we look to find it? In what aspect of our lives is it easiest to see the "splendor of the ordinary"? Thomas Howard suggests that the answer is the home. The home is where we are first trained in the Christian way of living - trained in humility, in love, in the spirit of self sacrifice - "my life for yours" as Dr. Howard is fond of saying. And how? Through the "mundane" work of cooking and cleaning we are participating directly in a sort of Christ-like self-sacrifice. Through eating together as a family, we recall the sacramental reality of the Eucharist (which is, in a very important way, a meal, although not merely a meal). Thomas Howard goes through every room of the typical house and shows how the grace of God is displayed in these ordinary places and in the activities which take place in them.

I don't mean at all to imply that it is easy to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Dr. Howard would also agree that the culture of modernism, our own concupisence, and our lack of practice make even seeing the extraordinary in the home rather difficult. Nevertheless, my life is constantly being filled with glimpses of the glory of everyday existence, which I can see even more clearly thanks to his book. And I think that a clearer awareness of the great meaning behind everything that is in any way good is crucial today in order to combat some of the most dangerous tendencies of modern nihilism.

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