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Finding God in the Ordinary – A View from Knock, Ireland

Mission in ministry 2022, “practicing the spirituality of the everyday or the ordinary” at the Knock Shrine

I have been here at the National Marian Shrine at Knock for some time now and I have encountered many people from many countries from around the world. The Shrine at Knock attracts many people for many and varied reasons. Many pilgrims seek healing through the sacrament of reconciliation; they plumb the depths of their damaged souls seeking light and new beginnings. Other pilgrims are here for the ancient Celtic practice of drinking the holy water and bringing the holy water home to family and friends to protect them and their animals, property and crops. While other pilgrims are just searching in a vague hope for something, they are not even sure for what. They meander with a deep longing for something to evolve from the dark hole of the spiritual nothing of nothingness that entraps them.

Then there are the religious zealots from a host of religious movements, the modern day Pharisees. These pilgrims are totally pre-occupied with rules, regulations and obscure rituals. They are searching for faults. They live by a code of rigidity. They are an assortment of individuals united in their fanaticism and arrogance. They possess in their warped minds a perfect spirituality founded on vague doctrines, dubious practices and false promises. The one thing that these people have never focused on in their lives is God’s love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. The God of the everyday, the God of the ordinary is absent from their extraordinary beliefs and practices.

Many people who come to Knock Shrine are engaged in what I call “the attempting”, to practice a “perfect spirituality”. I marvel at the fervour of these people gripped in the clutches of seeking this spirituality of perfection. These people are totally consumed in their quest and block out any other possibilities from entering their lives. There is blinkeredness in their approach that eliminates all other possibilities beyond perfection and beyond their own cause or movement, even the grace of God is relegated to the shadows of the nothing of nothingness.

There is a fanaticism or a totality in their approach to spirituality. Words like intolerance, closed minded, regimented, harsh, come to mind when confronted with these soldiers of the spirituality of perfection.

People in these religious movements or religious cults seek the way of perfection and they believe that their movement has the only way. There is an inherent spirit of arrogance within their movements. The members of such movements promulgate theories of sheer intolerance and judgemental attitudes towards the ordinary followers of the church’s teaching. They are the authors and practitioners of their own spiritual rigidity.

The members of these religious cults or spiritual movements are blinkered in their pursuit of spiritual perfection through following very strict practices with roots in very suspicious doctrines. They feel that any deviation from the true path is certain to end in the fires of hell. Mingling with the ordinary followers is a cause for self-imposed spiritual cleansing.

The sad thing about these misguided groups is that they have priests that are encouraging and supporting them in their activities. These priests act as spiritual chaplains to these misguided movements. These people have no smiles on their faces or the joy of Jesus in their hearts but only contortions of misery and fear of being lost should they deviate from the right path. Their spiritual directors and many are priests that support such groups, do a disservice to the church and to the message of Jesus which is one of hope, love and inclusiveness. Their spiritual directors and priest supporters fail to challenge their negativity, and pharisaic attitudes expressed through spiritual arrogance and indeed ignorance.

I have lived and worked in some of the harshest situations and places on God’s planet and as a result I have found myself developing an attitude of trying to find goodness and joy in every environment. The spirituality of perfection denies the possibilities of the Spirit as the followers believe they possess the only way, the perfect way.

The spirituality of the everyday on the other hand recognises that it is alright to make mistakes. It understands how it is alright not to have all the answers. The spirituality of the everyday, ventures to say that it is alright to allow God to accept my incompleteness, my messiness and my spiritual “fits and starts”. The spirituality of the everyday or the ordinary is all about being human in my spiritual life and working within the limits of my humanity and its fragility.

Mary realised that we can’t afford to practice a spirituality of perfection in detachment. She responded to God’s invitation through a faith and a spirituality that was rooted in the everyday, in the ordinary of her young life. Mary realised that it was in the everyday, in the ordinary of her spiritual life, that her possibility of fulfilling her potentiality as a human being who was chosen to be the mother of Jesus could be achieved. Her spirituality of the everyday was an act of transformation of making the word become flesh in the ordinary of her humanity. It was a demonstration of a living spirituality, a connected spirituality, a spirituality focused and rooted in the messiness of the everyday of life.

Mary did not seek spiritual perfection. Mary knew that we find miracle in our lives when we stop looking for magic. Mary found miracle in the everyday, in the ordinary of an ordinary life that was open to the word of God in simplicity and in many ways in the limits of her humanity and its fragility. Mary in the spirituality of the everyday was open to evolvement, change and growth within herself and within her mission of allowing the word become flesh. Mary was and is beyond rigidity and the shackles of the spirituality of perfection. Mary’s spirituality of the everyday is an example for all missionaries as it was based on fluidity and openness to the word of God acting in the everyday of her life.

The spirituality of the everyday makes no claim to be right. It is a spirituality more interested in questions than in answers. It is more a journey toward humility than a struggle for perfection. When we practice our faith in the everyday we rest in grace, in the idea that we are loved and loveable just as we are. It is not our need to be perfect that drives us to grow and learn but rather it is our experiences of being safely loved that frees us to grow in joyful response.

Spirituality is a wide and complex field. It covers everything from meditation, to art, to personal experience all in the everyday arena of life, the arena of the ordinary. And yet at its core it is about imperfection because the spirituality of the everyday is meant to create growth and that which is already perfect cannot grow or change; only the imperfect can. The spirituality of the everyday, of the ordinary is what is meant to be human.

Mission in ministry at Knock Shrine is all about helping people to stop looking for magic so that they can experience miracle in the spirituality of the everyday. Mission in ministry is about living in the ordinary of life because it is in the ordinary that you find the extraordinary insight of realising that you don’t need to seek perfection. There is no need to be like the fanatics who seek perfection in order to inspire others; we can allow people to get inspired by how we deal with our own imperfections.

The core paradox that underlies our spiritualties of the everyday is the haunting sense of incompleteness, we are part of the earth and yet not-part of it. To be human is to be incomplete, yet yearn for completion; it is to be broken and yet crave wholeness. We can say that we are imperfectly human because we are perfectly human. Practicing the spirituality of the everyday allows us to recognise our humanity and acknowledge the possibilities of sharing in divinity in the ordinary of our lives.

Practicing the spirituality of the everyday or the ordinary is a true gift from God and a true gift is always inspired rather than occasioned. Our Lady of Knock we ask you to help us to live the spirituality of the everyday and live our lives in simplicity and availability in our missionary commitments. Our Lady of Knock help us to grow in our human fragility by accepting and practicing the spirituality of the everyday as a means to enable us to fulfil our potentialities as God’s creation where we may experience not magic but miracle in the everyday of our faith. Our Lady of Knock enable us to experience the abundance of life in the spirituality of the everyday as missionaries no matter where we are.

Denis C Hartnett MHM

Mill Hill Missionaries


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