Have you ever thought about breathing? Like, have you ever thought about how strange it is that our bodies do this automatically without us even thinking about it? There are lots of things our bodies do without us thinking about it like pumping blood and digestion. The difference is that you can’t change/stop those other things by thinking about them. You CAN hold your breath or consciously slow your breathing.
The conscious portion is the same as any conscious action we make, but how does the unconscious part work? From the first seconds that we were born, our bodies have been automatically breathing on its own. It turns out, our bodies have somewhat of a “respiratory control center” located at the base of our brain. When we are not thinking about it, that “center” sends signals down your spine to keep your breathing muscles working.
The ”control center” can also monitor different levels in our bodies and change the rate of that breathing automatically. Think about how you breathe harder after a hard workout. The “control center” is able to sense the amount of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and acidosis in the blood vessels, muscles, and lungs. When it notices that any of the levels are not at equilibrium, the brain adjusts your breathing to meet the changing needs of your body.
I, personally, am very thankful that my body does this on its own. I try to do so many things during the day that some get forgotten, and I can only imagine that I would definitely forget to breathe, and probably often. Luckily, it’s an innate action. All day, every day, it is working and working well. Our ordinary life can go on with ordinary breathing.
Sometimes we get disappointed by the ordinary. This seems especially true when it comes to our faith lives. We hear about Saints or clergy doing big things and changing the world, and we see our lives as lesser. The truth is that we all have very different callings, and the majority of us are called to be husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, bankers, plumbers, teachers, etc. Sometimes those roles feel too ordinary.
It's true, many traditions and teachings in the Church center on clergy, but around 1930, one man saw the flaw in this outlook. St. Josemaria Escriva saw the beauty in the ordinary, the importance of the everyman. He set out to make ordinary men and women holy in a way as familiar to us as breathing. He wanted to incorporate this holiness into ordinary life so that it became routine.
In order to spread this idea, Escriva founded an organization called Opus Dei, which translates to “Work of God”, and he wrote a book outlining their teachings called “The Way”. I am a big fan of this way of living, and I’ve recently been reading The Way. In it the author shows that one’s calling does not in itself involve an invitation to leave what you know, to choose another way of life; in fact, for most Christians it is an invitation to face your everyday life and find there a divine way which must be made holy.
“Too often we live as though our Lord were somewhere far off – where the stars shine. We fail to realize that he is also by our side – always.” (267)
He emphasizes that it is important for each Christian to find a holiness in keeping with his own mission and his own state-in-life; and so the ordinary Christian, who lives in the middle of the world, should sanctify himself and others by means of the world itself, sanctifying his professional work and his whole life. How can you sanctify your professional work and your whole life? What would that look like? What would YOU look like if you started doing this? Do you think others would notice? Another great quote from The Way says:
I encourage all of you to read Escriva's wonderful book. It has truly made me think. St. Josemaria Escriva is very straightforward with his instructions. The book is easy to read and a kick in the pants that we all probably need. When you read this book and take some time with these teachings, you begin to grow in awareness of God’s presence and learn to hear His voice in the people and happenings of daily life. Not all of us will be able to read it, but the teachings still ring true. Whatever your life looks like, how can you serve God in the midst of that life? How can you sanctify the role that you’ve been given? We are all called to be saints, but that doesn’t mean each of our paths to sainthood will look the same. Find your path in the ordinary, the every day.
St. Josemaria Escriva’s feast day is June 26th. As we approach his feast day, St. Josemaria Escriva, pray for us.