In the sacristy of every Catholic church there is a little book called an Ordo. Published annually by the Bishops of the United States, the Ordo provides all the information about the liturgy that one needs for every day of the year. It tells us what readings we’re supposed to read at Mass, what prayers we’re supposed to pray, and what feasts fall on which date and how to celebrate them. The Church’s liturgy is highly structured and regulated for a reason. The liturgy is something we share as the Church, and the Ordo helps to ensure that we are praying together, experiencing the liturgical year together, meditating on the same mysteries and growing in our life with God together.
The word “ordo” comes from the same Latin word from which we have the word “order.” As human beings, we need order in our lives. Everyone lives according to some form of ordo, a plan, or a rule of life. This rule of life shapes how we live, and changes us as we commit to following it. Parents of newborns understand the power of the baby’s schedule. Everything they do has to conform to the needs of the infant. The responsibilities that come with parenthood mean that they cannot sleep like they used to, or eat when they used to, or come and go as they used to. Through their faithful commitment to these responsibilities, they are changed by the “ordo” of parenthood, and they become good moms and dads.
Because we are (inescapably) shaped by our rule of life, we need to make sure it orders us and our loved ones towards greater growth in virtue and in holiness. Too often we’re not sufficiently intentional about establishing a good rule of life for ourselves and our families, and the result is that our coaches and our employers and our businesses determine our “ordo” for us. Our lives can end up dominated by sports and work commitments, with everything else getting squeezed in around them – or dropped entirely if they create a scheduling conflict.
To develop a good rule of life, we need to ask ourselves what our lives are ultimately about, and what it is that we stand for. Once we have a sense of that, we must organize our lives around things that foster those ends. In last week’s bulletin, I wrote about the recent studies that give the reasons for the skyrocketing numbers of people who were raised Catholic but no longer practice the faith. Half of those who responded to the study said that they simply drifted away over time. This reveals how important it is for us as Catholics (whether we be single, married, young, or old) to establish a rule of life that incorporates Sunday Mass, but also daily prayer, regular study of the faith and scripture, and the cultivation of friendships with others who take their faith seriously and whose words and good example will help us to be faithful. These should be the non-negotiables around which everything else in life is structured. We accept the inconveniences they bring and the sacrifices they require because we believe our life with Christ is most important, just as the parents of a newborn accept the inconveniences and sacrifices required to care for their child and are transformed by the experience. Like parents whose hearts are enlarged through the experience of the sacrifices that come with parenthood, our hearts are enlarged when we persevere together in a rule of life that opens us to the mystery of life with Christ – to the point that we couldn’t imagine living any other way.