Ordinary holiness

“We, the ordinary people of the streets,
believe that this street, this world, where God has placed us,
is our place of holiness.”
Madeleine Delbrêl

When I was working in campus ministry in Ames, Iowa, and even now serving in rural Honduras, I often heard people lamenting that they weren’t involved in church as much as they wanted.

I would often ask them what they mean. “I don’t have time (or interest) in being active in any of the ministries in the church.”

My reaction has been the same, in the US and here in Honduras. “We live our faith not only in church, but more importantly in the world. If you cannot do something ‘in church’ live your faith in your ordinary life. Be the sign of the Church, of the Reign of God, in the world.”

In the US, in a talk during the Antioch retreat, I would tell students that God doesn’t want church mice. Lay people need to be the presence of Christ where they are, “whether in the bedroom or the boardroom” – in our daily work as well as in the church.

Here in Honduras I tell people that we need to live our faith in our daily life, making tortilla, weeding the corn field, studying in school.

Madeleine Delbrêl was a French Catholic lay women who died on October 13, 1964. In her life, in her foundation of small core groups of women living simply in community, wrote about the importance of immersion in the world.

Christ does not provide his followers with a set of wings to flee into heaven, but with a weight to drag them into the deepest corners of the earth. What may seem to be the specifically missionary vocation is in fact simply what it means to be embraced by Christ.

Despite any apparent contradiction, we diminish and falsify our love for Christ and the Church wherever we diminish that which draws us to the world and enables us to plunge ourselves into it. This is what the love of the world means, a love that is not an identification with the world, but a gift to it.

Most of us live our holiness in the world, not apart. We do not identify with the world, but we offer the world the gift of revealing Christ’s presence in our midst. This can be done, I believe, best where we find ourselves, in the ordinary work of our daily life.


The quotation is from an important book of Madeleine Delbrel, We, The Ordinary People of the Street. 

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