Work has been exceptionally busy for us the last couple of weeks as we have been training new student life leaders and welcoming first year students to campus. So you can imagine the state of my home as I walked around it this morning – my first day off in 16 days – after almost a full month of “get-by” cleaning. A big old overwhelming mess is what it was. My temptation was to forget it and spend the day doing something else, leaving it all for another day. But it was the timeless wisdom of Catherine Doherty, Foundress of Madonna House, which prompted me to stop and think on what God expected of me.
Last year, our chaplain Fr. Paul, a Madonna House priest, preached to the students in one of his Academy homilies saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “How can you have dreams and hopes to one day change the world, fight for the unborn, do all these high and mighty things, if you can’t get up and make your bed in the morning? If you can’t scrub the bathroom well, out of love for the brothers or sisters who live with you, those dreams won’t happen. You won’t succeed. You must be faithful in the insignificant and small details, before God will ask you for faithfulness in the mightier works.” His words echoed in my spirit as I pondered my house chores, and they echo Catherine Doherty’s words as well.
“You dream of great deeds. Everyone, these days, reads about Charles de Foucauld. Many have a starry-eyed look. They wonder if they shouldn’t become a Little Sister or Brother of de Foucauld. But, when I listen to their conversations, I want to cry. Not one of them stops to think what a heroic life he really led. He lived in a little hut in the blistering desert, with its cold and searing nights, amongst strange, primitive human beings. He saw his whole life as a failure but still remained faithful to God’s strange call! He rose and offered Mass, then spent a whole day doing small things. All of this means hanging on a cross for years instead of hours, but nobody seems to be aware of this. Most just see the romance of his life, not the reality.” Dearly Beloved, Vol 1, p 156
This is such a counter-cultural idea, isn’t it, that even the smallest actions in your life matter greatly to both your temporal and eternal happiness? In a society where only great actions matter; a society that has coined the phrase ‘wifeless marriages’, which refers to marriages where both parties do “great” work, but neither party wants to cook, clean or do anything ‘house-chore’ related; the idea that your sanctification is in doing the duty of this moment, whether that is pulling weeds or teaching English to immigrants, has been completely lost.
“…my voice is really tired and hoarse from constantly repeating: ‘wash dishes for the love of God.’ ‘When you serve at table, whether it be for the Brothers Christopher, or the family, do it quietly and efficiently.’ If you learn to serve that way, and connect serving to the supernatural order, you will grow greatly in wisdom and love, and you will be a light shining in the darkness of the world. The light of your loving service will lead people to God.” P.155
Our ability to reach souls only extends as far as we love God and keep our own ‘house’ in order – the places where the body, mind and spirit reside – out of love for Him. This requires every little bit of us, all of the time. There is no holding back. Love doesn’t count the number of times I’ve done the dishes or put out the garbage. Love doesn’t say no to tasks because they’re “not my job”. Love motivates a person to do what is necessary to the best of one’s ability, and a person never tires when acting out of love. My husband once related the story of a World War II medic who was always moving, always running in and out of the fray wherever he was needed; whether that was going to town to find shoes for a man who’d lost his, or stitching up wounds on the battlefront. In reality, very few of us are called to be a frontline medic, but what a poignant reminder this was to me that this is where sanctification and true happiness lies, in doing what is before you out of love for God and your neighbour, to the best of your ability.
“You see, this is the essence of our vocation: to connect an ordinary and seemingly boring life with its repetitious details, with Love Who is God. Then the boredom vanishes, and a day spent in sorting buttons is glorious. Then a day at the typewriter, when your back is aching and your mind reeling with tiredness, is a day that has redeemed many souls; how many, God alone knows. We must have that awareness and make that connection. If it isn’t made, it is a wasted day. What a horrible and a tragic thought that one of the most precious gifts of God, time, has been wasted.” P. 158
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once said that work done for the love of God makes a man happier and gives him an inner peace the world cannot take away. True happiness lies in living life fully, in the gift that is this moment – whether you are the CEO of an international corporation, Mother Superior of a religious order or a housewife. You are becoming a saint and drawing others to the Lord merely by making your bed and washing your dishes. You are on the road to living in eternity with Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and the mundane tasks required of you daily are taking you there.
“In a word, Christ is waiting for you to become aware of him and of the Apostolate that he has confided to you, by becoming aware of the connection between brooms, dishwater, lettering-typing, tidiness and the restoration of the world. Dearly Beloved, when, when is this going to happen?”