Monday, September 2, 2013

The One Essential Work

"Some of the most inspiring work in America is being done quietly.... serving the least, the last, and the lost brings renewal that comes from the deepest well of human change: the human heart." Daniel R. Coats, "Foreword," Street Saints, by Barbara J. Elliott

"You have called some to serve by work and some to serve by waiting ... some to work in public ways and some to serve in the privacy of the home ... some to serve in religious ministries and some to serve in the secular world ... some to serve in active ways and some to serve by suffering." Intercessions from Labor Day 2013 Morning Prayer, Magnificat
Today in the United States, the annual holiday known as Labor Day was observed, or at least noticed, by most of us. Often the word labor is used to refer to physical work, and to the people who do such work. It is also used to refer to the body's work of birthing a child.

But not all labor requires observable physical expenditures of effort and energy. This morning's Magnificat prayers acknowledged not only waiting and work done at home as callings from God, but also suffering. For many people, these three experiences--waiting, working in privacy, and suffering--are often intertwined and simultaneous. It is difficult to accept waiting and suffering as callings from God when we haven't asked for them and don't want to say yes to them. It is particularly difficult when we have blame to aim--whether at another person (or other people), ourselves, or God.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said in a Christmas message, "God called the shepherds while they were still at work doing their duty. The best place in all the world to be for a higher summons is at a post of duty. Nowhere else are great temporal and spiritual blessings to be sought. When the Lord has a great gift or message to give to one of his children He sends it to the place where that person ought to be found. It matters very little what we are doing; what does matter is that we are doing our duty."

Some of the most powerful moments of my life have been when I've realized how an earlier difficult and painful experience, season, or even whole era of my journey prepared me to do something, to contribute, to make a difference in a way I hadn't imagined until it happened. When I say prepared, I don't mean God deliberately allowed me to be hurt in some way so that I would be prepared for a later scheme. I mean what biblical hero Joseph meant when he said (in Genesis 50:20) to his brothers who had sold him into slavery many years before, "Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end." Despite the intentions and resulting actions of human beings, it is God's intention to accomplish good in any case, through those who choose to cooperate with him, whatever the circumstances.

And what is the good that God always intends to accomplish? According to today's evening prayer, it is this: "God's great work is the creation and redemption of the world wrought through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The one essential work in which we are all called to participate is God's transforming love." Let us begin to participate by letting that love transform us, even if, for a while, that means waiting, working alone, suffering, or all three.


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