Blessed Mother Teresa / Catherine Doherty / St. John Vianney
By Jenna McDonald
Special to The B.C. Catholic
If there is one common thread throughout the lives of the saints, it is a profound reverence for repetition. If we look closely, there has to be something to it.
You'd think that the most remarkable people in Church history would spend every waking hour doing remarkable things, but this is not the case!
Think of John the Baptist and his diet of locusts and honey, and his baptisms: not much variety there. Then there is John Vianney and his confessional sessions, sprawling for hours on end (often without him eating all day).
Think of Blessed Mother Teresa, and the sponge baths she would have gently administered at the House for the Dying, and let's not forget how many times our dear Brother Andre would have answered that same door.
So if the definition of boring is doing the same thing over and over again, then I suppose sanctity is boring.
In the life of a Christian, discipline and hard work have always been desirable. Movements and orders like Opus Dei, the Benedictines, the Dominicans, and (I think it's safe to say) all of the monastic communities assert the holiness of work.
The Servant of God Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House, writes with a sometimes shocking love of mundane tasks like budgeting finances and stain-removing.
Are they seeing something we're not? It's hard to say, because I'm not a saint; I still spend a lot of time looking forward to the weekend. But I have a sneaking suspicion that they performed these often back-breaking, repetitious acts with the knowledge that they were storing up treasure, that they were waiting for a visit.
And if Mt 25 ('Whatever you did for the least of My brothers, you did it to Me") is any indication, I'm sure He visited. To a bystander, it may seem that the repetition sprawls on endlessly without an end in sight, but to the saint, every moment is an ending. At any moment Our Lord would find them ready, lamps lit, awake.
For a certain group of fisherman on the shores of Galilee 2,000 years ago, it was just another day on the water. They'd mended their nets hundreds of times before. I don't think they would have been upset to have been told they would never gut another fish.
If they hadn't been on schedule, they may not have met that famous Stranger Who walked through their lives and changed everything. Yet they were there, immersed in the duty of the moment, and that is where the Lord sought them and found them.
This does not mean that there is no rest. Yet even rest must be ordered and consecrated to the Lord. This is why we see Jesus retreating to pray by Himself; it is why Pope Benedict treasures those daily walks through his gardens; and this is why all religious communities set time aside for recreation.
There is a reason for the timing of the seasons. There is time for growth and production, but there must be fallow times and times of latency to allow for the growth as well.
Catholic philosopher Joseph Pieper (1904-1997) wrote a book called Leisure: The Basis of Culture. In it, he writes that the way a culture relaxes informs the rest of its existence. He writes that religion can only be born in leisure; and that leisure, by its very nature, permits the contemplation of the face of God.
Have we lost our sense of true leisure? Is leisure simply inactivity or do we focus on leisure as a way to better serve God?
We Christians look to Christ, the God-Man, for tips on marrying our humanity to all things eternal. We are not made exclusively for work, just as we are not made to waste the strength of our bodies while we live.
He spent the first 30 years of His life in quiet, humble, manual labour and contemplation, while the rest was spent in radical, active service to His Father.
The lives of Christians are about complementarity of radical concepts. And if the lives of the saints speak one thing, they say that the more we love, the more we can't help but have our lives map onto His.