“Those Endless Dishes”

As we move back into Ordinary Time, I thought you might be inspired by this article by Catherine Doherty about doing the mundane things of life:


by Catherine Doherty

Recently my prayer has been spearheaded by a remark of one of our members who said that she wished that she had something “to sink her teeth into.” Upon discussion I found that this was a general feeling in a small group that was chatting together. They felt that Madonna House life, or part of it, had become unchallenging and monotonous.

They spoke of the office and its constant routine: writing endless letters, changing addresses, answering the telephone, doing the bookkeeping, and so forth.

Then they spoke of the sameness of the kitchen: preparing endless meals and getting them to the table, and washing dishes that seem to pile up like an enormous fortress to which there is no entrance.

Then there are the literally tons of clothing to sort. (They didn’t mention the laundry or the work of the men at the farm or other constant repetitive “chores” that need to be done over and over by other members of Madonna House.)

Yes, we are forever surrounded by tasks that appear to be dull, monotonous, routine, unchallenging. I listened to all of this chitchat and to the tremendous desires which seemed to animate the people who were talking.

They were not just idly talking; neither were they at all upset. They were simply “presenting their ideas.” But as they continued to talk, their voices suddenly did not reach me any more. Somehow I was lost in Palestine. I saw a hammer, a chisel, a hand-plane. Somehow I was utterly astounded—as if I had never thought of it before—by a carpenter’s shop.

The challenge it presented was beyond my ability to absorb.

The Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity—someone who could have been a rabbi, a king, an emperor, a philosopher, a man of tremendous renown, someone at whose feet the whole world would come to sit and listen—this awesome Person was right there, bent over a work bench in that shop, chiseling and planing pieces of wood.

He was doing little “unimportant” tasks: building a table for someone, making a cradle for someone else, crafting a chair for another.

I saw his calloused hands (for he did have calloused hands!) and I asked myself: Why did he choose such humble, uninspiring, unchallenging tasks?

Once you knew how to do them, they could never be called things “to sink your teeth into.” On some side street in an unimportant village, he did the work of an ordinary carpenter, just as his foster father did.

And what did his mother do? She washed and scrubbed and took the laundry to the river, and she milled the kernels of wheat manually between two stones. She wove cloth; it is said that she wove the cloak that the Romans threw dice for because it was so beautiful.

I began to hear again the evening discussion about the mounds of dishes, the eternal sorting of donations, the answering of phones, the filing of cards, the dulling rhythm of seemingly unimportant tasks.

It all became filled with a strange glow and I understood the fantastic, incredible, holy words contained in that sentence: the duty of the moment is the duty of God.

I also understood that anything done for him is glamorous, exciting, wondrous if only we can see it for what it truly is!

But we are human. And it takes a long time, my dearly beloved ones, to see reality through God’s eyes. Unless we pray exceedingly hard, it takes a long time to “make straight the ways of the Lord” in our souls.

When we experience this pain in our lives, this pain of making straight the paths of the Lord, it would be a good idea to remind ourselves that this pain is everywhere in every vocation, in every kind of work. It is part of the human condition.

The answer to that pain, in Madonna House or anywhere else, is prayer. Nothing else will do it; nothing else.

But—with prayer—we see an entirely different world around us. Sorting clothes becomes a joy. Washing dishes becomes an exciting challenge. The careful repetitious tasks of creating beauty (as in embroidery, weaving, painting, or carpentry) take on a new meaning.

Yes, I came back from wherever I was, watching Jesus doing carpentry work, and I thanked God that he became a manual laborer to show us the way to the Father. There is much more that I could say, but this will suffice for today.

Adapted from a letter to the staff, Oct. 1976, in Dearly Beloved, Vol. 3, available from MH Publications.

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