Friday 21 August 2015

Worth Doing Well

If ever I was slapdash at a task as a youngster, my mother would chide me saying, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”  Perhaps it was told to her from my grandparents, who knows?  At first glance, there seems not much theology in it, just a mix of duty and perfectionism.

Around the same time, I can remember being taught by the good Sisters of St Joseph at school how to say The Morning Offering.  The daily prayer wherein all the “prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day” were offered to God in the most theologically and linguistically complex sentence that it was beyond the ken of any infant school boy.

Only much later in life have I come to understand the depth and richness of “a theology of work”.  The deeply layered prayer of the Examen which plumbs our daily human experience is one such doorway.  Therein God is to be discovered and revealed not only in the mainstream manner of religious experience such as chapels and scriptures and liturgies.  God leaves tell-tale traces of divine presence in all that we do – especially in our work.

The point is brought home well in the story is told of the brilliant 20th Century Dominican theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, who, in his early years as a novice, used to rise early at 2:00am to with the rest of the friary to chant the psalms in the Divine Office.  In the full flush of his early religious life, he wrote enthusiastically to his father, “How wonderful it feels to be praising God when the rest of the world around me is asleep and I and my brethren are giving glory to God.”

His father duly wrote back to him, indicating that he was glad to hear that his young son appreciated the new life in the priory, but that he should remember that when he was an infant – Edward was one of thirteen children – his parents were often up at 2:00am.  And, yes, they too were giving glory to God in their work, although they were not quite singing the psalms.

Yes, there are many ways in which we can work for God’s glory.

In this respect, Ignatius has a much-recorded insight.  He often used the phrase “God is labouring for us in the world” and calling us to labour with God.  It seems to me that this is something of a response to an age-old question:  If Christ died and rose again to redeem and save the world, then why is it still in need of so much healing?  For Ignatius, there is an ongoing redemption of the world.  Renewal still to be worked.  Healings yet to be completed.  Lives to be saved.  Good to be done.  The lost waiting to be found.  Hands still to be held.  Cold hearts to be thawed.  Sin to be countered.  God is still at work in that.  And God invites companions, co-workers, fellow-labourers.  It is a calling to build the kingdom.

That is our commission here at Riverview.  To build a community, which is a small corner of that kingdom.  To build friendships.  To build just relationships.  To build confidence in the young who need it.  To build knowledge in the mind and (more importantly) a wisdom of the heart.  To build a sense of social responsibility.    To build a tangible presence of faith, hope and love.

This kingdom is contiguous with heaven.  “The Kingdom of God is among you,” assures Jesus.  It is not pie in the sky.  It begins here and now.

The French Jesuit and palaeontologist and discoverer of Peking Man, Teilhard de Chardin SJ, once suggested:

By virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.  On the contrary, everything is sacred … Try, with God’s help, to perceive the connection – even physical and natural – which binds your labour with the building of the kingdom of heaven; try to realize that heaven itself smiles upon you and, through your works, draws you to itself;  then, as you leave church for the noisy streets, you will remain with only one feeling, that of continuing to immerse yourself in God.

Yes, for many reasons, anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Fr Ross Jones, SJ