Photo by Enjuley Evers
From St. John Bosco to Blessed Cardinal Newman to St. Josemaria Escriva, many saints and holy people have written about the road to holiness consisting of doing well the simple tasks required of each day, called by some ‘the duty of the moment’. I was first inspired by this message while hearing a talk about St. John Bosco. St. John Bosco told Dominic Savio and the other boys he taught how to be holy: to pray, to play, to work and to rest when they ought to. It made a great task, that of becoming a saint, seem easy! Over the years, I’ve realized that doing my duty is not easy, but it is worth it, and it is how we become holy. Some of the people I admire most for their virtue haven’t done anything particularly impressive in the eyes of the world, but their life has a balance, they do their duty for the Glory of God, and the fruit is their industry, deep peace and joy.
It is tempting to dream about the heroism of the spiritual life; imagining great sacrifices or bold, professions of faith. Reading the lives of the saints, it is easy to focus on the dramatic. I am captivated by the story of St. Clare warding off an army with the monstrance, and the Canadian Martyrs sacrificing their lives to spread the Gospel, and St. Maria Goretti, ready to die to defend her purity and that of her attacker. These are incredibly heroic witnesses, and they can remind us that we are called to give our lives totally to God with complete trust. My favourite saint, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, is known best for sacrificing her life for her baby’s. Gianna laid down her life for another. That is heroic and beautiful; though, I think it was probably an easy decision for her to make. Of course she would sacrifice her life for her child’s, of course St. Clare believed that God would protect the convent from an army, of course the Canadian martyrs persisted in reaching out to the Huron people, despite great personal risk, these saints all lived their lives courageously, joyfully and in friendship with Jesus. The ways they lived their lives prepared them to trust Jesus completely.
I love St. Gianna for her love of life, and for her example of heroic sacrifice, but I will not likely have to emulate her in that way. However, I can follow her example in my daily life, because she was many things that I want to be: a compassionate, confident health care professional, a good friend, a Christian leader, and filled with love and awe for the world around her. She was pious and virtuous. She was a daily communicant, and played sports, climbed mountains and went to the symphony. She lived joyfully the great adventure that is a life in friendship with Jesus. She did her duty, even though some days it was probably monotonous and seemed boring compared to the lives of some of her siblings who were serving as missionaries in South America.
A few years ago, I re-read the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery for the first time since I was a child, and it was life-changing. That may sound dramatic, but I would argue that there is a lesson in the Anne series for nearly every situation in life, as such, I urge those who haven’t recently or ever read it, to immerse yourself in the delights of the Anne series. One of my favourite scenes, is when Anne, as a young adult, sacrifices going to university to stay at home and help her dear friend in need. She comes to the decision on her own, and though she knows that her future might not be as exciting as planned, she is confident in her decision.
“She had looked her duty courageously in the face and found it a friend--as duty ever is when we meet it frankly.”
Our duty is a friend! We know it in small ways when we do the menial work of our daily life well. I feel a healthy satisfaction at the end of a day when I have first done work, and prayed when I ought to, before spending time in recreation. Whereas the days when I spend hours watching television or even reading, I am left unsatisfied. Reading a good book or spending time with friends feels much more gratifying after a day of industry than after a day of sloth. Doing our duty in the little things also prepares our wills for when we might be called to look “duty courageously in the face” as Anne did. Doing our duty, doing the duty of the moment, teaches us to conform our wills to that of Jesus, so that if we are called like Sts. Gianna, Clare, Maria, the Canadian Martyrs and many others did to make a heroic act, we’ll look to Jesus and know that He will be with us. We can also trust that our generous God can use even the smallest task that is done with love, for greatness. Can saints be made washing dishes, studying hard and getting up when the alarm goes off the first time? I think they can.