In the Summer of 1984,1 was the Catholic equivalent of one of those polite Mormon boys during one of their summer, door-to-door missions. The pastor of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church hired me, a twenty-four-year-old seminarian to cast a broad net across the Chatham, Illinois community. The job description entailed praying with and for people, inviting them to a deeper spiritual relationship with God, making the pastor aware of any hidden local needs, and selling the RCIA program for those interested in Catholicism.
In those days, I lived in my boyhood home on holidays between the semesters. Without a car, I would stuff a clean shirt, some deodorant, and my brochures into a backpack. I would then ride my bicycle a few country miles to the rectory. There I would hydrate, and launch myself into the neighborhood of the day. That summer, I could be found walking up and down streets, knocking on doors, and spending time with anyone who welcomed me.
Before my first day on the job, I had imagined that I knew the challenges that would face me: doors slamming in my face, ridicule being heaped upon me, thorny theological questions contrived to trip me up. Through the sensibilities of a seminarian/ideologue, those challenges seemed almost glamorous, “A little persecution for the kingdom of God?” I thought to myself, “Bring it on!”
But it ended up that the primary challenge of this summer’s work was decidedly non-heroic, and would never qualify me for a cameo in Butler’s, Lives of the Saints. The largest obstacle in proclaiming the Gospel that summer had to do with a traumatic encounter with a Doberman Pincher several years earlier that left me with a decidedly un-Saint Francis-like relationship with the canine community. The lax leash laws of 1984 Chatham interacting with my fear of dogs did not end up qualifying me to sit in the company of the North American Martyrs.
A postal worker friend suggested that I carry a canister of pepper spray to bolster my confidence. I briefly considered this possibility. But the thought of a pet-owner coming to the door to talk about God whilst their dog writhed in pain, struck me as strategically unsound. As with the other fears that this job surfaced, I resolved to keep my hands open to God’s grace tackling this work, one house, and one dog owner at a time.
That summer, I received what I needed to overcome fear and complete the work I was given to do. I cannot tell you, with certitude, precisely what lasting effect my work yielded. I can tell you that I was enriched by the people who were willing to open their homes and their lives to me.
In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 10: 1-10; 17-20), Jesus sent a large group of rookie disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom of God. At the end of their hard day’s work, Luke painted a picture of back-slapping, knuckle-bumping, high-fiving joy as Jesus reveled in their fruitfulness.
One of the insights that can be culled from this passage is that the orbit of our spiritual lives extends to the workplace. Just like in the reading, God wants to give you what you need to be fruitful in your work. God wants to co-create with you in your workaday world.
In that summer of 1984, it was easy to see why God would want to help me with my work. Some jobs are more explicit in their ministerial content. But each of us has work to do that profoundly interests God. The writer of this Sunday’s second reading, Paul, was a tent-maker by trade. His success in business provided the means to pursue his avocation: to build Christian communities. It is hard to imagine that the author of the words, “pray unceasingly,” would have viewed his tent-making business as something outside the realm of God’s concern.
For those who view life through the prism of the Eucharist, there is no part of our existence that stands outside of God’s care for us. The divine will is for our work to be fruitful, regardless of what that work entails. Next time you process up to receive communion, consider bringing the intentions of your work up with you. See if there is a grace that God has in store for you that could prosper the work of your hands.