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Working out my salvation one gloppy mess at a time

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When the seeming drudgery of duty becomes the privilege of vocation

For a long time after reverting to Catholicism I would trip up over the idea of “duty”. Over and over again I’d read about discerning the will of God, and I’d consider that whatever God’s will for one’s life, it always included a sense of vocational duty.

But I had a stubborn resistance to being told what to do. In my mind I associated duty with oppression, or at least with unfortunate, toilsome obligation. Wasn’t this what the Protestants were always charging Catholics with: thinking we had to work for our salvation?

I came to realize that I had been thinking of my duty – within my vocation as a mother, for instance — as what I begrudgingly needed do in order to repay God for all His providential goodness, or to improve my chances of meriting a future reward. And I didn’t like a lot of the things I was supposed to do.

And then in a moment in which thoughts tumbled together and a clear picture emerged — something that I can only explain as grace — I realized I had been totally wrong.

I suddenly understood that I am nothing. I have nothing but the gifts that God gives me out of love for me. From the air I breathe, the heart that pumps blood through my arteries, for those arteries themselves, the family in my care, the roof over my head, the rivers and mountains that delight my view — existence itself, awareness itself, I have nothing apart from Him.

Another insight followed that: I can do nothing by my own power. I cannot fulfill any of the duties of my vocation — regardless of their significance — of my own ability. If I am “good” at something, it is because He has given me this talent. If I am “bad” at something, I can peacefully consider whether I am called to persevere at it or make peace with the fact that it is someone else’s gift. Maybe through desire He is urging me toward a new skill I must fumble through – rather like Peter figuring out how to be the first pope – or He’s teaching me humility in reminding me of my nothingness. It doesn’t matter; I just need to trust that He is all, and I am naught.

And this is how I have come to see that God is love. If we are chosen to follow Him it is only that He can use us to co-labor with His plan of love for others. He is inviting me to participate in consecrating the world to Him, to His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Finally: that we are chosen is a gift; that we are invited to co-labor in His plans is a gift.

Thus, every ordinary duty — from flossing my kids’ teeth, to scrubbing the toilet, to making dinner, to picking up dirty tissues for the zillionth time that day — is  actually the gift of God giving me the freedom to choose to co-labor with Him; the freedom to  give of myself in that little task. Every word of encouragement or act of compassion or duty I perform is not counted as some good I’ve done, merited to me, but yet another gift from God, merited to His glory: the grace to participate in His labor of love. My good-deeds magnify Him, not me.

So, getting back to that Protestant charge of earning our salvation: do good works and obedience have a role in salvation?

Of course they do. Jesus told us to visit the prisoner, give to the poor, heal the sick; He modeled it for us.

And we are meant to do it all in perfect surrender to the Father’s will for us. Because our salvation is not linear; it all goes together, beyond space and time.

And so, every “yes” to some ordinary duty is His gift to us to enter into His will. Every duty I freely assent to co-labor in is an immersion in His merciful love for me, and that, my friends, is salvation.

What dignity He bestows on us that we can offer up our work for His good purposes!

Knowing this, I resolve to joyfully, and with great thanksgiving, embrace my housework, my paid work, my kids’ squabbles, and all the other beautiful opportunities to love Him and lose myself.

“It is our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere, to give Him thanks.”

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