Thursday, April 17, 2014

CHAPTER 35: Of the Weekly Servers in the Kitchen

No one should be excused from kitchen duty, except on account of sickness or more necessary work, because this is how merit and charity are acquired.  If the community is large, let the cellarer be excused from the kitchen, and also those who, as we have said, are engaged in more urgent work; but let the rest serve one another in charity.  At the end of the week, these same servers should wash the linens and do the Saturday cleaning. Both the outgoing and the incoming servers should wash the feet of all.

Doing the dishes may sound like an awfully minor detail to include in the Rule, but Saint Benedict seems to think it has special importance.  Perhaps that’s because dishwashing is the one job nobody wants.  When dinner is over, the one thing you really want to do is relax, but Benedict sees this as a unique opportunity to acquire “greater merit and charity.”  And by having the servers wash the feet of the brethren, he links their job to that of Christ Himself, who “came not to be served but to serve” (Matt 20:28).

So what seems like a small act of service is really a big opportunity to cultivate holiness.  “Anything you do whatsoever,” said Saint Paul, do it for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).  So that means you can brush your teeth for the glory of God; scrub a toilet for the glory of God; change a light bulb for the glory of God.  Whatever you do, you can do it for the glory of God.

And yet, if glorifying god were that easy, wouldn’t there be more saints in the world?  Of course you can’t necessarily identify a saint by his appearance, and there’s no way to measure holiness.  But then again, many of the stories of our saints are full of spectacular episodes which prove their holiness: Saint Dunstan held a demon by the nose with a pair of jewelry pliers.  Saint Joseph of Cupertino prayed so hard he levitated right out his bedroom window.  Saint Rose of Lima sat up in her coffin in the middle of her own funeral.  Saint Anselm, according to Eadmer, his eleventh-century biographer, predicted that a trout of unusual size would be served to him for supper—and it was![1] These are certainly some of the more spectacular, more obvious signs by which our saints have been identified.  And of course, the more spectacular the sign, the more likely they are to be remembered.

We have a tendency, therefore, to think that we must work wonders, cast out demons, raise the dead, levitate, bi-locate, have visions, or make prophesies to be a saint.  But that just isn’t the case.  Saint Therese of Liseaux liked to say, "Our Lord needs from us neither great deeds nor profound thoughts. Neither intelligence nor talents. But he cherishes simplicity" (Story of a Soul).

            Or, in the words of Blessed Mother Theresa:  “There are no great deeds.  Only small deeds with great love.”

[1] If you don’t believe me, just read Book I, Section 17 entitled How a trout of unusual size was caught for his supper as he foretold.  And while you’re at it, be sure to read section 18 entitled How, as he had predicted, a catfish was unexpectedly brought to his friend.  Wow!

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