One of the things I love best about the saints is how hardworking they were, even if some of them were too sick to do much else than lie in a convalescent’s bed and stare out the window. Prayer is really hard work, even if it doesn’t look like it is.
I mean, think about it. Mother Teresa didn’t bum around the convent all day. Don Bosco was too busy getting his pupils the spiritual and mental education they needed to turn them into upstanding men to just do nothing. St. Francis nearly walked his wealthy-born feet down to the nubs in order to proclaim the Gospels and minister to the poor. St. Benedict’s motto, “Ora et Labora” translates to “Pray and Work.” And so on and so forth, all the way down the Sainthood line. No matter what charism you embrace, what spirituality fits you best, you’re going to find that the men and women that pursued holiness were the ones who got to work.
Today is the Feast Day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, foundress of the Sisters of Charity and of Catholic education in America. She was the first American-born saint, she had five children, and she faced a lot of discrimination for converting to Catholicism at a time when women who had money and position (which she did) just plain didn’t risk all of that social standing to enter into the Church.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was a worker. (And even if she didn’t do any of the founding of things, even if she was just a mom of five, she would have been a worker. I have a few friends who have at least five children, and I was at Aldi once when a mom with five kids was there, and all of their examples showed me that five kids at once anywhere is the textbook definition of work.)
So we honor St. Elizabeth for her steadfastness and her willingness to roll up her sleeves and do what needed to be done. If I think about what I would have done in her position, widowed with five children, I don’t know that I’d convert to Catholicism. I like to think I would, but I’d probably just mostly spend my days making sure I looked pretty while searching around for new rich husbands, because hello five children. I pray for her intercession to want to work hard on days like today, when the weather is crazy cold and all I want to do is plant my children in front of the TV and read online celebrity gossip articles all day long.
But I know that God’s plan for us is not laziness, it’s work. God put Adam to work right out of the gate, naming all the animals and figuring out what went where in Eden. He made our bodies to work, He gave us an innate desire to produce things. Don’t believe me? Try not having a job for more than a week (with no idea where the next job will come from), and get back to me.
What is God’s work for us? I don’t know what He wants you to do, specifically. I do know that He wants you to do something, though. We’re all called to bring God’s message of love to each other and He wants us to serve our neighbors and those in need. And there are plenty of people in need.
When I worked at a coffee shop some years ago a favorite saying among the supervisors was “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.” Which, in our tradition of faith, might sound something like, “If you got time to Netflix, you got time to help your neighbor who doesn’t have any food to eat although you have plenty, so…no Netflix. Or at the very least, rummage through your pantry for food to donate while Netflix is on in the background.”
Or something like that. I don’t know what He wants for you, personally. Shoot, I barely know what He wants for me, most days. BUT! I do know that if you ask Him, He’ll tell you. So if you want to know what He wants, ask Him. (My favorite thing to do is to ask God what He wants from me, then to remind Him about thirty times in that prayer that I am more obtuse than most people and really need VERY LARGE HINTS about what I should be doing.)
But here’s the other thing. You probably know people like this, who confuse doing God’s work with doing God’s job…which are two different things. Doing God’s work: helping people, righting wrongs, feeding the hungry, comforting the sick and dying, being available to those in prison – those are all good for us to do, and we should do those things as often as we can. But when you think about trying to save people, or change them, or make them do what we want them to do, no matter how good our intentions are…well, that’s not for us to do. That’s not God’s work. God has the ability to change those people, but that’s between them and God. We’re supposed to pray for them, lift them up to God, and pretty much leave it alone.
All of that is incredibly hard to do, of course. Being a saint is also an incredibly hard thing to be.
But it’s a gift that we — all of us — are given the grace to achieve, if we want it.
So today, pray for us, Elizabeth Ann Seton! Pray that we’ll be given the insight from God to know what we should do, and the patience, energy, and desire to do it. Help us get to work!