Friday, June 20, 2014

The Patron Saint of Walmart

But besides that, it isn’t easy to give up one’s will. To give up one’s will to God is beautiful. People always wonder how to do that. Well, it’s so very simple, very, very simple! Suppose you were a salesman like I was in a big shop—a big emporium in New York—and the sales manager called you in and said, “Look Catherine, you are getting the highest commissions of all. Will you tell me how? What’s your secret?” I answered, “It’s because I do the Will of God.”

I must admit this man was very, very astonished. “What do you mean, the will of God?” he said. “That doesn’t enter into business, does it?”

“Oh,” said I, “everything enters into God, even business. You and I made an agreement, but there was a third party to that agreement. Your Personnel Manager interviewed me and outlined my duties when I became your employee. He was very clear about it. I agreed. Now comes the doing. Of course, I can escape. I can go into the toilet and smoke my cigarettes. I can go and have my coffee on any floor. There are all kinds of coffee shops. I can spend an awful lot of time chatting with other sales clerks. There are a thousand ways I can waste your money. 
But you see, I can’t because I made a contract between you, me, and God, and I cannot be unfaithful to it. I could be unfaithful to you, the company, but I cannot be unfaithful to God. That would be lying. I’m a Christian, and I can’t lie like that.”

He looked at me very seriously and said, “Catherine, evidently it pays off to be a Christian.” I said, “Oh yes, sir. It pays off.” You understand how deep those things must go for a woman who is poor?
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Gospel of a Poor Woman

Reflection – It is one of the great glories of Catherine Doherty that she is able to take the most exalted, mystical, profound spiritual verities and reflections, and then bring them right down to the most basic level of human life of the most ordinary person in the world.

This is a story she loved to tell, from her working girl days scrambling to make a living to support her sick husband and infant son. With all her religious and spiritual formation, her quite good education regarding the Scriptures and the fathers of the Church (her father used to read to the household every night from them), she came to the conclusion, startling, that this meant that if you were contracted to work an eight-hour shift with x numbers of coffee breaks and so much time for lunch, then that was an obligation before God to work precisely those hours, and to spend those hours, well, working.

Sometimes we can make a bit too much of a mystery of the spiritual life. God’s will is, most of the time, for the most part, that we do the obvious thing that is sitting in front of us, demanding to be done. A mother with a house full of children doesn’t have to deliberate much about what God’s will is at this moment. Her kids will tell her, repeatedly and at increasing levels of volume if she hesitates.

But of course it is how we do what is in front of us that makes the difference between sanctity and selfishness, between greatness and mediocrity. The love we bring into it, the dedication we apply to it, the care we take with it. ‘Do little things exceedingly well for love of me (Christ)’ is one of the lines of the Little Mandate, the words God was giving Catherine precisely during these tough years of hard work and struggle.

To give your all to selling in a department store is a ‘little thing’, and few would connect it with God or anything remotely spiritual. But it is, you know. And who knows what kind of spiritual benefit, what blessings happens when a person of faith is moving among the shelves and displays and racks of a store, doing his or her job, and loving, praying, serving in the midst of it? Can you become a saint working at Walmart? Has anyone tried? Only God knows. If they do, Catherine Doherty may well end up being their patron (I'm not presuming on the Church's judgement here on her sanctity).

The beautiful truth—a hard truth, a challenging truth, but beautiful nonetheless—that both Catherine and St. Therese knew was that the means to sanctity lie within the grasp of every Christian, no matter what the circumstances of life are for them. 

Selling in a store, waiting tables in a restaurant, working in some drab fluorescent lit cubicle, toiling away in a blue-collar trade job, or being in some so-called ‘higher’ professional field—what matters is that we do the will of God, which is the duties of our state of life, with as much love and devotion, generosity and care, justice and fidelity, as we can muster, and always pray for growth in grace to do it better and be what God asks us to be, which is lovers dedicated to loving Him and His children in every corner of our world.