Dear Fr. Donagh, I have always felt that each of us was born to do something for the Lord that no one else can do. I used to worry that I would die without accomplishing this. Now, I just pray, daily, that I will have the courage, humility, and compassion to find out what this task is and do it. So, it is one day at a time for me to try to be the presence of Jesus and Mary to all that I meet that day. unfortunetely, I fall very short of this frequently. I would appreciate your thoughts on this, father. Thank you very much, Esther
Thank you for your letter. Yes, I'm sure each of us is called to something that no one else can do. We are all different to the fingertips, and even our fingertips are different! Even if we were to try to imitate another person exactly we would not succeed at all. We don’t have to try to be different; we can't help being different. It’s not surprising then that the Lord calls each person to a unique service.
This may provide some kind of key to a response to your letter. If your work is coming from the heart, then it is uniquely and distinctively yours; and if your heart is good, then your work will be good. Of course it is possible to make mistakes, but a good heart is about the best guide we have. The 14th-century mystic, Meister Eckhart, wrote, “People should not worry so much about what they have to do, they should consider rather what they are. If people and their ways were good, their deeds would shine brightly. If you are righteous, then your deeds will be righteous. Do not think to place holiness in doing; we should place holiness in being, for it is not the works that sanctify us, but we who should sanctify the works.”
Eckhart's penetrating insights are a great reassurance, as well as a challenge. As the ‘Wisdom Line’ this month I will use another passage from his writings that has a bearing on your letter.
I'm reminded of a passage in Matthew's gospel: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (7:13-14). The word translated here as ‘spacious’ is an obscure Greek word that could also mean ‘for tomorrow’. There may seem to be no connection between ‘spacious’ and ‘tomorrow’, but when you think about it, tomorrow is the most spacious day of all! I did a few tours of duty in the Philippines, and I noticed that in Tagalog the word ‘bukas’, pronounced differently, means both ‘tomorrow’ and ‘open’. Tomorrow has room for all the things I postpone, and for all the things I don’t want to face. It’s limitless: I could save the world tomorrow! It’s limitless because it exists only in thought. I can think and imagine a thousand things simultaneously, but in reality I can do only one at a time. Reality is today. In comparison to tomorrow it seems very narrow and ordinary, it’s a “narrow gate and a hard road.”
I think the emphasis in all this is on the ordinary. My feeling is that the Lord's will for us is not revealed by some obscure calculus but through our fidelity to the ordinary things of every day. Why should the Lord's will for us be one task that we have to “find out”? Why shouldn’t it be a whole series of tasks, day by day, that don’t add up to one discernible pattern - another name for a career? And why should it have one’s name on it? If we try to be different from others we show that we are afraid we may be the same; if we try to be the same we show we are afraid we may be different. We don’t have to try to be different: we are different; we don’t have to try to be the same: we are the same. We are just ordinary, and we do the things that come our way. That's where your “courage, humility and compassion” come into play. You don’t have to waste them on the effort to find out what unique career lies waiting for you; you can use them all up in the present! The present is able to absorb everything we put into it, and more. When you fail you need not lose heart. Failure is one of our best teachers: it shows us the difference between our illusions and reality.
To “try to be the presence of Jesus and Mary to all that I meet” is a wonderful programme. It works well the other way too: to see in everyone I meet the presence of Jesus and Mary. As Julian of Norwich expressed it, “Jesus is everyone who is going to be saved and everyone who is going to be saved is Jesus.” Then, as a monk of Spencer Abbey put it, the question ‘Who am I?’ transposes into the question, ‘What do they need?’
God bless you, Esther.