27th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
“We have done no more than our duty” (Lk 17:5-10)
The Spirituality of Daily life
In the late 1990’s, CNN, the American news channel, ran an ad in the print media that made a deep impression on me: not necessarily to watch CNN – which, of course, I do sometimes, but about the spirituality of daily life. The two page ad had this large truck in the foreground which was on fire. At one of the corners of the photograph there was this elderly person who was throwing a bucket of water on the blazing truck in an attempt to put off the fire. And the caption read: “History is not made by kings and presidents; but by ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
The Liturgy of the Word on this 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time invites us to reflect on the sacredness of our daily lives. It calls us to find God in our faithfulness to daily duties. The readings invite us to live by faith.
The first reading is from Prophet Habakkuk (1:2-3; 2:2-4). This book was written during a very difficult time in the history of Israel (7thCentBC), just before the Babylonian Exile (598 BC). One of the central themes in this book of Habakkuk can be summarized in the lines that we heard read in the first reading of today: “The upright man (the just) will live by his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4). And in the gospel today, Jesus suggests that we can merit the Kingdom of God by the fulfillment of our ordinary, daily duties done with a little faith, even if that faith is only as big as a mustard seed. It is faith that converts ordinary things of daily life into extraordinary signs of the Kingdom of God. Jesus says, “When you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty” (Lk 17:10).
The Spirituality of Daily Life
In the context of the word of God this morning I would like to invite you to reflect on the spirituality of daily life, or the spirituality of ordinary things – a spirituality that is at the heart of the religious order that I belong to: the Salesians of Don Bosco.
We are called, ‘Salesians’ in honor of the French Saint, Francis de Sales (1567-1622), who believed that all Christians are called to a life of holiness according to their state of life. And holiness consists in the fulfillment of our duties with a great devotion. Much before the 2nd Vatican Council that called all Christians to a life of holiness, St Francis would write to ‘Philothea’, in his classical, An Introduction to the Devout Life:
“It is not merely an error but a heresy to suppose that a devout life (holiness) is necessarily banished from the soldier’s camp, the merchant’s shop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth” (Chap. III).
This spirituality of daily life was lived out in an exemplary manner by St John Bosco (1815-1888), who lived in Turin in the 19thCentury. He also passed on this simple spirituality to his boys, for whom he gave his life. A story is told of St Dominic Savio (1842-1857) who was the student of St John Bosco. When he entered the home run by Don Bosco (which was called the Oratory), the little Dominic Savio wanted to become a saint. Initially he thought, one became a saint through asceticism and penance. So Dominic used to put stones on his bed and sleep on them. When St John Bosco came to discover this, he gently told him: “Dominic, in my school becoming a saint is very simple. Sanctity consists in fulfilling your daily duties.” The young Dominic Savio began to cheer up, and indeed he did become a saint.
How can I live the spirituality of daily life?
The gospel text of today begins with the request of the apostles to Jesus: “Increase our faith.” And Jesus replies, “If you had faith like a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you” (Lk 17:5-6). Often people quote these lines implying that if you had enough faith you could perform a show of miracles. This could well be the case. However, in the lines that follow (Lk 17:7-10) Jesus seems to imply something else. He talks about the fulfillment of duties. So, is Jesus saying, if we had faith like a mustard seed our ordinary activities of daily life could become extraordinary? I tend to think so.
So then, here we have the first clue on how we can move towards holiness: add a little bit of faith to the fulfillment of our daily duties. When we add faith to my daily work, we begin to participate in the creative and redemptive work of God. I strongly believe that my /our sermon in itself may not touch anyone, but the personal sacrifice of time and effort that we/I had to put-in in preparing this homily, when offered to God an oblation, becomes redemptive for all of us. A parent’s words may not directly save a child, but it is the sacrifice that the parent makes in faith, in working for the child, that could contribute to the well being of the child in the sight of God.
Now, how do I add faith to my daily tasks? Simple: by raising my mind and heart to God. In this process I am personally inspired by two figures – one, an Italian fictional character, and the other, a French priest who lived in the 20th Century. I am not too sure if you have read the series of books or watched the movie: Don Camillo (movie, acted by Terence Hill). This funny parish priest has an interesting habit as he goes about his daily adventures. He spontaneously talks to Jesus on the crucifix that hangs on the wall of the sacristy. And often Jesus does answer him! In one such conversation about ‘public opinion’, Don Camillo tells Jesus: But public opinion has some value!!! And Jesus replies: I know that, Don Camillo, public opinion has nailed me to the cross!!!
The French priest Michel Quoist (1921-1997) is more contemporary. His book Prayers of Life is a collection of prayers spontaneously uttered as he goes about his daily life. I read this book when I was 18, and it made a very deep impression on my spirituality. Just to give you an example: Father Quoist goes to watch a football game on a Friday night. He begins to pray even as he watches the game. He compares the football game to the liturgy of life as “the ball moves from celebrant to celebrant.” He realizes that in the game of life God is the coach. And he prays that he be a player, rather than a spectator in the game of life.
I would like to conclude this reflection with the words of St Paul to the Corinthians. These words add the most important aspect to the spirituality of daily life: “And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains – if I am without love, I am nothing” (1Cor 13:2). Yes, love moves mountains in our daily lives. It lightens up our duties.
When we have faith and love in the fulfillment of our daily duties, we can sing like the blind poet John Milton, particularly when we are incapacitated by age or sickness: “They also serve [God] who only stand and wait.”
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.