When I was growing up in Ireland, I’d watch Jimmy O Neill taking a pride in ploughing his furrows as straight as a gun barrel. It did not make an ounce of difference to his yield: but the quality of his work was all important. It was not that he would be laughed at and people would say; “his lines are as crooked as a ram’s horn!” No, he put himself into what he did and his joy was as much in the work as in the harvest, in the process as in the result.
When we talk about ‘vocation’ – especially in church circles – we often narrow the concept and even prioritise some vocations over others. But every person has a vocation and who is to say one is ‘better’ or ‘higher’ than another? The key thing about vocation is that it is the way we express ourselves. We are most ourselves when our being and our work converge. When we hear people say, “I love my work,” I like to think it is not because of the rewards but because of the joy of the work itself.
Work is our way of responding to God’s invitation to help him bring his creation to completion. He needs us. For Catholic readers of this reflection let me say I intensely dislike – and never use – the fourth weekday preface in the Mass which contains the words (addressed to God), “you have no need of our praise.” It may be theologically correct but it is bruisingly ill-chosen. God has carefully crafted his creation and is “delighted” (Proverbs 8:31) when his children work with him to perfect it.
Working “perfectly” strains us every bit as much as the harness on Jimmy’s horse felt the strain of pulling the plough. The footballer or the musician at their peak knows about this but peak moments are not the preserve only of stars. They are available to all of us when we stretch beyond our comfort. Religious people are called to witness to this but often it is the media rather than the bible that gives us our heroes. Still, religious people have none of the excuses that others might have. They are supposed to be on the fast track. But, as Augustine said in the fifth century, it is sometimes the people who are outside (the Church) who are really in, while many who are inside are really out.
Those who labour to achieve perfection in their work – in whatever honest field – are the stars which light our way.
14 January 2018 Sunday 2 B
1 Samuel 3:3…19 I Corinthians 6:13…19 John 1:35-42