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Drudgery and Beyond


To sentence a man of true genius to the drudgery of a school is to put a racehorse on a treadmill” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In today’s 1st Reading (Jb 7:1-4, 6-7) we encounter a despondent Job, who, relative to the quote I chose to kick off today’s Reflection, has clearly been worn down by the school of life. A perfect and upright man by nature (Jb 1:1), the walls, it would appear, are closing in on he who was said to have feared God and eschewed evil (again...Jb 1:1). He has in turn decided to partake of a little divine venting

“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” Job asks. “Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.” He goes on to delve more deeply into his own personal plight by way of lush metaphor, bemoaning the fact that his “days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope,” and so on.

But it is in the closing words of today’s passage (Jb 7:7) that our downtrodden principal utters what may very well be some of the saddest words in all of Scripture. He concludes by saying “I shall not see happiness again.”

Job’s tale of tragedy, loss and death is of course well chronicled, as is his prodigious reversal of fortune wherein God restores him to an even better condition than his former wealthy state (Jb 42:10-17) while also blessing him with seven sons and three daughters, the latter of which were said to have been the most beautiful women in all the land. But I would venture to say that all of us can relate to Job when he bemoans the scourge of drudgery. How do we combat this insidious affliction when it inevitably rears its ugly head?

Drudgery speaks to a certain difficulty or dullness that one is prone to encounter, perhaps in the workplace or simply in the day-to-day tasks and chores of life. In his Essay Lessons I Learned as a Submarine Officer for Dealing With Drudgery at Work, Doctor Andrew Spencer shares advice on how to deal with monotony and these seemingly meaningless tasks, whether it be the deluge of preventative maintenance reports required of a U.S. Navy Sub Commander or making lunches and ironing school uniforms for your seven year old daughter.

Doctor Spencer speaks of the importance of disseminating between hard work and drudgery as well as the need to set goals and “compete with yourself” while eliminating work that does not add value. He delves into the practical purpose of work relative to your approach and prevailing attitude towards it. But it was his final piece of advice that really resonates, particularly against the backdrop of eternity. He quotes Saint Paul (Colossians 3:23-24) who so famously said “Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

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Both Saint Paul and Doctor Spencer knew full well that until all of creation was renewed, there will always be tasks that, on the surface, appear to be virtually pointless. We can find meaning in them however, because these tasks do in fact have a purpose; an eternal purpose, that of bringing glory to God through the attitude of our service. Not to mention the eternal reward that awaits those who persevere with faith and hope. I’m reminded of the words of American writer and poet Max Ehrmann who once said “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” For Christians, our happiness is rooted in the promise and hope of eternal life in the Kingdom that will have no end.

For Saint Josephine Bakhita, whose Feast Day we will celebrate tomorrow, drudgery would be her nemesis as well. But in reality it was the least of her troubles. Her‘s is a tale of enslavement, by her own people no less, as well as torture of both the physical and psychological variety.

Born in the African country of Sudan around the year 1869, Josephine was kidnapped at the age of nine and sold into slavery. During her time of enslavement, she was brutally whipped, lashed with a knife, and nearly beaten to death. After years of abuse and torture, Josephine was again sold, this time to an Italian merchant. But fortune would finally smile upon her in the form of a new master. For it was while in Italy that Josephine would be introduced to this new master, one who found her inherently worthy and loved her infinitely. This new master was God the Father. In coming to know Him, she came to know hope.

Having been purchased by the kind-hearted Italian Vice Consul Callisto Legnani in 1883, who treated her with compassion and decency, Josephine was eventually able to negotiate her freedom from slavery and promptly joined the Canossian Sisters in Venice, the religious community that had taught her the Catholic faith. “If I were to meet the slave traders who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me,” Saint Josephine would say in the latter stages of her life, “I would kneel and kiss their hands. For if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian or a Religious today.” It would be difficult to find a quote that better encapsulates the transformative power that Jesus can have on the soul who encounters and embraces him.

In his 2007 Papal Encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said of Saint Josephine “The liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.”

I leave you with a final quote from Saint Josephine, a quote which underscores that which she came to understand was true of herself and of every person in this Earth:

"I am definitively loved, and whatever happens to me, I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good."

Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.


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