As Dominican novices and student brothers we have house jobs, ranging from blue collar cleaning jobs to white collar administrative jobs, and they all support the community in some manner. You can tell a lot about a particular house job from the title. Some are traditional, like “sacristan” and “guest master”; some are descriptive, like “third floor cleaner” and “common room cleaner”; and some have fancy titles, like “car czar” and “lavator magnus.” Generally, the fancier the title, the less desirable the job. Some of these jobs are very public, like baker and those involved with liturgy. Everything gets noticed and you will often be praised or criticized for what you did or failed to do. However, most jobs don’t garner much recognition, except when something goes wrong. No one notices the cleaning and vacuuming of the third floor unless the dust piles up and brothers start writing messages on the furniture.
In addition to actually assisting in the operation and maintenance of the house, these house jobs provide great lessons in the virtue of stewardship. We are stewards here, not owners, and there are four important aspects of this stewardship. First, we are given a job by the Student Master and trained by another brother who has previously performed the task. Second, we are called to perform responsibly and to the best of our ability. Third, at the end of the semester we pass the job on. In training another brother, we give an account for what we have done. Fourth, we leave it behind and move on to another responsibility.
Leaving behind the house job can be one of the hardest parts, even for some of the more difficult jobs. We have learned the job, done it for several months and know the ins and outs. We know the job better than our replacement, and he will always do it differently than us. But leaving the job behind when the responsibility is removed from us can be a great source of freedom.
Changing jobs every semester is also a regular reminder of the transience of our earthly lives and occupations. Ultimately, none of our lives are our own. They are a gift from God for which we will have to render an account. Failing to let go of things that we no longer need or are responsible for can only cause problems, as the Bible continually reminds us. Lot’s wife was unable to give up her home and, looking back, was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26). Christ admonished a would-be follower, “‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:62). On the other hand St. Joseph, who left his house in the middle of the night with Mary and Jesus in response to the message of angel, is an example of someone who does not look back, but accepts the new tasks God has given (Matthew 2:14). As the Universal Prayer (attributed to Pope Clement XI) declares to God: “I will whatever you will: I will all because you will it; I will all things to be as you wish them; I will them as long as you will them.”
To follow Christ more fully, may we as stewards both accept the new tasks given to us and freely relinquish those which have passed onto others, saying “‘we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Image: Mechanic Sweeps Garage, 1974 (Bruce Bisping, National Archives)