Novitiate. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Plenty of quiet prayer, reflective walks, and engaging study on the one hand, but zero wiggle room when it came time to dig a ditch on the other. Twenty feet. Forty feet. Sixty feet long. In my mind it stretches to infinity. And deep! At least 24 inches on the furthest side. Get the shovels, picks, and wheelbarrow. Here we go! Time for some blisters in honor of Our Lady.
Okay, so we weren't exactly digging the Grand Canyon, and to be honest this is the kind of work that I enjoy most and that makes me feel alive. Using the hands God gave me to tend and keep the little portion of creation he has provided for me always feels right, satisfying, and human. It’s a part of our lot here on Earth. More important, it’s a part of our fallen lot due to sin. But as Christians, we can labor in union with Christ who transforms our work into a gift that sanctifies and redeems, making it into a stepping stone on the way to heaven.
Often, this kind of ‘grunt’ work isn’t even visible in the end. We were digging a ditch for a sink drain, and once the pipe was laid, our work was literally covered back up with the dirt we had just taken out and, most likely, was never to be thought of again. But without each drop of sweat, each shovel toss of dirt, and much patient leveling, the pitch of the pipe wouldn’t have been right, and the drain would have backed up. It was a hidden work that in the end was really most essential.
Digging that ditch was like humility in the spiritual life. Allowing Our Lady to dig away at pride, self reliance, and vanities can be painful and gritty, an interior, hidden work of mortification and truthful acknowledgment of weaknesses that we would rather gloss over in favor of other more exterior and congratulatory works. But, as a priest friend always liked to tell me, “The deeper the foundation of humility, the taller the building of virtue God can build on top.” It was a good project to work on that day, and I hope I can carry its lessons with me as I continue forward in my formation. Though I’m not exactly sure of all that lies ahead, keep on diggin’, Mary, keep on diggin’!