As some of you may well know, I declared 2014 The Year of the Saints. I’d been thinking a lot about how we often call upon our favorite saints and martyrs for intercession, especially the patron saints. But I began thinking that instead of asking for the saints to intercede on our behalf, perhaps it would be rewarding to look at their lives as ones that could provide guidance, solace or inspiration. The idea of the saint as role model very much appeals to me, which led me to embark upon this venture.
And what an adventure this venture has been! There are far too many saints to research properly, and I feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface. But what I’ve learned so far is nothing short of fascinating.
This month, I looked at St. Zita for some food for thought. It turns out that food was very much a part of her life, as she was a servant for wealthy family of wool traders in Italy. Baking was obviously one of her many chores, and some visual depictions of her include a loaf of bread. In fact, some of the other servants witnessed an angel replacing her in the kitchen while she was out feeding leftovers to the poor! This was just one of over 100 miracles that first converted many other servants, and even the wealthy family she worked for, and then earned her canonization.
The reason I spent some time contemplating her is twofold: one, anyone who knows me knows how much I love a fellow Italian woman who finds profound meaning in household chores. Second, in thinking about her hardships, I realized that she sets an example for those of us whose professional ambitions are , at best, difficult for others.
I think her hardships are particularly apropos for women, who are sometimes questioned or shunned for having a relentless dedication to career pursuits, despite adversity. St. Zita was one such woman. Although a mere servant, it was a job she took extremely seriously. However, her boss and her colleagues, so to speak, reviled and degraded her. She was often overburdened with far too much work for one woman to handle – enter the angels – and sometimes even beaten. Why? Not for insubordination, time-stealing or theft of any kind; it was for her dedication to the work itself. She never swayed in her temperament or in the quality of the work she put out.
I tried visualizing this and thought about what her job must have been like. I thought about cruel-hearted co workers sneering at a beautiful meal she prepared. I thought about the threats she may have gotten to stop making everyone else “look bad” to the boss. I thought about the gossip at the water cooler, so to speak. And of course, the beatings and other humiliations. I also pictured her as the cliched single girl, slumped over her desk after hours on a Friday night because she didn’t have a spouse or family of her own.
Yet in the face of such adversity, she still woke up hours before the others to pray and to attend mass. She worked overtime whenever she had to, which was often; yet still found time to do more of God’s work in tending to the poor, and to making sure the needs of others were met to the extent that she was able to help meet them. And for her, it ended up changing the course of her life. First, she broke the “glass ceiling” of her time, and was eventually promoted up through the ranks to the head of household staff. Second, she converted her colleagues and even her boss’ family!
This may not, at first glance, seem to provide many of us with solace as far as our marriage-minded selves go. And to be clear, I am not in any way, shape or form suggesting any of us stay in anything remotely resembling abusive situations at work or otherwise. But the larger meaning I got from this was her underlying philosophy. She felt that any kind of devotion – be it to job, family, or of course faith – without constant hard work was “slothful”.
I thought about how as Catholics we are called to serve. And how, at times, we may lose sight of all the things we do that are God’s work. We all know that marriage and family are part of that love which calls for many, many sacrifices. But at times, the mundane tasks in our daily lives or relationships seems to be the opposite of God’s work, so it’s important to keep in mind the big picture in all that we do – even down to every loaf of bread – to show how much we want to have God’s love show through us.
Her feast day is April 26. On that day, I plan on waking up one hour earlier for housework. Then I plan on holding student conferences off the clock, all the while imagining her angels cleaning out the file cabinets in my office ; )