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Tools (Toward Mercy)
Tools (Toward Mercy)
Father Godfrey Mullen, OSB @ St. Benedict Cathedral, Evansville IN
Hammer and screwdriver. Needle and thread. Computer and projector. Spatula and skillet. Chalk and paper. Cup and plate. Book and pencil. Crayons and paste. Wrench and hacksaw. Chemicals and test tubes. Lawn mower and weed eater. They are all tools, tools for a particular trade. For each of us, in the work we do, we require a certain set of tools that allow us to do our work, to do our work well. Saints Placid and Maurus had their tools, doctors and nurses, teachers and students, scientists and engineers. And so there are tools for each job, tools that make the work “work.” Some tools allow the carpenter to do rough work that is sturdy but inelegant. Other tools enable that same carpenter to add texture and form to the plain beginning, transforming the unadorned and simple into the exquisite and priceless. So often, the difference is in the tools.
None of us would be terribly pleased if we went to cook dinner and all the pans were missing. We wouldn’t typically set out to bake a complicated dessert without the recipe. We wouldn’t even try to make a bundt cake with a cookie sheet. We wouldn’t try to eat spaghetti with sauce if it weren’t served with at least a fork. Without tools, the task at hand is impossible.
It isn’t simply the absence or presence of tools that makes the difference either. Would you like to sign your name to a document with a can of spray paint? How about clipping your nails with a pair of garden sheers? Would you change a tire with a nail file? Or tune a piano with a pitchfork? Would you comb your hair with a refrigerator or write on a chalkboard with a candy bar? Now, we do our work with the tools that assist us, tools intended for particular purposes, for particular ends.
Saint Benedict gives us tools for good works and steps toward humility. He instructs us to use the tools of the monastery with the respect we would have for the vessels of the altar. And even the qualities of the abbot or prioress could easily be seen as tools for a job well done. Again, each tool is given from the wisdom of the Master for a particular task to a daughter or son listening with the ear of the heart.
And so what are the tools that allow us to ply the spiritual trade? What are those tools that enable us to continue in the road of apprenticeship? Well, these tools consist in Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control. These tools also include Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Piety, Fortitude, and Fear of the Lord. The tools of the spiritual trade are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit along with the mission of the Church to evangelize the world. In confirmation, we are given the sophisticated tools that allow us to better carry out that work. And obviously, in Eucharist, we are nourished for the fine work given us in baptism and confirmation.
These tools fit nicely, tucked into the tool belt we were given in baptism. Their use guarantees their handiness. And our using them makes us better knowing their limitations and their purposes. We have to become familiar with those tools in order that we know right where to find them when we need to, we know just how they’ll work in this situation or that, we know just how much to use this one or that, we know how to wield the tool for the perfect effect. These tools of the spiritual life are given to us freely from a God whose nature is to give. These tools are given to us so that the world can be more elegant, more harmonious, more beautiful.
Some use the tools to a better end than we do. Others look to us for example. But the tools are God’s Pentecost gifts to a people chosen for work, commissioned for the work of proclamation, of feeding, of giving drink and shelter, of visiting, of remembering the dignity of those loved by Christ. May the tools help in the work of building the kingdom of God. And may our work with them become better and better a living example of a labor of love.