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Monday, February 14, 2011

Kitchen Floor Catechism

One thing I love about being Catholic, is that normal everyday stuff - say, for instance, menial household tasks and chores - can be contemplated as allegories for the spiritual life.

Take washing the kitchen floor, which is one of the chores I tackled this past Saturday. It was long overdue.

Regular sweeping and wiping up the occasional spill suffices for a time - but sooner or later, the unavoidable realization sets in, and Deep Cleaning is what's called for. Way beyond the plain ol' mop and pail. This was buckets of hot water + cleaner, elbow grease, hands and knees time.

Being Catholic - to really get everything out of our faith as God intends for us -requires work and effort. We're called to be holy, and that call counters the desires of our fallen nature. It's foolish to think holiness comes easily or naturally. I recall Fr. Corapi saying on numerous occasions: We can't expect a supernatural end by simply using natural means. It just ain't possible.

Which is why Christ gave us the sacraments - to give us the graces we need to become holy. But applying that grace to our lives - that's up to us. Jesus doesn't force His grace on us - we have to accept it. And once we accept it, we have to apply it. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and that includes hard work and perseverance.

Which comes up in the realms of sin and examining our consciences. Which is what I thought of while scrubbing away some of those little particles of food that somehow don't get swept up because they were behind a table leg or under the dishwasher door and became organically fused to the tiles, nearly requiring a chisel to remove....don't tell me you've never had to deal with something like that!


We can't just glide over stuff, like a happy smiling woman pushing a Swiffer WetJet across a linoleum floor, and expect miraculous results. Things may look clean and pretty, but upon closer inspection, we might find that the same ol' gunk is still there, tarnishing an otherwise clean surface.

I can sweep up the noticeable dirt and wipe away the obvious stains, and for a time - sometimes a very short time - things look okay. But unless I really work at the stubborn spots of grime; unless I get into the corners and work away at the build-up that's accumulated there - then I won't ever really make any progress. It takes perseverance to overcome bad habits, and brutal self-honesty to tackle the problems that perhaps no one else notices because we've done a good job of concealing them, or we developed blind spots to those things that keep us from realizing our full potential as holy people.

Think of it this way - I can clean the obvious dirty spots, and a guest might say "Your floor looks nice", because they aren't getting down on all fours to look in the corners, or inspect under the buffet, or slide the rug over to see if the floor's clean there too. In other words, we can fool others into thinking we're righteous because of what we allow them to see. But God knows - He knows if I didn't get under the buffet or move the rug - we can't hide stuff from Him. And He doesn't want us to hide stuff from ourselves either - He doesn't want us to be in denial, because that keeps us from being holy and free.

Being Catholic means getting down on our hands and knees - being humble - and working hard, really hard, on removing those things that stand as stumbling blocks and obstacles between us and holiness. The sacraments - notably Holy Eucharist and Penance -removes the sin, but we have to cooperate with the graces we receive. We still have to work and fight - against temptation, bad habits, sinful behaviors - because we still live in a fallen world. God removes the sin, but the effects of sin constantly assail us.

Many Christians I know - including Catholics - have the misguided notion that belief in Christ is all that's needed to be a good Christian. Christ did the work for us by dying on the cross, they say. And that's true...but it's not the whole truth. Christ's dying on the cross is also an example for us - that we have to die to ourselves, every day. Dying to ourselves includes struggling against temptations - and not just overtly sinful ones, either, but the mildly selfish ones too - and eliminating those habits that impede our love for God and neighbor.

It's hard and dirty work, because love is a hard and dirty business. Christ's crucifixion, the ultimate expression of love, was not butterflies and cotton candy. It was messy, violent, strenuous and bloody. Does it make sense, then, that our love for Christ should be neat, passive, tidy and safe? I don't think so. Should our love for neighbor be easy and effortless? It's not for me in my life, sad to say. Conversion is a daily process where we allow our souls to be scrubbed clean of all that's impure - which can be mighty painful indeed. The more we resist, or the longer we wait to change our habits and sinful ways, the more painful it becomes. Which is why frequent confession is a necessity - not only do we get graces to resist sin and temptation, we also receive enlightenment into other areas of our lives that serve as impediments to holiness.

At the same time, we become filled with a sense of peace, that transcends all else. When we're on the narrow path, working hard and doing our best, God extends His hand with the consolation of grace - that even though our lives are filled with varying degrees of pain and suffering, we are headed towards eternal life with Him, where we will be free of such things.

I don't know if any of this makes sense, but these were the things I thought about Saturday while washing the floor. All I know is, if washing the kitchen floor was an opportunity to reflect on how I need to constantly give my life to God, just imagine what cleaning the bathroom could do for my spiritual growth!