For Work, More Than for Worship

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Sacraments, Spirituality

After graduate school and before becoming a Jesuit, I lived and volunteered for one year in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Living in community with other volunteers, we shared responsibilities, including cooking. Recent college grads are generally not known for their cooking, and we were no exception.

In the neighborhood, there was no well-lit grocery store that used mirrors and water sprays to make fruit and vegetables appear both abundant and fresh. There were lentils mixed with small stones that had to be hand-picked. Propped up against the wall were heads of plantains. With help from our neighbors, we grew into our learning how to prepare and cook food.

During that year, plantains became the potato equivalent in our diet. They were cheap, in abundance, and just as satisfying to eat. Whether fried once or twice, chopped or smashed, sweet or salty, the plantain was a lifesaver, at least for me.

Like potatoes, plantains have to be peeled, but unlike potatoes, they are sure to leave a certain sticky sap on the peeler’s hands. It could take days to go away, a three-dimensional stain of sorts.  Our neighbors would come to help us with this, too. A little bit of oil on the peeler’s hands would prevent the sticking and staining, with this little bit of preparation saving future frustration.

In his Holy Thursday homily just four years ago, Pope Francis mentioned how we are anointed in order to anoint. Rather than to smell of expensive perfume, the anointing actually connects us with the faith and the care of the community. The anointing allows for the touching of others’ wounds, sins, and anxieties, as well as their faith, hopes, fidelity, and unconditional generosity.

The function of the anointing is to prepare for future work. It is not a perfume to distinguish. The idea is something more akin to being “Built Ford Tough” than being doused in the latest fragrance from Tom Ford. More like a weightlifter who puts chalk on his hands before the next, more difficult set than a Lebron James-like spectacle before tip-off. The idea is that it aids, perhaps even enables, the actual work, not just the worship.

At least for me, I know that I would rather enjoy a meal with someone than receive a boxed lunch. The former is what we do on Sundays. The latter may well be our midday meal Monday through Friday. It is only those lunches that linger that rejuvenate and leave me both physically and emotionally full, reanimated, and ready to get back to work. Perhaps that is precisely what we do at ordination, a longer Mass, to be sure, but one not to harp on a particular person’s supposed holiness but to sharpen his future ministry.


Patrick Hyland, SJ   /   All posts by Patrick