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Do You Ever Feel Like Your Work Is Never Done? (Feast of the Holy Family)

Do you ever feel like your work is never done? If so, what two words from the gospel might serve you well in the new year?

  • Sometimes it was a sigh I heard escape from my mom’s lips as she brought yet another load of laundry up the steps or peeled and dropped another potato into the pot of water for that night’s supper. Raising 6 kids, she knew there was more to come – more laundry, more dinners, more everything.
  • It was the quiet shrug of my dad’s flannel shirt as he closed the books from the nights work. He was still off by a few pennies on the month’s balance sheet from the family business. But his eyes could no longer concentrate on the ledger lines of work, and he knew the books would be there tomorrow- waiting to be balanced yet again.
  • I suspect it is among every parent’s thoughts as they tuck their kids into bed and pause at the door – is my work really done here? Is it ever done, here on this side of the veil called eternity?

Does you ever feel like you have completed your ‘to do list’ for your life? If so, then congratulations on being dead. Because, I think that is the ONLY way we really have completed everything… Isn’t that one of the realities of fallen humankind? That there is always more to do, more to labor at, more to accomplish – no matter what our age in life. And the treadmill of more and more activities continues to turn until we are weary and tired and just plain beat. I have known days like that.

Yet here is what I also know. Deeper than that experience of incompleteness is a dream in the heart of our God for every human being, every member of the human family. We are meant to labor, but not to make that labor the sum of our existence. There is a way to walk through the harried pace of our days and not be overwhelmed. Today’s gospel presents a model of how to do that in the person of Simeon. And we hear the two words (in Latin) that I would encourage all of you to etch upon your hearts and souls as the way forward.

Nunc Dimittis. Now, Lord, you dismiss your servant in peace.

Nunc Dimittis. These are not words of failure, sighed from the depth of someone who is exhausted from the never ending tasks of life. Rather, they are words of one who trusts that his life has always been a part of an unfolding plan, whose path he cannot see, and who end he is not sure of. So, what we don’t know about Simeon in this little story is HOW MANY DAYS/HOW MANY YEARS Simeon came to the temple before THAT day. Like my mom’s sigh over the endless loads of laundry, or dad’s shrug over the constantly needing to be balance books, Simeon knew the experience of coming again and again into the temple. “Is this the day I am done?” He did not know. BUT, that prayer – Nunc Dimittis – doesn’t just spring, ex nihilo, out of nothing from his heart and mouth. It becomes an expression of faith – one that he has said for all those days, all those visits, all those times of waiting and waiting: “I have done my part TODAY. I was where I needed to be today. I have done, to the best of my ability, what I was able to do today. Tomorrow will be its own day, with its own work.” And because he has prayed that day after day, at his life’s journey’s end, he can say – “Now Lord, now. I have done my part. The rest is up to you.”

It is no accident that this canticle is part of the Night Prayer of the church and of us priests and religious in our divine office. Each evening, we are to end our day with that prayer. Sometimes I can pray that with gratitude overflowing in my heart – because I indeed have seen God’s salvation. Other times, I pray it more than restlessly, because I know I have left things on the table. But, praying that gives me the freedom to let go of the day’s failures and lost moments and opportunities, and surrendering it into God’s hands.

That is exactly how Abram journeyed, as we heard in the selection from Hebrews – by faith. Not knowing where the journey would end, but living each day fully, each day trusting in God’s providence, each day being led. It is by faith that Abram was saved, we heard. So, too, for us. At the end of the day, it is not our works, but our trust in God that allows US the ability to say: Nunc Dimittis.

On this feast day of the Holy Family, on the cusp of a new calendar year, I invite you to take up the prayer of Simeon as your own. And whether it is the full one as prayed at Night Prayer, or just the first two words – let that the practice of praying those two words become for you the bedrock it was for Simeon – Nunc Dimittis. “Today, Lord, I have lived life as you called me to. Now you may let me rest in your peace…”

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