I was a fairly ordinary child, in that I didn't particularly enjoy doing chores. My family had a slogan for when one of us kids dared whine or complain. "What is the duty of the moment?" my parents would ask, and give a meaningful look. (Us older kids also happily applied it to the younger children.)
"The duty of the moment" was a concept we borrowed from Catherine Doherty, who believed that God's will is to be found in whatever task or obligation is presented to you at that moment, no matter how lowly:
"The duty of the moment is what you should be doing at any given time, in whatever place God has put you. You may not have Christ in a homeless person at your door, but you may have a little child. If you have a child, your duty of the moment may be to change a dirty diaper. So you do it. But you don't just change that diaper, you change it to the best of your ability, with great love for both God and that child.... There are all kinds of good Catholic things you can do, but whatever they are, you have to realize that there is always the duty of the moment to be done. And it must be done, because the duty of the moment is the duty of God."
— Catherine Doherty, The Duty of the Moment chapter 12
As a kid, living that out was simple enough (if unpleasant), for all I needed to do was obey my parents or look around at the needs of our large household. Mostly it involved a lot of dishes and laundry. Like, a lot.
I have subconsciously carried that with me into adulthood, and have often found myself asking, "What is the duty of the moment?" when tempted to distraction. Turns out that being an adult involves a lot of dishes and laundry too.
As I began painting the commission of Catherine Doherty, I don't think it was a coincidence that I found myself thrust back into the busiest time of year for my business, grappling with a rising tide of projects and obligations and deadlines. The "duty of the moment", which has nested within the bedrock of my spirituality for as long as I can remember, rose back to the surface as I began to journey again with this holy woman, and has become nothing short of a lifeline. "I only need to do the duty of the moment," I have written in my journal every day for months now.
Of course, it is when I have considerable demands on my time and attention that I struggle most with procrastination and laziness. Stress makes me irritable and short-tempered. Holiness never seems so far away as when I am busy and overwhelmed... I'm sure many of you can relate. The thing that keeps bringing me back again and again (despite the innumerable times I've failed the last few months) has been the simple reminder that right now, in this very moment, God asks only that I do the duty of the moment... Even if that is turning to my daughter and, with wholehearted attention, nibbling the pretend cake she is offering me. (Fellow parents, you get it.)
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few."
— Matthew 7:13-14
When I read that familiar verse this morning, I couldn't help but wonder if this was what Jesus was referring to. How wide is that gate but the breadth of a single moment? We don't need to envision grand schemes of far-reaching evangelical influence (although that is a noble thing to hope for). Rather, in humility and prayerful silence, I must listen for the voice of God and what he is asking of me right now. I only have this moment.
In some ways, this is not unlike the message of the ever-controversial Jordan Peterson, who has captured the minds of so many young people. Sure, we can point out the corruption in our culture and political systems and lament the inherent injustice of any given heirarchy—but we cannot revolutionize the world if we don't first accept our own personal responsibility and clean our dang rooms. I can look around me right now and see the things that are actually within my power to change. I can work at those things, one at a time, moment by moment. And not begrudgingly, as though cooking a meal for an ungrateful toddler was beneath my calling, but with love and joy, recognizing Christ in my family and in every other soul I encounter. (After all, what greater honour can there be than to feed and clothe and comfort Christ, though he be hidden in the guise of a petulant three-year-old?) Perhaps, as I am faithful in the little things, God will entrust me with a larger mission.
I am reminded that Joan of Arc didn't conquer France in a single battle. Francis Xavier baptised one person at a time. Therese of Lisieux, now a Doctor of the Church, sometimes left her writings mid-sentence at the tolling of the bell. The saints that we look up to, whose lives seem so far beyond what we could ever hope to be, were crafted one moment of obedience at a time.
How wonderfully simple is that? I need not be afraid of what I am called to be, nor discouraged at the plainness of my ordinary life, for if I am doing what God wants me to do, there is literally nothing better I could be doing!
What if every Christian embraced with enthusiasm the unglamorous demands of their life, tending to each task with love? How would our world change if an army of hidden saints went about quietly transforming their lives to reflect God's love? What marvellous things would we see built over time?
And the thing is, I already know some of those hidden saints—husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, priests, and single persons who joyfully embrace their vocation and live it out to the best of their ability. How they inspire me!
If you are reading this and feel that you could never be holy, if you are tired and discouraged and overwhelmed, know that you are not alone. The good news is that Jesus offers his inexhaustible mercy to people just like you and me. In fact, you are the perfect candidate for the "Hidden Saints Initiative". I just made that up; it's nothing formal. But I invite every person reading to make a habit of finding that quiet place in your heart where God can speak. Go there first thing in the morning and before you fall asleep. Go there when you're wondering what to do next. Go there when you've messed up, when you've been wasting time, when you feel like you're drowning. Listen, and let God call you back to himself. Listen, and do the duty of the moment.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak to her heart
About this painting
When this commission was requested, I felt no hesitation! Although she is not yet canonized, to us Canadians, Catherine Doherty feels like "our saint". I know so many people who have been impacted by her writings and inspired by her life. In fact, as I write this, my brother is currently living out at Madonna House where her apostolate continues on to this day.
If you are not familiar with Catherine, I highly recommend reading her autobiography, Fragments of My Life, which I read while I was painting this image. Her story is utterly fascinating!
Watch the time-lapse video for "Catherine Doherty"
PLUS! How to paint a misty forest
COMING SOON! Are you interested in learning how to paint a misty forest, as seen in the background of Catherine Doherty? I have a short and easy tutorial video coming out August 9, 2019.
Available NOW to patrons!