October 23, 2018

Everyday Dirt

One of my favorite weeks of the year right now is the residency week for a spiritual direction program I am in. This program requires me to travel each June to the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, North Carolina. The 2018 week was a little different for me as it was scheduled a month before our oldest daughter was going to be married. It was a busy time in the lives of all my family. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that such a social occasion would be expensive. However, I didn’t realize this expense would also entail several expenditures in my own home.

For the grand occasion of a wedding, my wife decided to have all our carpets at home cleaned. It just so happened that this cleaning took place while I was in my residency week. In one of my daily calls that week, my wife mentioned how dirty the rugs were as she watched the process. I laughed at knowing that my wife requires the family to not wear shoes in the house to help keep the floors clean. So, I told my wife obviously the dirt was coming from her bare feet, as she doesn’t wear shoes around home in the summer. “No,” she said. “It’s from your dogs.” Now I knew that my pack made its contribution, but I told her they cannot be the only source of dirt in the house. I told her that she was dealing with “everyday dirt.”

Being in a residency week at a retreat center naturally makes one reflective. The comment “everyday dirt” stuck with me throughout that day. I thought about not only the dirt I track into the house but also the dirt I track into my life. My definition of “original sin” is the tangible effects of just existing in a society that says “no” to God. It is the sin of indifference that we develop just going through the motions of our lives. It is the dirt of missed opportunities to bring justice into others’ lives that we don’t even notice in our own journey. I reflected on how my spiritual life is tainted by this everyday dirt.

I began to look around and didn’t feel clean. It became apparent to me that so much of the stress in my life is simply this everyday dirt. It is the worrying about a future that I cannot control. It is the dirt from striving for more financial security when I’ve already exceeded the levels that most of the world even hopes to achieve. It is the dirt in realizing that feeling pretty good about my own journey is fruitless if I don’t recognize and use my blessings to help others on theirs.

People get too caught up on the misrepresentation of Catholic Social Teaching. CST doesn’t advocate for any particular economic system but advocates for those left out of these systems. When I get too caught up in my own stresses that I build up walls of indifference, it becomes all too easy to forget those on the other side of these walls. Not to be political, but isn’t that the biggest danger of Trump’s wall?

I realized I needed to address my everyday dirt right away. St. Francis Springs Prayer Center is a Catholic retreat house run by a couple of Franciscan priests. Who better for reconciliation than those dedicated to Franciscan spirituality? It was pretty easy to see how I needed to clean the everyday dirt I had accumulated in my life. I went straight to Fr. Louis. “Yes, of course. I’d love to hear your confession,” he told me. He was busy at the moment so I made an appointment with him for later in the day. Just the notion that I was going to address my everyday dirt seemed to “lighten my load” that morning.

I met with Fr. Louis and told him of my everyday dirt during our sacrament of reconciliation. It was awesome. You see, like with most sin, we have to first recognize the everyday dirt in our lives. That’s actually the easy part. The challenge is in admitting how much our everyday dirt masks our living in the Gospel. God knows our everyday dirt and still loves us. He wants us to free ourselves from its control so that we can live the joy in creation that He intended us to not only have, but to be.

Too many people see the confessional as a “penalty box.” Reconciliation does not focus on the sin in our lives. The goal is for us to recognize such sin and to repent from it. Repentance simply means to go in a new direction. We recognize how our everyday dirt gets between us and God. God looks to restore His relationship with us but we need to meet Him in this. We have to recognize how we have moved away from this relationship, apologize, and commit to penance. It is never easy to speak out loud of our failures. Yet, until we do, we hardly take ownership of them. Sin is like bugs under a rock when we pick up the rock and let the light in the bugs scatter. Sin, like bugs, thrives in darkness. It is only in striving to live in this light that we can Scotch Guard ourselves from everyday dirt.

The reality is that we know that our carpets will get dirty again. It is not a clean society that we have to go live in. Very few of us get through the week without getting a little dirt on ourselves. That’s why we bring our lives to the table each Sunday. God meets us where we are at, not where we—or anyone else—thinks we should be. We need to pray and reflect on this. Relationships can only be repaired by talking to each other. Our relationship with God can only grow in an honest assessment of our lives and spirituality. Finding freedom in our lives is spending less time ignoring our everyday dirt and more time admitting that we need to clean it up.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster

REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014 and is assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois. Deacon Greg holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and an M.A. in Bioethics and Health Policy from Loyola University of Chicago. Deacon Greg and his wife have been married more than twenty-five years and are blessed with three beautiful daughters and two pretty cool terriers.

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Written by Deacon Gregory Webster