FAITH AT HOME | The sacred act of dishwashing

I hate dishwashing.

Laundry, I love: transforming jumbled heaps of tumbled clothes into neat, folded piles. Sweeping is satisfying. Wiping counters, even scrubbing sinks, brings simple pleasure.

But I cringe at crusty pots and pans. Any night of the week, I'd trade for any other chore. Yet life in a household requires rolling up sleeves and doing whatever dirty work needs to be done.

Even in the house of the Church. Turns out the saints agree.

"Regard all utensils of the monastery and its whole property as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar," the Rule of St. Benedict reads.

I watch the priest at Mass as he wipes the chalices and ciboria, the vessels used for Communion. I've heard grumbles from some in the pews about "waiting for the dishes to be done," but I love this quiet moment we spend watching the washing up.

This act reminds me that God is found in the smallest moments of care. Our habits of devotion depend on details: the daily prayers and gestures that deepen in meaning as we repeat them over time.

And honestly? I love the reminder that caring for the vessels of the altar is an act of reverence. It nudges me to see cleaning up after family meals as an echo of the Eucharist.

God comes to us in food and drink — and we're transformed. If we're a eucharistic people, it means we care about the crumbs, the last drops and the dishwashing, too.

"God walks among the pots and pans," St. Teresa of Avila said.

Saints help us learn the patient, plodding secrets of the spiritual life: That small acts hold great love, that no task is too ordinary for God, that faithfulness is the repetition of love.

They teach me to quiet my grumbling about dishes, too.

Over our kitchen sink I hung a print of St. Therese of Lisieux doing the dishes, lifting a plate to heaven as the steam rises like incense. I look to her while loading the dishwasher and muttering to myself about cereal-crusted breakfast bowls.

In this least-loved task of my day, shall I follow her lead and do small things out of love?

I need practice. Conversion takes patience. But three meals a day come around without fail, so there is always more to wash. Always another chance to see our daily work and daily bread with Christ-like eyes.

"Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next," St. Teresa of Kolkata said.

My 3-year old loves to wash dishes. He wields the sink sprayer like a fireman's hose. He digs out clean cups from the cupboards so he has more to dunk in the soapy bath.

When I watch him play, I remember that beauty and boredom are both in the eye of the beholder. What I see as drudgery, he sees as delight.

If I borrow just a teaspoon of his joy, my perspective shifts. I see the gift of hot water running through a faucet. The privilege of plates heaped with food. The abundance of a house full of family to feed.

Maybe all it takes to see the holiness of our work is fresh eyes. The wisdom of saints, a preschooler's joy, the pastor's faithful service. All of them teaching what I keep trying to learn: that the humblest, dirtiest acts of our days are the most sacred.

Fanucci is a mother, writer and director of a project on vocation at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, Minn. She is the author of several books, including "Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting," and blogs at www.motheringspirit.com

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