Toil overcomes all things, toil in the sweat of the brow

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Kahama, Tanzania, May 9, 2018.

Toil overcomes all things, toil in the sweat of the brow. Labor vincit omnia, labor improbus. Today I received a very good and profound work by Theodore Haecker (1879-1945), about work on a farm (in Spanish: https://blogdeciamosayer.blogspot.com.ar). I really enjoyed it since it spoke about the importance of countrymen’s work and those who work the land, as cooperators in the creative work of God, bringing nature itself to greater perfection.

And I thought that it might be good for us, missionaries, to remember the great value of work, we the workers in God field, sowers of the Word, laborers in his vineyard. Of course, we are farmers in the figurative sense of the word, but nonetheless “laborers”. Christ has called us “laborers of his harvest”. And so, to read this Latin phrase: Toil overcomes all things, toil in the sweat of the brow; makes me think about the missionary work.

This author says that “the arduous toil (labor improbus) of man, is indispensable, essential, intermediate; it opens the way.”  How can we not apply this to missionaries?! Applying it on a supernatural plane, God gives us the elements: grace, salvation, the sacraments, the Blessed Virgin, the saints, etc… but He wills that our cooperation be necessary; He desires of the priests that we preach, that we administer the sacraments, that we spread devotion to the Mother of God, to the saints, etc…  With our “ingenuity”, we achieve a “harvest”, a wholesome, good, beautiful and perfect “produce”.  Our work comes to be “indispensable, essential, intermediate; it opens the way”. “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Rom. 10:14)

Just as the farmer working in his vineyard, breaks the ground, sweats and worries so that it will bear fruit… good fruit; and later rejoices with a joy that none can explain when he sees the color of his wine in the light of the sun as it passes through the clear wineglass. And perhaps what springs forth from him will be only an expression of joy and gladness, or only a smile, or a little chuckle that comes from deep within. I think that if there were two or three brothers who worked together, naturally there would be a brotherly hug, an expression of what cannot be said with words.

I believe that we missionaries have lived all this. Toil overcomes all things, toil in the sweat of the brow… obtains in souls a very flavorful fruit. Seeing the life of grace grow in souls, the birth of vocations, seeing good families, the devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the Eucharist grow stronger in souls, the devotion to the Sacred Heart, understanding what sin is… all this gives a joy that no one knows how to explain.

When we share this joy among missionaries, the joy resurges anew, the work done by brothers. We say nothing, but simply rejoice, even to the point of smiling and laughter. This soul is fruit of the grace of God, of the sacrifice of Christ, but also it is fruit of our toil, of our labor improbus, the toil in the sweat of the brow. Toiling with perspiration, (and not metaphorically), under the African sun.

For those of you who made it up to this point in the chronicle, I will tell you what I thought about all of this in light of the feast of Our Lady of Lujan, yesterday.  We saw a group of people who came to honor the Virgin, on a weekday, a “day like any other”. A day which was not a holiday for them, it is not on their calendars. It is an image and a devotion which the missionaries have brought here. Nonetheless, they were here, learning above all else that the Virgin is Our Mother. They showed their devotion by walking in procession with the image, under the bewildered gaze of others who were outside sweeping or cooking over the fire. We had a beautiful feast day of our Mother of Lujan, or as they say in Swahili: “Bikira Maria Mama wa Luhani”. After the Holy Mass, we had tea together with all the people who participated in this feast.

I thought about the great truth of the labor improbus, the toil in the sweat of the brow, when I remembered the historic event of yesterday, after the lunch and entertainment in the “St. Francis Xavier” Novitiate in Tanzania. We gathered with the sisters and postulants of the Servants of the Lord in order to share lunch and the festivities together.

We invited everyone afterward to the blessing of the land where we are to build the chapel for this house of formation. There we have only the cleared ground, no trees, the stones and marked-off boundaries where the foundations were to be dug. The “clear” land, without trees, is no little thing. It has been an arduous labor, with perspiration, done by the novices and formators themselves.

I could not help but be moved at the end, when I told them that we would place this, our first house of formation in Africa, under the protection and patronage of the Virgin of Lujan. We made a vow to the Virgin- that these young people who were present there would come to celebrate their first Mass on the altar of this church … sign of gratitude toward our “African ‘finca’ “.

We know that another arduous work lies ahead, not only a spiritual work in the formation of these candidates, but also a physical labor by the novices, brick by brick, block by block, helping the bricklayers, bringing sand and water, cooking, carrying the materials… brick by brick until it becomes a chapel; brick by brick, the formation of each day, until they become priests and missionaries.

A great task awaits us… but toil overcomes all things, toil in the sweat of the brow. More than anything else, we know we can rely on the help of God and the protection of the Virgin.

Steadfast in the breach!

Fr. Diego Cano, IVE