When I was growing up, CBS Sunday Morning was just as much a part of, well, Sunday Morning, as was attending Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s. Our routine consisted of Daddy frying bacon and eggs, mama nursing the most recent baby sibling, and CBS Sunday Morning on in the background. I’ve always loved the program, with its focus on art and entertainment, but also for its features on quirky people, places, occupations, and cultural traditions. The producers and reporters tell the stories well, and most of them are as uplifting as they are fascinating.
As a grown up, my own family rarely has the TV on when Sunday morning rolls around. We typically go to an early Mass followed by CCE, so the program is long over by the time we make it home. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve watched it in the past five years. Sadly, it’s faded from my Sundays. This morning, though, we slept a little late and decided to go to a later Mass today. Since I’m out of the habit of watching, it was 8:45am by the time I remembered it was airing. For fun and nostalgia, I flipped on the tube to watch the last 15 minutes. I was not disappointed.
The story I caught was about a fellow who lives in Maine named Everard Hall. He’s a gravedigger, and has been for the past several decades. One of 12 kids, he left school after 8th grade to help support his family by becoming a stonemason’s apprentice. When the local undertaker’s regular gravedigger got sick, he asked Everard to take his place. He’s been digging graves ever since.
Hall, who meticulously measures and carefully moves the earth for each resting place, explains that he believes “‘I was put on Earth to be a gravedigger…digging graves, it’s a God-given talent. Everybody has an occupation that they do perfect. Mine is grave digging.’” He is insistent that using his shovel and a pickaxe is the only way to get the job done correctly. His silent, steady work is a beacon of hope to the families he has served while preparing the graves of over 2500 people, including family and friends. At 72, he has no plans to retire and has already decided he wants to dig his own grave. Literally.
Mr. Hall’s example really struck me as one of beautiful surrender to God’s plans of working through him. As Catholics, we believe strongly in the idea of vocation being a calling from God to do His work in service to others by using the talents He’s given us. St. Paul says that “for as in one body, we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another…since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them:…if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:4-6, 8.) He teaches, and the Church affirms, that each of us, with our unique gifts and talents, work together synergistically for the betterment of the whole Body of Christ. Paragraph 1937 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) reads: “These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular ‘talents’ share the benefits with those who need them.” Mr. Hall certainly appears to be sharing the benefit of his unique gift with others, and in doing so is serving God and humanity well.
In addition, Mr. Hall gives himself in the spirit of service by devoting his life’s work to fulfilling the Corporal Work of Mercy to bury the dead. This particular Work of Mercy is often overlooked in our society, which is afraid of death and avoids suffering at all costs. Specifically, Mr. Hall honors their humanity by giving them a lovingly constructed grave, and he memorializes them in a scrapbook he keeps of their obituaries and photos.
In her book Walking With Purpose, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer describes us as a glove, and the Holy Spirit as the hand inside the glove. We were made for Him to fill us, move inside of us, and to do His work in the world. The feature about Everard Hall gives me a lot to ponder in my own life, in terms of my vocation and how I’m teaching my children to nurture their talents and live the Works of Mercy in their daily lives. Here are some questions to consider if you, too, want to examine this a bit more closely. If you are unsure of the answers, take this to prayer and ask the Holy Spirit help you discern your gifts and how best He wants you to use them.
- What talents or spiritual gifts has God given me? Romans 12 lists several (prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, acts of mercy) but of course there are more.
- How can I incorporate this talent or gift into my daily vocation as a wife, mom, student, friend, or family member?
- St. Josemaria Escriva once said, “Persevere in the exact fulfillment of the obligations of the moment. That work – humble, monotonous, small – is prayer expressed in action that prepares you to receive the grace of the other work – great and wide and deep – of which you dream.” The Way, 825. How can I ensure that I am working well, to the best of my ability?
- How can I identify these gifts in my child(ren)? What activities can I direct them towards that help them develop these talents well, and with a spirit of humility and service?
- How are we, as a family, living the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy on a daily basis? As the Year of Mercy comes to a close, how can we establish habits that ensure we are instruments of mercy to our family, friends, neighbors, and community? Here’s a pinboard to help you get started (not mine – credit to Martianne at Training Happy Hearts.)
I’d love to hear how you or someone you know has used their God-given, unique talents in service of others – so be sure to share in the comment section!