by Tom Kluger.
It was early Lent last year, and the weather was soggy and overcast. The combination of the two could hardly be more depressing. I was working away in the cheese house at St. Benedict’s Acres, the Madonna House farm that supplies most of the food for the community.
It was the late morning, and my thoughts had been flying out in all directions, or more accurately, shooting out and ricocheting off the walls and coming back at me. I was asking myself “What’s this all about anyway?” as in, “What am I doing here, in a cheese house, in the middle of rural Ontario?”
Not even my cup of coffee was giving me any solace.
In high school, a secular one, I had taken several vocational aptitude tests. I don’t remember the results of all of them—that was more than twenty years ago—but I’m absolutely sure none of them came back with the result: “You should become a cheese maker!”
I was in the process of making yogurt and renewing a cheese culture. To renew a cheese culture, you take freshly pasteurized milk and add a few tablespoons of the old culture to it. You place it in an incubator overnight and take it out the next morning.
A culture which contains a specific bacteria is used in cheese-making to acidify the milk or make it go sour—sour in a specific way.
This is not a complicated job, though care must be taken. If a bad culture is added to the milk when cheese is being made, it could mean up to a thousand pounds of milk wasted, the amount we use in making one batch of cheese.
Still, making yogurt and renewing a cheese culture are fairly simple and straightforward. So these jobs left my mind free to ponder life and to worry about what was going on in the world, especially in my own country of Canada.
Legislation to change the traditional definition of marriage had been introduced in Parliament, the highest legislative body in Canada. That and a host of other things were wrong with the world. How was it all to be fixed? Well, by God of course, but also by someone else very special whom I had in mind. Me!
Ah yes, if I had the power, I would be prime minister with a very large majority in Parliament. Then I would certainly make Canada a better place. Those who were working for the Culture of Death would have a serious foe to reckon with. No more judicial activism with Prime Minister Kluger in charge!
Those people would all learn pretty fast that they had picked a fight with the wrong man.
Then down from the lofty heights of power and back in the cheese house, I stared at the temperature of the pasteurizer. You pour milk into the pasteurizer and then close the lid. When the lid is closed, the agitator starts.
The agitator is a motor with a long shaft, at the end of which is what looks like a little propeller. The agitator keeps the milk constantly stirring so that it doesn’t stick too much to the pasteurizer while it is being heated by steam.
Though the milk was heating quickly, it was still not at the desired temperature, so I had to wait. I decided to take another stroll down the corridors of power.
This time I was Bishop Kluger. Once again I was socking it to the allies of the Culture of Death, ruminating about which Catholic politician I would give a piece of my mind to.
Of course, the desire to work towards making the world a better place is a fine Christian thing, but it is also true that the temptation to power often presents itself in the guise of this good thing. And the imagining of ourselves as people of power is sometimes also indicative of a deep-seated lack of trust in God’s providence.
The newly-elected Pope Benedict XVI would speak of this type of impatience in his homily during his installation Mass: “How often we wish that God would show himself stronger, that he would strike decisively, defeating evil and creating a better world…
We suffer on account of God’s patience. And yet, we need his patience… The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man.”
When I heard the pope say that, I realized deep in my heart that I am definitely among those who would destroy the world with their impatience.
Yet, God in his patience, his infinite patience, showed me during my mini-desolation in Lent that he was already redeeming the world using me. I did not have to be a prime minister or a bishop. I just had to be who I was at the present moment in the cheese house.
As Catherine used to constantly say to staff and guests alike: in the duty of the moment lies salvation.
The revelation came when I started thinking about what it would be like to be milk in the pasteurizer, the milk that was going to be used to renew the culture. When it was poured in the pasteurizer, and the lid was closed, the milk was in the dark. In that dark, it was agitated and then heated in the steam.
It was the perfect picture of me in Lent: in the dark, agitated, and steamed! God was giving me some penitential pasteurization so that he could use me to renew the Culture of Life.
Of course, if God wills that some day I become “a big cheese,” that’s up to him. In the meantime, I just have to stay put and do what I’m supposed to do. Amen.
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