True devotion consists in leading a practical Christian life; in other words, to take the principles of Christianity into the counting rooms, and into the workshops, and be guided by them. It is said of an upright man who was a builder that he put his conscience into every stone he laid. True devotion consists in turning all to God that comes whether we work with our minds or hands.
True piety is not foreign to the common duties of our daily life, it consists in doing these things with an eye to God. Some imagine that devotion, piety, or religious life must necessarily be different from the ordinary duties of life and therefore in seeking what is uncommon, neglect these things to the detriment of their own souls, as well as those around them and incur the displeasure of God. This is evident when people have deluded themselves with the idea that they are pious and devout, and oftentimes it happens that they fall into serious sin.
Why do people seek to please God or think they are pleasing God by behavior or acts of devotion which are not required of us, while at the same time, neglecting those things that God has called us to do, the duties of our state in life, as if these things were not important. Instead of attending to the religious instruction of their children, or controlling their temper, or getting meals out on time, or doing their housework, you find people spending time with their private devotions while they neglect the important duties of their home. Those are the leaves not the trunk of the tree.
During Father Hecker’s lifetime devotionalism became extremely popular in the American Church; prayer cards, novenas, the recitation of the rosary, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Lourdes water and localized devotions to particular patronal saints, whether the patron of a trade one practiced or the patron of their family’s village back in the old country. Inexpensive printing made much of this possible. Father Hecker noted a tendency among American Catholics to identify devotionalism with spirituality.
In turn, the ordinary duties of daily life were not considered to be holy acts but rather the challenges and the obligations of daily living that we often had to get through in order to get on with our lives. Servant of God, Isaac Hecker challenges this tendency. It is precisely in the obligations of daily life where we develop our spirituality; that we strive to do well, to witness to the values that we believe in, to take care of those in our charge, to nurture and to mentor. God’s expectations are found in our ordinary work, whether it was the work of our minds or the work of our hands. It is in the needs of others that often surface in our work, where God expects us to respond and to make the world a better place. I think of the college professor who once said, “During my career, my life’s work was constantly interrupted and now I realize that all those interruptions were my life’s work.”