"You have some new messages"

After his twelve years of service to the General Fraternity, Marc has gone back to Lille where he lived before that. He is in fraternity with a group of four young brothers who are studying theology. Last November, Marc found a job. Here he describes his first impressions and his first encounters. What does one say when God is silent? Invisible but present, he sends us message after message.

I didn't quite hug the manager – a lingering social instinct no doubt – when he handed me my contract and my work clothes, but I was so happy! It was a wonderful present, especially as he didn't ask any questions. He was not interested in what I had done before, or why I'd left my last job; it was enough for him that I was available at once, and that I'd already worked as a cleaner. The Wazemmes market,: in LilleThe Wazemmes market,: in Lille
So I now work for some contract cleaners, who have sent me off to sweep a big supermarket. And as luck would have it, it is less than ten minutes walk from the house. The number of hours I work has slowly crept up, and now I do a bit more than half time, on top of which I do extra hours when colleagues are away. We start early in the morning before the customers arrive, six days a week, and once a week I also work a few hours in the evening, before closing time. I am part of a three-man maintenance team, but at the same time, in the early morning, there is also an army of different employees stacking the shelves. The working atmosphere is pleasant; I soon felt welcomed, and I am now "part of the scenery".
I am impressed with the patience of my boss and the trouble he takes to teach me the tricks of the trade and ways of working which are not so hard on my back, given that he must suffer from my slowness and perfectionism in a job where the main thing is to work quickly. I enjoy all the little things that make life pleasant: remembering someone’s first name, sharing a few words or a joke or greeting a newcomer.
I have very little contact with the customers, and when I do our encounters are infinitesimal, but I do find they make sense, like those little messages I find in my pigeonhole at the reception desk. Here are some examples:
- One day I was picking up litter in the car park, and a woman came up to me and said: "Good luck. My son does the same job. You’re a brave man – it needs courage to so this job in all weathers." As a mother, she might have dreamed that her son would do a more prestigious job, but her mother's heart still gives him all her respect. It is good of her to extend that respect to his 'colleagues'.
Marc, at workMarc, at work- Seeing me lift the cover of an enormous bin, a little boy ran up to me: "Wow! How did you manage to do that?" Well done, lad; it takes a child to see something impressive in a very ordinary chore.
- "Saying your prayers?" asked a woman, laughing, seeing me kneeling on the ground while cleaning the bottom of a shelf. Was she reminding me, or telling me that I should?
Near the entrance to the shop there are often street people hanging about; some of them sleep there, in all weathers. One of them is very well known; everyone calls him Jesus (supposedly he looks like him with his beautiful sad pale eyes and his beard). We now know each other – I call him by his first name, and we always exchange a few words when I go past him. One evening, as I was leaving him, he called me back: "Hey; thanks for treating me like a human being!" Truly, it was Jesus talking!
What is the point of my doing this? Some friends have already told me, "With your experience, you could do something more useful", and indeed I myself need to rediscover the meaning of work and "ordinary life" after my years of duty [with the General Fraternity]. First, I should like to say that I enjoy this job, and that I feel I am in the right place. And recently, I have been guided by two thoughts which I picked up from various homilies:
At Cana, the master of the banquet didn’t know where the good wine came from, "though the servants who had drawn the water knew" (John 2:9). I am on the 'inside' of the miracle, where God needs my assistance and sense of wonder.
"The Lord shall never disdain the plea of the orphan or the sorrow of the widow. Do not the tears of the widow flow down the cheek?" (Sirach 35: 14-15). Whose cheek? That of the widow or that of the Lord? Or of he or she who might be close to and share the cares of both the widow and the Lord?
Finally, two brief reflections.
There have recently been some posters on the walls of our district, which are always quickly covered by advertising. "People first!" it says, in big yellow letters on a red background. I must admit that I was pleased to see them on various street corners. I know that this is the slogan of a political party, but I must say that it means more to me than the 'liturgical' reminders in the supermarket: "Tomorrow is Epiphany: buy one galette (a type of cake traditionally eaten in France on the Feast of the Epiphany /Twelfth Night) get one free!" "People first" – what's wrong with that? No-one has been more human than God since the arrival of a certain Jesus of Nazareth, and no-one has been able to reveal God better than people since the human Adam and Eve were created in his image.
And for the last few days, as I leave for work shortly before 6 a.m., I hear a blackbird singing, present but unseen.
Life is full of so many gifts.

The fraternity of students in LilleThe fraternity of students in Lille