Cleanliness and household chores are next to godliness
Domestic labour has become so unfashionable that when it makes a rare appearance in public discussion, as it did in the Vatican last week, it seems exotic
This two-tier system at least demonstrated a desire that domestic tasks, no matter how menial, should not be farmed out to the laity but remain part of monastic life.
Unfortunately, since the time of St Francis domestic labour and even ordinary cooking have fallen into disrepute. The western world now consists of people who are too important to wash their own clothes, and the people they hire to do the menial work for them.
This group of important people includes those who spend good thinking time genuinely trying to come up with ways to make the world a better place: how to make our society more equal; how to address the gap between rich and poor; how to improve our education and health systems and help the disadvantaged; and so on. In other words, good people.
But the questions that must be put to them are: When did they last make anyone a sandwich? When are they going to vacuum-clean the stairs? Who cleans their toilets? Because equality is an idea; housework is a reality. And, although no one says so these days, the two are inextricably linked.
This is why it is wise for priests such as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and the new pope, and St Francis of Assisi in his day, to say no to servants and to stay with the grounding reality of making their own dinners.
There was a reason why spiritual communities were founded on hard work and prayer.
There’s nothing like washing the kitchen floor, or discovering for the hundredth time that you’ve run out of milk, to put a stop to your gallop and make you a little less fascinated with yourself.
Domestic labour has become so unfashionable that when it makes a rare appearance in public discussion, as it did in the Vatican last week, it seems positively exotic. And yet the floors of the world are still washed, the dinners are still cooked, the toilets are still cleaned. We are now in a sort of denial about domestic labour, the sort of denial that used to surround sex. It takes the election of a pope, for goodness sake, before you can get housework talked about on prime time. Or, indeed, on Prime Time .