|St. Joseph the Carpenter, by Georges de la Tour|
On the civil calendar, Labor Day reminded us that we are all at work of some kind or other. Hence, here is a meditation on the role of work in both our material and spiritual lives. At first glance, most of us think of work as our jobs and/or daily home responsibilities and regular, committed volunteer work. These are probably the most significant aspects of work for each of us. As we know, a job is usually much more than a set of mechanical tasks we perform in order to earn a living and keep our homes in order. But, beyond this, what are the more extended direct and indirect fruits of our work? How does our work reflect our sharing in the burdens of society and in the redeeming work of our Savior? How does our labor contribute to our growth in personal holiness?
The Example of Pope Saint Gregory the Great
According to our liturgical calendar, the saint whose feast we celebrate on September 3 is an excellent model to us all, especially in terms of his great work which nurtured the survival and growth of the early Church at an important turning point in history. Saint Gregory the Great (Pope Gregory I) was someone who was most content living the contemplative life of a monk. Yet, he responded in great generosity to the call of the early Church to leave his quiet life and become Bishop of Rome. By leaving his preferred monastic life and accepting this challenge of public service, Saint Gregory’s sacrifice joined in the redemptive work of our Lord and Master, Jesus. Do we respond as generously to the call to serve? Do we even give ourselves ample opportunity to hear the call by making time for prayer, to better discern the Way, Truth, and Life to which we are specifically called?
There is great value also in examining the indirect fruits of our work. What is the role of work in my life these days? What are the fruits, both direct and indirect, of my labor? In the course of our work, we interact with others, thereby developing and affecting our many personal and community relationships. The Church’s tradition is replete with support and guidance in the effort to discern the true fruits of our labor.
Hearing & Answering the Call to Holiness
The universal call to holiness requires a life of balance to ensure a robust spiritual life. Maintaining this balance is a key element in Blessed James Alberione’s “Workers’ Prayer” found on pp. 246-247 of The Prayers of the Pauline Family:
Jesus, divine Laborer and Friend of workers....We present to you the needs of all who carry on intellectual, moral, or physical work.Decades later, the Catechism of the Catholic Church paralleled Father Alberione’s connections with the statement: “Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ” (n. 2427).
Grant us the wisdom, virtue and love which sustained you in your toil-filled days. Inspire us with thoughts of faith, peace, moderation, and thrift, so that together with our daily bread, we will always seek spiritual goods and heaven. Save us from those who deceitfully try to deprive us of the gift of faith and confidence in your providence.
…Inspire social laws which are in conformity with the Church’s teaching. May charity and justice reign together, through the sincere cooperation of all members of society.
A Final Meditation from Pope Saint John Paul II
Pope John Paul II emphasized the importance of work in helping both the individual and society, as a whole, to mature spiritually and in justice. He explains that work is an identifying “mark” of our humanity:
Through work, man must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very natures, by virtue of humanity itself. Man is made to be in the visible universe and image and likeness of God himself, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature. (Laborem exercens, “Blessing”).Jesus, Master, Way, Truth and Life: Enlighten our minds and hearts, and guide us so that our daily work may join in your own redemptive work.
Marie-Louise Handal has been a Pauline Cooperator for the past decade. She holds a Master’s Degree from St. Joseph's Seminary, an M.S. in the Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and is a candidate for the S.T.L. from the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton. She also holds a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from the New York Archdiocesan Center for Spiritual Development. Her professional work experience encompasses 20 years in international banking and finance, followed by a second career as a mathematics educator in Manhattan. Marie-Louise is a native New Yorker, born and raised in New York City.