Tag Archives: Work

The Joy and Dignity of Work

No man is born into the world whose work is not born with him.
– James Russell Lowell, poet

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.
– J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement address

Work is often seen as a miserable burden. It can be stressful, soul-destroying and, at worst, suicide-inducing. When I was admitted to court as a solicitor, the presiding judge spent half her welcome speech advising us not to become so consumed by work as to neglect simple things like walking the dog, breaks from work which can preserve mental health. However, the sad thing is that in the modern workplace, humans are often treated as machines and pressured to keep producing more and more. The thing is, machines too need breaks before they break down. Even God took a rest after His splendid work of creation! In Israel, the ultra-orthodox Jews are careful not to do even a smidgen of work on the Sabbath Day, for fear of placing themselves above God. They hire Gentiles to work the elevator buttons.

Work is in fact a gift from God, a loving invitation to participate in His ongoing work of creation and salvation. The word “salvation” comes from the Latin salus, meaning “health”. When work is performed well, it contributes to the health of the individual and of society. It gives us purpose and joy when we are able to create useful and beautiful things, establish order in the world around us, serve others, and provide for those who depend on us. As a child gains confidence and matures when entrusted with responsibility for housework, so do we mature as persons when granted opportunities for productive work, growing in likeness to God our Father and building His kingdom.

Yet, in today’s post-industrial society, work is rife with pitfalls. Some jobs are stressful because they now demand so much multi-tasking as to obscure the original point of the job – one thinks of teaching, where in some places teachers are now expected to perform as social workers and substitute parents, while taking on more administrative tasks as well. Others are disheartening because they involve a single repetitive, mundane task, as in factory work. A friend of mine who works in a carrot factory during summer breaks shared how he yearns for meaningful work which employs his intellectual gifts, not deadening tasks which make him feel like a mere cog in a machine.

Some people shy away from work, while others idolize work and its proceeds, seeing work or the acquisition of money as their sole purpose in life. As Australia has a welfare system, some people subsist on the dole, turning down jobs – this is borne out by a factory-owner I know, who often has people asking him for work, only to make excuses and disappear after a day or two, having fulfilled their quota of job applications. My boyfriend just started work picking strawberries at a farm, which wants to employ Australians, but is manned mainly by Asian workers because the Australians tend to vanish after a few weeks. At the other extreme, my carrot-picking friend related how a Taiwanese worker griped about having Sundays off, because he wanted to make more money to spend on gambling. Both extremes demonstrate a lack of virtue, succumbing to either sloth or greed. Virtue is found in a healthy appreciation of honest work, while not mistaking it as one’s entire reason for existence.

Work is an essential part of human life, building character, bringing us into connection with others, and keeping our societies functioning. At a disability support training workshop which I attended yesterday, the presenter noted that we usually identify people with their occupations, because their work shapes who they are. As a mother of a disabled son, she knew how important work is for the human being, and helped her non-verbal son start a fruit and veg distribution business. Now when he goes out for walks, his customers greet him, and he feels a sense of pride in his work, besides having gained a certain status in society.

When one has worked well and is then able to disengage from work, one is better able to appreciate periods of rest and leisure. I have found that while searching for full-time employment, it is difficult for me to simply relax and enjoy a good book, because of the worry that comes with having something important undone. However, whether one is employed or not, all circumstances are opportunities to trust in God, offering Him the uncertainty of this transient life, at peace in knowing that whatever state one is in, one finds true rest and purpose in Him Who is Love, the source and end of our being.

Our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.
– Frederick Buechner

We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. It is never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. But God, being Almighty, sees everything great. Therefore, even if you write a letter for a blind man or you just go sit and listen, or you take the mail for him, or you visit somebody or bring a flower to somebody—small things—or wash clothes for somebody, or clean the house. Very humble work, that is where you and I must be. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Love: A Fruit Always in Season

Let those who think their work has no value recognise that by fulfilling their insignificant tasks out of love for God, those tasks assume supernatural worth. The aged who bear the taunts of the young, the sick crucified to their beds, the street cleaner and the garbage collector, the chorus girl who never had a line, the unemployed carpenter – all these will be enthroned above dictators, presidents, kings, and Cardinals if a greater love of God inspires their humbler tasks than inspires those who play nobler roles with less love.
– Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

All work is holy. Through it we walk the royal road of Christ.
– Servant of God Catherine Doherty, “The Holiness of Work

God Can Even Overcome Our Imperfect Parenting

“Things were in God’s plan which I had not planned at all. I am coming to the living faith and conviction that – from God’s point of view – there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God’s divine providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God’s all-seeing eyes.”

The eloquent St. Edith Stein, Jewish convert and Auschwitz concentration camp victim.

While her life was tremendously more sorrow-filled than mine, these words of St. Edith Stein resonate with me and my understanding of God’s control over my life. Everything is in His view; from conception ’til death, He has known my every move, thought, reaction. Furthermore, He brought good out of all things, even my mistakes, so that I might know Him and live with Him for eternity where my mistakes will be no more.

Unfortunately, at times, I give too much emphasis to my mistakes, especially when concerning my role as Father. However, I continue to remember and understand that God is in control and that His Providence will even allow for my bad parenting mistakes to be avenues that bring my children to Him.
As a self-diagnosed overzealous parent, I recognize that there is a lot that I want for my kids and their futures. Furthermore, right now, I want a lot for them in regards to their happiness and proper understanding of the world around them. But, most of all, I want them to have an amazing relationship with Jesus and avoid all of the problems that I went through.

To help set them on the path toward my dreams for them, I have implemented a few methods. I have worked to be present to my kids so that they will not feel an aching desire for a Father-figure their whole lives. I make an effort to emphasize quantity and quality time to cultivate a good relationship with each of them. Also, my wife and I have struggled to filter their entertainment and place limits on their technology time in hope of keeping their lives filled with innocence and wonder.

I still think all of these and more are good things to do, but I notice how much emphasis I have been placing on “my work” to raise my children. Now, I am not saying I should quit caring and let my kids do whatever they want under the guise of my trust that God will handle it. He still wants my participation. However, I think I need to worry less about those times when I fall far from the image of Fatherhood I would like to be and trust that God is ultimately in control of my children’s lives. All I can do is model for them the loving relationship with Him that I would like for them to have.

Essentially, the only power we have is that we can say yes to God’s plan for us. I personally know the deep joy and love that one has when this beautiful acceptance takes place and want my kids to know it as well. We cannot get caught up in the superficial or silly complexities of the mundane day to day that can weigh us down.

For example, when we finally have had enough of the whining and we do not speak in the tone of voice with which, we imagine, St. Joseph and Mother Mary always spoke to Jesus. Or that time we were watching “The Nativity Story” with our 3 year old and the intense birth scene came up. And there are those many other times of guilt when we think we are messing up as parents in some sort of way that we should overcome with trust in God’s love for us.

We have a perfect Father in Heaven who can make up for our imperfections. We know that our kids deserve Jesus and they can have Him. All that we can do is our best to help them come to know Him.
God’s Providence means that only good comes out of all things for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Therefore, if we truly love Him, and our kids know this, then we have nothing to worry about with our parenting. True love of God would mean we are trying our best as parents anyway and so I imagine that there can be very little we could do to keep our children from knowing God.

Although, we cannot drop the ball either. As parents we are the primary educators of our children and so we must take seriously our role as parents to shape our children. Just as our kids learn to walk and talk by being around us, they will pick up a love of Christ through our witness as well. Moreover, just as we teach them to read and write and perform math calculations, we should teach them how to pray and know about their Faith so that they can make it their own.

A classic quotation from St. Augustine is that “we must work as if everything depends upon us and pray as if everything depends upon God”. This fits perfectly into the task of parenting in that we must take it seriously and strive to give our children the best life of holiness, but remember that God is the One who is in control and He is most Faithful. Keeping in mind that His desire for my kids to know Him and love Him is greater than mine brings me great peace. Furthermore, it helps me the get over the many mistakes I make as a father, as I know that God is bringing good from them for both my and my children’s well-being.

Ora et Labora

fra_angelico_031St. Benedict gives us a remarkable example of discipline. His simple motto, Ora et labora—pray and work—is still relevant to our own lives, so many centuries after his death. We need both prayer and work in order to live a truly Christian life and finish the race. If we were to embrace prayer without also embracing the work that comes along with our calling, we would stagnate. God has given us the incredible gift of cooperating in our own salvation; He calls us to offer our daily work up to Him. We can’t just sit back and expect Him to fix all our problems; instead, we suffer, and we unite those sufferings to His sacrifice. When we are guided by His will, our labors bring us closer to God.

Likewise, our work loses its meaning if it is not grounded in prayer. We can’t pretend that everything in our lives is within our own control, that if we work hard enough, we can fix the problems before us and improve the state of our own souls. We cannot do anything except through the grace of God. Ultimately, our salvation will come from His mercy, not from our own efforts. Before we begin the work of His Kingdom, we must first turn to Him in prayer, knowing that He cares for us and that His will is beyond our understanding. Rooted in His love, we will be able to carry out His work.

Let us pray to St. Benedict that we might learn discipline, so as to stop making excuses and to stop settling for less than the glory to which we are called. May we acknowledge our weaknesses and temptations so that we can face them, and may we call upon God in prayer so that our efforts will be directed toward His will.


Image: Fra Angelico / PD-US

Writers, Keep Writing

I saw a funny meme about writing, which said, “Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet”:

internet

Vanity of all vanities

Writing certainly seems like it takes a lot of self-discipline and effort. I type out all my articles and they never get written down so, being at the computer, the above quote is certainly true. It’s a temptation to click over to Facebook, look something up on Google, etc. Sometimes I wonder if all this writing I do as a hobby is worth it. There is so much already written down. There are so many blogs, there are so many books, there are so many websites with so many articles. What is all this effort for? For a few people to click, read and forget it a few minutes later? I’m never going to be a canonized saint (I assume)  or a famous writer to be reread throughout the ages (again, assuming), so it’s just a matter of time before my writings disappear into the enormous abyss of time and space.

“All things are wearisome, too wearisome for words. The eye is not satisfied by seeing nor has the ear enough of hearing. What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun! Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new!’ has already existed in the ages that preceded us.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 8-10)

The power of a story

If you have ever read a story to a group of children like I used to do in my elementary teaching days, especially if it’s a rowdy group of children who don’t ever quiet down, you know the power of a story. All you have to do is open it up, tell it well and show some pictures, and it is as if you have cast a spell on the children. They watch you motionlessly, with their mouths gaping open.

This is especially apparent with small children, but there are many who argue that it also holds true for adults. In fact, God communicates to us using stories. Why would the Holy Spirit and the biblical authors write stories, parables, and narrative all throughout the Bible if God hadn’t inscribed this very fascination for stories within us?

A second Incarnation

I wrote a thesis paper on biblical poetry and it was fascinating to see how many things are written in the tradition of the Church about writing. The Incarnation of God’s Word onto paper is analogous to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ into flesh. That is something very important. Not only that, the way you write it (poetry/narrative, literary genres, etc.) is part of the very message, not just a vehicle of the message. Writing something in poetry is different than writing it in narrative. The way you say it is just as important.

God is pretty serious about writing.

Just do it

It’s tiresome, it may seem futile and it may have all been written before, but if you are doing it for the right reasons and if the Holy Spirit is working with you, it is all worth it. Isn’t all of our work here on Earth a bit tiresome?

“As to more than these, my son, beware. Of the making of many books there is no end, and in much study there is weariness for the flesh. The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this concerns all humankind; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12: 12-14)

I leave you with three poignant quotes about writing from Saint Faustina’s Diary. Writing for her was a divine call, in the midst of much temptation.

“As I write these words, I hear the cry of Satan: ‘She’s writing everything, she’s writing everything, and because of this we are losing so much! Do not write about the goodness of God; He is just!’ And howling with fury, he vanished.” (1338)

“Although I am feeling weak, and my nature is clamoring for rest, I feel the inspiration of grace telling me to take hold of myself and write, write for the comfort of souls, whom I love so much and with whom I will share all eternity. And I desire eternal life for them so ardently that that is why I use all my free moments, no matter how short, for writing in the way that Jesus wishes of me.” (1471)

“Secretary of My most profound mystery, know that yours is an exclusive intimacy with Me. Your task is to write down everything that I make known to you about My mercy, for the benefit those who by reading these things will be comforted in their souls and will have the courage to approach Me. I therefor want you to devote all your free moments to writing.” (1693)

Proverbs 31: Woman of Action

There is a great fear among women that we are being under-appreciated. It’s not that we women want all the power; we just want credit for sharing it! In Amanda Mortus’s “To Be Used or Appreciated?”, she laments how tired a Proverbs 31 woman seems, and wishes more of those holy verses spoke intimately of her heart and character.

“Yes, she does all these things, but who is she?” implores Ms. Mortus.

Two Sundays ago, we heard “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14). The September 2012 issue of The Magnificat focuses specifically on work as the blessing of the month, and features a passage from Blessed John Paul II:

“Work is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man’s dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it… Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed in a sense becomes ‘more of a human being.’ (Laborem Exercens #9)

The Proverbs 31 woman may be tired, and she is also satisfied. She has “strength and dignity and laughs at the days to come” (Prv 31:25), which directly correlates to all the mentioned work she does. And why is that? Because she has joy in serving others; she “works with willing hands” (Prv 31:13).

She is an ordinary woman who respects her husband and has his utmost trust, loves and is celebrated by her family, whom takes responsibility for the running of her household, and knows where she can be of use. She may have worries, but she “does not eat the bread of idleness” (Prv 31:27).

Women have the amazing opportunity to share their gifts and talents with their family and in their community. Whatever a woman’s role, may she speak out of “her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prv 31:26).

In contrast to Ms. Mortus’s speculation, these verses are not so outwardly focused but rather inward; her character is shown through her actions. It is a classic “faith with works” collaboration. Without a woman’s love, her actions would not yield laudable results. Without a woman’s actions, her love would grown barren.

As St. Paul wrote, “We urge you, brothers, to progress even more, and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instruct you” (1 Thes 4:10-11). This is the essence of such a virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31 and is not meant as a disheartening load, but an encouraging example.

This is the beauty of a Proverbs 31 woman: she gets the job done. She doesn’t complain or seek recognition for her deeds; she does what is necessary out of love and she moves around from her flax to the fields to the merchants to her family. We are shown her character – she has discipline, patience and perseverance – and her heart: she seeks no reward outside God’s provisions. She laughs at the future because she is content today.

How many of us can claim such inner peace?

Avoiding Burnout – Rediscovering the Sabbath

In a culture always on the go, days, weeks and months blur together.  We can sometimes be running so fast on the treadmill of life that we forget to stop and take a break.  Sure, we might take a week for vacation or Christmas, but we often fill that time up with so many things to do that afterwards, we feel less rested than when we had before.

Because of life’s increasing demands, burnout — “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress” — has become more prevalent among adults in the 21st century workforce.  Perhaps you have thought, “since the corporate culture is filled with too much stress, I will work for the Church, instead.”  However, a 2010 study by the New York Times reported that 45% of pastors suffer from burnout as well.

It seems that as a culture we do not understand how to rest.  This should not be surprising because we live in what Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death”.  The enemy of our soul wants us to run ourselves into exhaustion so that we will not experience the life that God has for us.

To combat this, I believe that we need to rediscover the meaning of the Lord’s day, a day for rest and, more importantly, a celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection.  Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter on the subject entitled, Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s day holy.  Within this letter he says that

The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself, as appears in the creation story in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11): rest is something “sacred”, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God

Rest is something that God has built into our DNA.  However, I bet most of us do not think of Mass as the most relaxing way to spend a day off.   If so, we might need to delve a bit deeper into the meaning of the Mass.

The Sunday liturgy is an opportunity to recall the new creation brought about by Christ’s Resurrection.  We who had been dead to sin are now alive because of Christ.  This should bring us great hope and joy that the Creator has loosened us from the bonds of sin.  As if this were not enough to bring us joy, Christ also gives us Himself in the most Holy Eucharist as a way to be present with us throughout the week and give us peace.

Participation in Sunday Mass is essential to the Lord’s day, but that cannot be all we do to keep Sunday holy.  Pope John Paul II says that “the Lord’s Day is lived well if it is marked from beginning to end by grateful and active remembrance of God’s saving work.”

Within that framework, we should come up with things to do that are relaxing and life-giving.  Maybe that means taking a pilgrimage to a nearby shrine or praying the Liturgy of the Hours with some friends. Maybe it means going on a picnic and enjoying God’s wonderful creation, going for a run or reading that book you have always wanted to read.  I don’t have the perfect Sunday formula for you, but I do encourage you to think about how you can make your Sunday a more God-centered and restful experience.

Although it may be impossible to completely abstain from all work on Sunday, I think it is important that the day be dedicated to God in a spirit of thanksgiving for his goodness to us.  We need to put the smartphone down, unplug and take some time to just be in God’s presence, instead of hitting the next item on the to do list.

If we start off the week by slowing down and focusing on God, the week will go much smoother.   I believe that if we make Sunday a day focused on God and the things of heaven, we will find more fulfillment in our work, and avoid burnout because we see how our work relates to God and how much he loves us.

Why We Need Work

Last week  The Daily Caller broke the news feature about the Labor Department attempting  to ban farm chores. When I alerted my dad who is a life-long farmer about the new rule, he was speechless. As he scanned the news article his first comment was “This is a joke, right” To someone who has lived his life defined by farm work and family it was impossibly for him to believe that the government had become so far-reaching as to attempt to keep children from basic work supervised by their own parents.

Won't he make someone an AWESOME husband!

Due to the outrage that followed the news about the rule, the Labor Department quickly back-tracked on the policy. Their statement read:

“The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations… The decision to withdraw this rule–including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’–was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of proposed rules on small family oriented farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”

For now it would seem they have moved away from the ridiculous policy, but I think it is essential that we keep in mind a small point. They didn’t move away from the policy because they believe in the hard work and the values that seems to go hand-in-hand with a rural life structure, but because of the number of complaints. When is the last time we heard the government  pushing for the hard work and skill that comes from farm chores? They seem more intent on keeping our children dependent on them for everything and subsidizing our farms.

I could spend a lot of time focused on the health benefits of hard physical labor – children in the United States are terribly obese, but what does the church say about work?

In Laborem exercens Pope John Paul II states:

“Work is, as has been said, an obligation, that is to say, a duty, on the part of man. This is true in all the many meanings of the word. Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history. All this constitutes the moral obligation of work, understood in its wide sense. When we have to consider the moral rights, corresponding to this obligation, of every person with regard to work, we must always keep before our eyes the whole vast range of points of reference in which the labour of every working subject is manifested. ” (Emphasis mine)

And again:

“When we read in the first chapter of the Bible that man is to subdue the earth, we know that these words refer to all the resources contained in the visible world and placed at man’s disposal. However, these resources can serve man only through work. From the beginning there is also linked with work the question of ownership, for the only means that man has for causing the resources hidden in nature to serve himself and others is his work. And to be able through his work to make these resources bear fruit, man takes over ownership of small parts of the various riches of nature: those beneath the ground, those in the sea, on land, or in space. He takes all these things over by making them his workbench. He takes them over through work and for work.”

We need to return to the structure of parents actually teaching their children to value hard work. Our work should be a prayer, all things should lead us closer to God. In the garden of Eden, God promised Adam that he would have to work by the sweat of his brow. Last I heard, that order is still standing.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Rachel-Howell-e1315240168290.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Rachel Howell works for EWTN as the Customer Service Representative for the National Catholic Register. She loves her job, as she gets paid to talk on the phone and interact with people – her favorite pastime! A country girl who claims both Alabama and Idaho as her hometowns, she grew up in a large Catholic family that made her who she is today. She is passionate about her Catholic Faith, Pro-life work, and Cowgirl boots. She also blogs about her adventures in life at the National Catholic Register.[/author_info] [/author]