Every culture and tradition has beautiful quotes on work, such as, ‘Hard work pays with no harm.’ ‘No bees, no honey; no work, no money.’ The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament has few remarkable quotes: “I passed by the field of one who was lazy, by the vineyard of a stupid person; and see, it
was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down…a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior.” (Prov.24: 30-34). Work is a basic human activity carried throughout our
life. As we celebrate Labour Day on May 1, it is fitting that were flect prayerfully on how it affects our whole being. Work is not merely a means of sustenance but something important for our human, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing.
The Encyclical Rerum Novarum published in the year 1891 by Pope Leo XIII is considered to be a classical document on work. After this monumental publication every 25 years the successive popes wrote beautiful things about work in commemoration of this great document. This document preceded many other secular documents (including many treaties on work by socialists and communists) and has inspired many people in the world not only the Catholic to whom it was addressed. Pope John Paul II wrote in his own Encyclical Laborem Exercens, “work is a fundamental dimension of human existence,” and he
continued to write, “…a good thing for man – a good thing for 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.’” This quote gives us the gist of human, social and spiritual value of work; which is an integral part of human person. It makes us what we are. It is only through work we are able to achieve our life goals and make meaning to our existence. God entrusted the universe to man and woman to make it better. This paramount task is achieved through the work of human hands. By this activity we share in the image of God, we become co-creators with God, and we make the world a place worthwhile for living. Through work, we provide for our families and ourselves. We often spend more time at work than any other activity. As human beings we are involved with some kind of work from the time we attain reason. As little children we go to school and we learn skills, which is a fitting type of “work” for that stage in life. As we grow we learn and develop other talents and hobbies, which are also work in another kind. We learn and we develop skills and abilities so as to enhance our career and professional work.
Hence, we should do as much as possible to enhance our careers, improve our skill sets, and maximize our profitability. Honestly, work can be tough. There are many challenges and hurdles we face in the world of work. The Pontiffs say, “Work is a good thing for man and for humanity…” But there are people who fail to find work; there is unemployment and related issues like lack of education, lack of training, underemployment, underpayment for work, exploitation, etc. We deal with bad bosses, hostile work environments, and unfair distribution of leads, poor training, awful pay, unrealistic expectations, and layoffs. The economic climate renders people to deal with unemployment and starting new careers in unknown fields. Our struggles of work steal our joy of working thus becoming unrewarding.
Work industriously against Sloth: Our Christian and Catholic tradition looks at work as world building, a virtue and a vocation. The first book of the Bible—Genesis portrays God as someone who is industrious. He worked hard for six days and his work is meritorious and was found good. The subsequent
books of the Bible always speak against sloth; which is the vice opposite to industriousness. This term means indolence, lassitude, dejection, indifference, ennui, laziness, and commonly idleness. These vices are often associated with the Evil One.
Work as Sanctifying: In the history of Christian contemplation, there seems to be a constant conflict between work and prayer. Various spiritual masters have argued which is meritorious: Work or Prayer. Many saints have argued that prayer and contemplation is truly divine and close to the heart of God. Others have argued that it is possible to reach God through charity—works done with higher motives. The figures of Martha and Mary have often been used throughout history to represent two different forms of life, the contemplative life (prayer and meditation) and the active life (life filled with activities), with the first being seen as the more perfect, in keeping with our Lord’s words: Mary has chosen the good portion.
Usually these concepts have been applied to the religious vocation, understanding by contemplative life, in broad terms, living apart from the world in order to dedicate oneself to prayer, and by active life efforts such as teaching Christian doctrine, caring for the sick, and other works of mercy. Viewed from this perspective, for centuries the possibility to be a contemplative “in the midst of activity” has been recognized. However, this does not mean that the ordinary faithful becomes contemplatives in professional, family and social activities, but rather that this is possible through the apostolic activities and works of mercy.
Jesus was “busy” in life and ministry. He himself confessed at an early age—as a young adolescent, “he has to be busy with his Father’s business”, which did not mean only prayer and meditation, but reaching out to many people. Jesus found God in doing things for people. As the son of a carpenter, he also knew the dignity of manual labour. Work as Vocation: Vocation is the interpretation of one’s own life and what he or she wants to make out of one’s life. In this sense, work is not merely a duty to be performed or achieved, but it is a life to be lived and enjoyed. Through work, the worker finds joy and fulfillment and finally finds God himself.
Our work becomes a vocation when it is done with love. Do we do it with a higher motive? As Christians we are invited to work in God’s point of view—done with an upright intention in the spirit of service. In this way our work becomes a prayer and a means of reaching God.