Saturday, 27 August 2011

Work, the path to personal holiness

Until recently, work was, for me anyway, only a means to earn a living. Through my work, I could get the money that I needed, in order to be able to live the kind of lifestyle that I wanted. Work was nothing more than a means to an end. It served no other purpose. My ambition and efforts to produce good work, was driven purely by a desire to earn more money, in order to improve my lifestyle.
How wrong I was!

Work, whatever that work may be, is a divine command and gift that was given to us by God. “God said to them, be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.[i] 

Pope John Paul II said this about work:

From the beginning therefore he (man) is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures”.[ii]

Work only became arduous because Adam and Eve sinned. “And to Adam he said, ‘because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you ‘you shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life’.[iii]

We should always remember, that our Lord spent the first thirty years of his life on earth, living an ordinary normal life with his family, Joseph and Mary. This would have included, doing his allotted ordinary daily work as a carpenter. We are told that: “He (Jesus) went down with them (Mary and Joseph) and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.[iv] Jesus did not shy away from his ordinary life and ordinary work. He was obedient and he did it well, despite the arduousness of that work.

We do not know much about this period of Jesus’ life, but it is precisely because it is a relatively obscure period of his life, that we should take hope, because through it, Jesus sheds light on the importance of our own normal ordinary everyday life. Consider, that it was from this background of obscure normality, that Jesus brought us the good news. “And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?[v]

Pope John Paul II says:

Man ought to imitate God, his Creator, in working, because man alone has the unique characteristic of likeness to God. Man ought to imitate God both in working and also in resting, since God himself wished to present his own creative activity under the form of work and rest.

Awareness that man's work is a participation in God's activity ought to permeate, as the Council teaches, even "the most ordinary everyday activities. For, while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labour they are unfolding the Creator's work, consulting the advantages of their brothers and sisters, and contributing by their personal industry to the realization in history of the divine plan"[vi]

We should approach all our work, whatever that work may be, with the view of offering it to God as our tiny contribution to “unfolding the Creators work[vii]. Work is a gift from God and forms part of his divine plan. So, whether it is a housewife washing the floor, a businessman creating employment for thousands,  a teacher teaching children, a reporter writing a news report, a postman delivering the post, or a street sweeper sweeping the street, it is all part of God’s divine plan. Through our particular work, whatever it may be and no matter how ordinary it may be, we do the will of God. We should approach our work in such a way   that, when we stop to rest, as God did on the seventh day, we can look at our work  and join with God who “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.[viii]

Through our work, we offer praise and glory to God, who created us in his image. When we approach our work, we should do so in the same way that we would when we go into the church to pray. Our work is an offering to God.

How we approach our work, should be seen as an example of our personal demeanour when we are walking into the church to pray. The way that we do our work should be seen as an exhibit of our body language when we genuflect in front of the Blessed Sacrament and kneel down in the pew to begin praying. The quality of our work expresses the thoughts and words that we use while we are praying. The end of our work reflects the manner in which we leave the church after we have finished praying.

What does our work say about our prayer? Is it a constant outward expression of our love for God?

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