One of the hardest maxims to put into practice has got to be Mother Teresa’s advice:
We must deliberately renounce all desires to see the fruit of our labor, doing all we can as best we can, leaving the rest in the hands of God. What matters is the gift of yourself, the degree of love that you put into each one of your actions.
This wisdom can apply to all areas of our life, be that family, or ministry, but is this possible in our professional work?
Work For The Glory of God
A Catholic worker differs from a non-Catholic worker if not by exterior work then by his interior life. As the saint of “work” and everyday life, Saint Josemaria Escrivá, says,
You must be careful: don’t let your professional success or failure — which will certainly come — make you forget, even for a moment, what the true aim of your work is: the glory of God!” (The Forge, 704).
We work with other objectives in mind. Not that making money is a bad thing, and not that good results and productivity are not admirable goals, but our vision is not reduced to worldly success. “I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
So it is possible to work not to see earthly fruit, but to see divine fruit. When you work toward a more honest and charitable work ethic, to offer up all your work in love, to pour yourself into every minute as self-donation, it becomes more between you and God, and not so much about the approval or criticism of others.
A Catholic’s Primary Vocation
A Catholic worker knows what his primary vocation is. When I taught a year of high school, there was a student who had a very strong family life. She seemed to be friendly toward everyone in her class and had some close friends, but seemed impervious to any drama, cattiness or even bullying. Once she told me, “I don’t know how people can get so upset over what happens at school that they get depressed or even commit suicide.”
This comment stuck with me because I attributed her emotional resilience to her strong family and home life. Her parents, her brother and she were friends. They were in scouts together, took Spanish lessons together, had family traditions together, spent lots of time with grandparents and extended family. I think this gave her the support to be a friend at school, but not to depend on school for her source of love, confidence, and approval.
In the same way, a Catholic is called to live out his primary vocation first and foremost, and that, in turn, is the foundation for his professional work. His primary vocation is a divine relationship, an intimate communion with God and others in Heaven.
Your primary relationship is a family relationship. For the religious, life it is a direct spousal relationship with God (or with the Church, as with priests). For a married person, it is your spouse and family.
Janet Smith says in her eloquent yet practical way, if you have a vocation to religious life, you should wake up and ask yourself how you will show your love for God, your spouse, that day. If you are married, how will you show your love to your spouse and then children? If you are single, how will you show your love to God through the first person he puts in your path that day?
A Catholic worker puts his primary vocation as number one. When professional work flows from that worldview and relationship, he is just as impervious to drama and bullying, as my high school student was. Catholics don’t depend on their job or co-workers for fulfilment, for recognition, or for love.
When Criticism Hits a Nerve
Finally, a thought for mothers and the “professional” work of building a family and taking care of children. I have recently discovered that my sensitivity to my in-laws’ criticism is due to the fact that it usually touches upon the work I am dedicating myself to right now and pouring my heart into.
As a stay-at-home mom, I consider my work to be the building up of our family and home, both physically and spiritually. There is the physical work of changing diapers, making food, taking to play dates, etc… and there is the spiritual work of putting God and prayer first, looking to Him for guidance, having a long-term vision with my husband that guides this process.
This work is easily confused with my primary vocation, but it is still a little different. When I get criticism from in-laws or from varied sources on my option to stay at home, on the type of food I cook, on our religious options and how often we go to mass, on our children’s education, on how my daughter is dressed, how “developed” or social she is, etc. … it hits a nerve.
However, as with professional work outside the home, I am not working to see the fruits or to hear others’ approval. I am looking to God to do the best I can to follow His guidance and heavenly approval. I should pour love and service into each daily task, without needing external, worldly approval. And that helps me to be more unaffected by criticism in my work, also.
Motivated by Love
As even a secular, non-Catholic blog states in this article,
Relationships make your life great, not jobs. But a job can ruin your life – make you feel out of control in terms of your time or your ability to accomplish goals – but no job will make your life complete.
Dealing with criticism is easier if you know you don’t depend on it and you know what you do depend on. Doing your job despite criticism is easier when you follow Mother Teresa’s advice, and are motivated by love.