Work is for man, not man for work. This teaching comes to us from the Church and specifically the Catechism 2428. The question that comes to mind is what, if any, value is there in work? Are we destined to toil our days away with no intrinsic value to our labors? When do we put a limit on our work and when does it become a detriment?
In the Beginning
To begin our look at work, we must first go to the beginning and explore Adam and subsequently Eve. Genesis 2:15 tells us “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it.” In the book of Sirach we are told “Do not hate hard work; work was assigned by God.” We need to remember that the toil and sweat we associate with work did not come about until after the fall.
In their book Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue, authors Tim Gray and Curtis Martin explain this fact in detail:
“Too often we view work as a necessary evil that impedes our fulfillment, but this is not true. It is vital to note that work was given to man before the Fall; it is not of itself a curse. The toil, sweat and thorns that follow the Fall add an element of suffering to the vocation of work, but work itself is noble.”
The Catechism sheds some more light on this for us. “By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple for Christ by carrying the cross, daily, by the work he is called to accomplish.” (CCC 2427) By offering up our toils and labor of our work we are joining ourselves to Christ. This affirmation alone should be incentive to perform our best.
Whatever Your Task
Regardless of what our line of work is or whom we are employed by we are obligated to do our best. In his letter to the Colossians Saint Paul writes, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-34) We are called to look beyond our employer and realize that our labors are ultimately for Christ. “I glorified you on earth having accomplished the work you gave me to do.” (Jn. 17:4)
We can see that work indeed has value. We can also see clearly that work done well will harvest eternal reward for us in Christ’s kingdom. This leads us to understand, or at least we should, that our labors can be “offered up” for the glory of God. We are all painfully aware that work involves suffering. There may be tasks in your job that you really do not like or want to do. This even applies to those outside the labor force. You may not really want to change that dirty diaper or clean up after a sick child but it is work that must be done.
In his book Behold the Man: A Catholic Vision for Male Spirituality, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers lends some wise words:
“All work, and the suffering inherent in it, has been redeemed by Christ on the Cross. Suffering, then, is capable of being used as the means of encountering and experiencing God’s gracious, compassionate love. No man’s work. No matter how pedestrian, it may appear, is unimportant in the building of God’s kingdom on earth. Consequently, no personal suffering remains utterly pointless or meaningless.”
Can work become a detriment? Tim Gray and Curtis Martin again give clarity to work. “Performing one’s work well is virtuous, but becoming a workaholic is to turn the virtue in to a vice. Work is good but if family, friends and God are neglected as a result of our work. It can be a serious fault.” Let’s break that down a bit. It is imperative that we find a balance between work and our faith and family.
I am reminded of a recent homily I heard. The priest told a story of a friend of his who was having an annual evaluation at his job. He received a low mark in one category and the reason was……..he spent too much time with his family. How sad that this person’s employer could not see beyond the limited window of time spent here on Earth.
How are we to deal with that situation? What if we are not the workaholic but our boss is? Simply put this is part of the suffering we must endure. We will cross paths with many people during on our time on this earth. Some will be like-minded and some will not. It is our lot in life to bear these Crosses for the greater glory of God. It’s not an easy task. God never promised those who followed him an easy life. What he did promise was a fulfilling one.
As you head out the door today heading for your job, or as you begin your day laboring at home, remember your labors are valuable. Remember that despite your lack of desire to complete some of the less than pleasant tasks that we can turn those moments into moments of grace. Indeed, at times our labors will undoubtedly involve suffering at some level. Always remember that this time on earth is a tiny window of time in the eternity promised to us if we are faithful.
In closing here is a prayer that may be of value to you as you begin the work that your station in life has led you to:
O Lord, my God,
Creator and Ruler of the universe,
it is Your Will that human beings accept the duty of work.
May the work I do bring growth in this life to me
and those I love and help to extend the Kingdom of Christ.
Give all persons work that draws them to You
and to each other in cheerful service.
I unite all my work with the Sacrifice of Jesus
in the Mass that it may be pleasing to You and give You
I beg Your Blessing upon all my efforts.
With Saint Joseph as my example and guide,
help me to do the work You have asked
and come to the reward You have prepared.
Disclaimer: I have quoted from two titles that are written for men. By no means does this mean that the content I have quoted does not apply to women. No matter what your labors are in the vineyard they are all important. My hope is this article sheds light on this.