by Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi
Most of us work. People who are employed spend about 25 percent of their week at their job. We start work sometimes in our 20s and work until 65 or later. No human activity accounts for more of our time than sleeping.
Yet many people of faith consider their jobs as something separate from their life of faith. There is a tendency to compartmentalize our lives. We tend to think that God is a part of this aspect of my life but not in that aspect. For example, we may be aware that God is to be a part of our Sunday morning life, or our family life, but somehow our job seems too mundane or secular for God to be invited into our work, or even that God is interested in the job we do. Sunday mornings belong to God but Monday mornings begin a part of our life where God is distant or absent.
But if our work is done separate from God we work as functional atheists. We can have the attitude that work is only a necessary evil in life, especially when our work seems monotonous or tedious. But the Lord who gives us the vocation to be saints also gives us the vocation to work and to cooperate with Him in the sanctification of ourselves and of our world. We are called to sanctify the world through our work. In other words, to make the world a holier place because of the way we perform our job. Our work is a means by which we work out our redemption.
Work not only produces something in the marketplace of our economy, it is a means for us to come to our potential as a human being, no matter the tediousness of the job. Some jobs form the brain, others the muscles, other the heart. Saint Gregory of Nyssa once said that through our work we become in a certain way our own “parents.” In other words, work forms our character for better or worse. We “father” or “mother” ourselves by working hard or poorly.
Jesus spent most of His time on this earth, not in preaching, but in working as a carpenter. He made items which people needed. He had a job in the economy of His time. His work as a carpenter was not something He did until it was time for Him to begin what He was really sent by the Father to do. Rather, He redeemed human work as part of redeeming the whole human person. One of the great saints wrote: “For that which Christ has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.”
Jesus spoke of laborers often. The Gospels are filled with His references to shepherds, farmers, doctors, sowers, housewives, servants, stewards, merchants, laborers, soldiers, tax collectors, and scholars.
A friend of mine offers three suggestions of how to work prayerfully keeping in mind God’s presence is with us throughout the workday:
First, we can view our work as an offering to God similar to the offering of Abel. When we do anything for God we do it better. Perhaps to carry a rosary or a medal of a saint in one’s pocket during the day may help us to remind ourselves of this.
Second, we can offer our work for a special intention. Perhaps offer an hour of our work for a person for whom we have promised to pray and begin the hour with a brief silent prayer for them.
Third, we can bring our work to prayer and our prayer to work. As we begin the day we can remember what is waiting for us at our job and to ask God to help us do our job in a way pleasing to Him. Then in the evening to examine in prayer how we did our job and how we treated the people with whom we came in contact during the day.
As my friend said: Many of the virtues we learn at prayer — perseverance, humility, doing everything in Jesus’ name, and seeking God’s will — are the same virtues that help us to sanctify our work. And the virtues we learn at work — punctuality, dependability, diligence, doing the best we can — can all help us to pray better.
Work is not merely making a paycheck. It is also about serving God and others. Our desk, keyboard, kitchen, operating room, workbench, classroom, field, or boat can become an altar on which we offer ourselves, together with our work, to God.