Work is a gift. Perhaps it doesn’t seem that way when we’re growing tired of the monotony of our commute, when the stress of deadlines is threatening our peace, or when we struggle with our coworkers or our boss. But our work is one way we partner with God in our sanctification and the sanctification of the world around us. God invites us to be co-creators with Him.
We don’t believe in the “clockmaker” God, who has created the world and then stepped back to watch it tick and let it run by itself. We believe in a God who wants to enter into a relationship with us and who is active in our world today.
One of the ways God works in the world is through us. We see it all throughout the Scriptures, when he intervenes in history through the help of mediators like Abraham, Moses, David, and the Blessed Mother. He wants to continue to do so today – sometimes through using us in grand ways and (much more often) working through us in our daily activities.
The fathers of the Second Vatican Council beautifully reminded us of the unique responsibility that the laity have in the world:
“But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer” (Lumen Gentium, 31).
Our work gives us the ability to sanctify the world “from within,” and bring Christ to people who may never meet a priest or nun. As members of the Church, we take the Church into places that will never see a habit or a collar. We have the responsibility to not leave our beliefs at the door of our office or factory. We must not only work ethically, we must also accomplish our work to the best of our ability, not cutting corners or settling for second-best. In doing this, we will sanctify our daily life and be an example to those we encounter – our bosses, colleagues, customers, and clients.
In his encyclical on the dignity of work, Pope St. John Paul II reminded us of the moral obligation to work. As St. Paul chastised the Thessalonians, we are required to work for our daily bread if we are able to do so, and shouldn’t rely on others to provide for us (2 Thes 3).
“Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history. All this constitutes the moral obligation of work, understood in its wide sense” (Laborem exercens, 16).
As we answer this obligation to labor for our daily bread, we use that daily activity, regardless of what it is, for the salvation of the world. Whether it is offering our sufferings or inconveniences for the souls in purgatory, practicing the virtues of constancy, industriousness, or patience, or being a good example to a coworker, we sanctify that daily toil.
St. Josemaria Escriva said that work is “the hinge of our holiness.” We can’t live compartmentalized lives, where our spiritual lives occupy one place and our daily work occupies another. Whether we work in the home as a mother or father, whether we work for the Church or the government, whether we teach in a school or trade on the stock market, whether we work with our hands or sit behind a computer all day, we have the choice in our daily activities to make them a prayer and to allow Christ to touch those we meet.
In our daily work, we meet God and have to repeatedly make the choice to serve him or serve something else. There is a dignity in work, but we also must remember that we are sanctified through work, not by work. Work is not our god. If we find our work obscuring our perspective on eternity or if we find that work leaves no time for prayer or family, we need to step back and examine our relationship with work.
Work must always serve the human person, not the other way around. We are not defined by our work. We must recognize the dignity of work, but also the need for rest. This Labor Day weekend, let us thank God for the invitation to participate with him in his work, let us enjoy our time with our friends and family, and let us pray for those who are unemployed or underemployed.