Renovation of my parish’s sanctuary began this week, and along with fellow parishioners I enjoy checking out the progress. As workers rebuild the altar, lay marble tile and complete other project tasks working directly under the sanctuary crucifix, they clearly are laboring for the Church.
But next month when these workers are laying tile at a car dealership or in a private home, will they still be working for God? What about the rest of us who hold jobs in secular professions, is the Lord in our work as much as He is in that of a priest or others working for the Church?
God and our work
Since Labor Day is about celebrating the economic and social contributions of workers, I thought it would be a good time to look at the role God plays in our work.
Regardless of whether our work is manual or intellectual, religious or secular, we engage our whole selves—body and spirit–in what we do, Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work.)
There’s much more of a spiritual connection than we might think because ultimately, our work is really a sharing in the Creator’s work, Bl. John Paul wrote:
The word of God’s revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of his own human capabilities, man in a sense continues to develop that activity, and perfects it as he advances further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation.
As Creator, God alone can bring something out of nothing, Bl. John Paul wrote in his Letter to Artists. “The craftsman, by contrast, uses something that already exists, to which he gives form and meaning.”
Creator and crafts-person
Even though we’re not all artists or craftspeople, we are co-creating in some way with God when we work. Bl. John Paul illustrates the relationship between Creator and crafts-person/worker by pointing out that the Polish word for craftsman, “Tworca” can be formed from the word for Creator, “Stworca”.
As we share in God’s work, we also need to share in His rest, as Genesis tells us He rested on the seventh day. And we should be aware that we’re participating in God’s activity even in our smallest ordinary tasks.
Work isn’t just about making and improving things, we also improve ourselves by working. We learn, develop our faculties and transcend ourselves, according to the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes. This growth is more important than the value of what we produce and the document goes on to say,
“Technical progress is of less value than advances towards greater justice, wider brotherhood, and a more humane social environment. Technical progress may supply the material for human advance but it is powerless to actualize it.” (35)
As a worker Himself, Jesus undoubtedly made technical improvements in his carpentry work. In his preaching he spoke frequently about ordinary jobs done by men and women. Bl. John Paul writes in Laborem Exercens that we unite with the Crucified Christ when we go through the toil of work and in a way collaborate with Him for human redemption.
A “new good” from our work
Whatever work we do, when we take on our work we accept a small part of the Cross and “accept in it the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted His Cross for us.” As a result, according to Bl. John Paul, a “new good” springs out of our work which is a kind of foreshadowing of heaven.
Sometimes after a long week it’s hard to imagine “new good” springing out of work. But when we consider the Source and object of our work, whether or not it’s directly for the Church, it’s easier to understand its spiritual and temporal value.