It did not make many headlines in this country, but last month it was announced that Pope Francis had approved the beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.
Wyszynski was a courageous leader against the communists and Nazis in Poland and was a mentor of St. Pope John Paul II.
I remember him for a little book he wrote about the meaning of human work. This book was an important influence on President Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland and also shaped John Paul’s encyclical letter on human labor.
Work remains a central question of our times: what work is and what we are working for, and how our work relates to our lives.
In our secularized, consumer society, we tend to see work only as a means to an end, a way to pay the bills and get things done. We tend to look at our leisure time, the time when we are not working, as an “escape,” the time when we forget about our daily lives. This is one of the reasons for the obsession in our culture with entertainment and amusement.
In an excellent new book, “Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World,” (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2019, $17), Michael Naughton says that too many of us are leading a “divided life.” We spend much of our daily lives at work, and yet there is a profound disconnect between the work we do and our sense of who we are and what we believe.
“We use phrases such as ‘work/life balance,’ as though some sort of planned program will be able to solve this fundamental problem of the human condition,” Naughton writes.
The real issue is not “balancing” work and life. The real issue is discovering the place that your work has in God’s plan for your life. We need to see our work through the eyes of God.
Of course, our work is important in many practical ways. We need to work to put food on our tables and to provide for our families. We need to work so that we have something to give to our brothers and sisters in need.
But God intends our work to be so much more than that.
This is why Jesus came into the world and worked with human hands. He was so identified with his work, his profession, that when he began to preach, his neighbors were astounded. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” they asked.
In his teaching, Jesus often used examples from the world of work, especially in his parables. He talked about farmers sowing seed and taking in the harvest, about workers and their wages, tenants and landlords, talents and investments, debts and interest payments.
His first followers were small-business owners. Peter and his brother Andrew were commercial fishermen, successful enough, according to the Gospels, to own several boats and to employ several men.
St. Paul earned his living as a tent-maker. And among the early converts was Lydia, a prosperous and prominent businesswomen.
The point is that work has a deep meaning in God’s plan for the world and our lives.
God has given each of us a work to do in this world. Our lives, as I often say, are a mission, an adventure. And our work is part of our mission in life, our vocation, our calling from God.
We serve God in the place where we are at, not only in our homes and our personal relationships, but also through the work we do and how we carry out that work.
Through our work, we are meant to serve God and our neighbors, and we are meant to be “co-workers” with God, continuing God’s own work in the world, participating in his plan of redemption and sanctifying the world with his presence and love.
“Whatever you do,” St. Paul used to say, “do all for the glory of God.”
This is the attitude that we should have toward our work, even the most menial tasks we perform. With work, everything depends on our aim and purpose. We can treat work as a burden, something boring. Or, we can see our work as doing something beautiful for God and as a way to serve our neighbor.
“The smallest act can be sanctified by the intention that inspires it; it can bring merit with it and redemption, if its motive is the love of God,” Wyszynski once wrote. “The value of human acts comes from the intention behind them. The lowest work can, through love, raise up to the heights of holiness, while the loftiest work, when it is performed without love, lowers and damns one.”
Pray for me this week, and I will pray for you.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to see the work we do, all our daily activities, as an expression of our love, a way to give God thanks and praise.