There is a lot of talk these days about work.
For almost a year now, economists and business leaders have been talking about something they call “the great resignation.”
Millions of Americans are changing jobs, retiring early, or just deciding to get out of the job market altogether. This has resulted in labor shortages in many areas, and the percentages of Americans participating in the workforce are at near record lows.
It seems that one of the many social shifts caused by the long pandemic and the government lockdowns of the economy is that many Americans are now forced to take a hard look at the realities of their work, and their attitudes and expectations toward work.
Now more than ever, the Church needs to be engaged in discussions of labor and work and the economy.
On a deeper level, I also believe we need to start talking again about the spiritual meaning of work in our lives. We need a renewed “spirituality of work.”
We cannot allow the idea of work to be devalued in our society, or to be treated as only a “necessity” or burden, something we must do to make money.
The truth is that work is essential.
In God’s plan for our lives, work is essential to who we are, and work is essential to how we are meant to serve him and his kingdom.
Work is, of course, practical. 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 our work must always be animated by our faith in Jesus Christ.
This is why Jesus spent his first 30 years in the household of St. Joseph, a craftsman who taught him to work with his hands.
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 workers, fishermen. And Jesus described their mission in terms of their work. “From now on, you will be fishers of men,” he told them.
What that means for us is that like the apostles, Jesus calls us to follow him through our work, through the carrying out of our everyday duties in our ordinary lives. Our work is part of our mission in life, our vocation, our calling from God.
We serve God in the place where we are, 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.
The Church has always taught that work is oriented to service: service to God, service to the Church, service to others.
We need to recover that understanding in our own lives and we need to spread that understanding in our society.
Work is how we seek God’s will and how we share in God’s plan. It is how we provide for our families and build our communities. Through our work, we build up his kingdom on earth.
A friend once said, “My dad didn’t work a blow torch in a factory for 50 years because it made him feel good. He did it because he loved me, and others who needed him.”
There is deep truth in that statement.
Whether it is the everyday work that we do in our homes, or on the job, work is a way of love, a way of service. Often our work means sacrificing our own needs and priorities for the sake of others.
Work can be a struggle. We know that Jesus himself experienced weariness.
But with work, everything depends on our intentions. We can treat our 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. We can serve God in every little thing we do.
So we should say, many times during the day, “I will serve you, Lord!” And we should ask him, “What would you have me do?”
Pray for me and I will pray for you.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help renew in our hearts our desire to work and to serve, and to show our neighbors, by our example, the great dignity and meaning of their work.