Sanctification of Work

Latin Mass: 5th Sunday after Epiphany
Beloved in Jesus Christ,[i] 
Back in the 1930’s, St. Josemaria Escriva visited the city of Burgos[ii]  in Spain with a group of young men that he knew.   One day, exploring that historic town,  they went up inside the great Cathedral, built in 1221.  Reaching the very high towers, St. Josemaria pointed out to those young people, the beautiful, detailed lattice-work of stone that could be seen, high up there.  ‘This, he said, was evidently the result of patient and laborious craftsmanship;  but the workers did this, knowing that none of this beauty could be seen by the people down below.  They did all this painstaking, detailed work for no one else but God.     

Friends, our daily work is the way that we are to praise God.   We are not monks or nuns,  and so for us, it is our ordinary work by which we praise God daily.     The world sees work as a necessary part of duty;   to get money, to pay the bills, to survive.     Many become wearied with their work. Or bored.  They think that work is just torture. They say:  ‘I’m sick of life at the factory; I’m tired of going to the office’  do I have to study all that homework, I am sick of cleaning the house.  Work for some people is nothing but a nasty effort that has to get done. 

But there is a better way.  Let us first consider what happens in sports.   When an offensive linemen in football is tired and sore and bleeding – is he sad?   Would he rather just go to bed and do nothing because this work is too hard.   No! He loves it! In fact, if he were on the bench,   he would want to get into the game.   So, THAT work is not a drudgery or wearisome.    

When the gymnastics teacher says ok, let’s do the drill yet again, and we are tired,   do we say, ‘I’m so bored with this, I just want to watch tv instead?’ No!    

And in track. Runners will often run to near collapse,   and pour out all of themselves in the race – why?  Because in sports, we feel part of a great purpose;  we are part of a noble battle,   for this we will sweat and bleed to exhaustion.    

Well Christians who are happy at work, have found a similar secret.  We have found that if we do our daily work well, as a gift to God,  we have given our work a supernatural tone, a greatness,  because even the most mundane tasks have an eternal significance.   A Christian offering his work to God will think:  ‘I will be thorough and careful in my studies;   ‘I will get up on time to go to my business, or to school;   ‘I will be orderly about my things. I will live my life perfectly for Jesus Christ.       

You know, when St. Joseph was working as a carpenter,   he knew that every detail was being done for the Child Jesus;   That Son of God, who had made the universe,   he watched with what care and dedication Joseph carved and sanded    Whether we are a carpenter or a teacher, or an electrician, or a pilot, or a nurse, or a homemaker, or dentist – or retired –  whether we are doing the laundry or vacuuming, or lawyering or building,    if we are doing it perfectly, for God,   the work is of infinite value.   

St. Paul says today, ‘whatsoever you do in word or in work,  do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.’     Friends, it is very easy to live a kind of double-life.  Some people think: ‘I say prayers in the morning, and before I eat, before bed. I go to Mass on Sunday – there, that’s what I do for God;  the rest is other stuff.   But this is not to have unity of life; this is to put God in a convenient box.    

The workplace is full of workers with all kinds of motivations. Some for sheer money, others seeking status –   there are bad motives that destroy the sanctification of work.  These are like the weeds Jesus speaks of in the gospel.   But if the actions of our day are done for the glory of God,   then our work truly becomes wheat in the field of God’s world.     

Imagine a person who works in your office or at the work-site.  Say they know little about God; say their life is a moral wreck,  and they are unhappy, searching for the WAY.   Now they get to see that you do your work always well,  that you take great care for details, never sloppy or rushed.  You are polite and courteous in relating to others.   You are a professional.    

Now this person happens to hear that you are a Christian.  ‘A Catholic man,’ he thinks. ‘he really seems to have it together, and people really trust him.’   In this way then, by your sanctification of work,   you have become a beacon of hope for this man.     

St. Josemaria says[iii], ‘what use is it telling me   that someone is a good Christian, but a bad shoemaker.   If he doesn’t try to learn his trade well, or is lazy,  he won’t be able to offer it to the Lord.     What a scandal, if someone who is not a Catholic does their job with more care and perseverance than us![iv]   We are not serving God if we leave a job unfinished,   if we are careless or unreliable or disorganized –   then we are not serving God.    Work is part of God’s plan for us. 
In the Book of Genesis, we see that from the beginning  work was part of being human,   and this was BEFORE sin came into the world.     

It is true that many are unemployed today,  but the unemployed person has work to do also:  he gets up on time, and maps out the day for himself.   His main work – is looking for a job,  but his time can also be used to do other things.   
As St. Paul says, ‘In eating, in drinking, in all that you do,   do everything for the glory of God.[v]    

St Catherine of Sienna would become famous throughout Europe for her holiness and miracles; what was her secret?  Her secret was this: she offered every detail of her life,   of her work, for the glory of God.     Catherine would work in her father’s kitchen, humbly cooking the food, kneading the bread, and carrying out the most menial tasks.   At one point, her parents punished her and made her clean their  entire 25 room home by herself, as if she were a slave.   She never complained, but instead, she did each task as perfectly as she could, offering it to God.     

St. Catherine used to imagine while she worked and cleaned,   that she was another Martha in the gospels, doing it for Christ.   She liked to think of her brothers as the disciples and her mother as Mary.    Well. Then let’s ourselves bring Jesus and Mary more into our daily work. Let our work itself become a prayer.  And no matter the task, let us do everything well for the glory of God.

(Entrusted to the prayers of St. Bernadette)

 


[i] For other ideas on Work, see Christ is Passing By, p. 110, and How to Pray Always.

[ii] Friends of God, p. 100.

[iii] Friends of God, p. 92.

[iv] Friends of God, p. 94

[v] 1 Cor 10:31

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