Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


VI.
Work

"What are you going to do when you finish school?" "Oh, get some kind of a job, I guess."

How many Catholic young men and women today give this vague and dreary answer to a question which should call forth intelligence and heroism, zeal and hope! And how many of us who are now parents, even those of us who had good Catholic parents and a good Catholic education, look back regretfully on many dismal years spent in finding out what our lives were for, convinced as we were that since God had not given us a priestly or religious vocation, He had no special plans for us at all.

But it is part of our faith itself to believe that God has a special plan, a vocation, for everyone, and that means for each of our children. And it is part of our faith to believe that this plan of His for each child is an integral part of His plan for the whole human race, for the upbuilding of the whole mystical Body of Christ to its final perfection.

Surely, then, one of our main tasks as parents must be to give our children a positive and realistic idea of the Christian vocation as a whole, and of the various vocations, professions, and occupations by which that vocation may be carried out by Christ's members. And we must also do everything in our power to equip our children to find out and to fulfill the part which God has given each of them in His great plan.

Obviously, all our home life, all our education and training should tend to give our children the great plan of the Christian vocation, "to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings...doing the truth in charity, to grow up in all things in Him who is the Head."

But even if we teach our children the outlines of this great plan, even if we also show it to them in our daily living, our education may yet fail of its purpose if we do not give them some idea of the various ways in which this great plan actually is to be furthered by daily Christian life and work, of how it may be furthered not only by a man's general 'state in life,' but by the works of that state and, in particular, by the work by which he earns his daily bread.

For unless God gives our children a clear and early vocation to the priesthood or religious life, the necessities of earning a living will face them as soon as their schooling is over. And if we have not managed to show them how 'real life' and earning a living, in all its rightful forms, is meant to be part of the Christian vocation, the vision we have tried to give them of God's plan may well prove to be more of a torment than a guide, more a cause of schizophrenia than of sanctity. And what a waste!

Let us begin, then, to give ourselves as clear an idea as possible of all the rightful forms of human work, of how each of these has been 'Christ-ened' by our Lord's own example and by the grace He gives us to work in Him and for Him, and of how each is meant, in God's plan to contribute to the building up of Christ's Body and to the re- establishment of all things in Christ. For if we ourselves can truly see how the work of a farmer, a storekeeper, a train-dispatcher, as well as that of a doctor or teacher or priest can be truly a share in Christ's work, then we will be prepared to give our children an intelligent and comprehensive idea of real life and of the possibilities of their own future lives.9

Moreover, if our children really possess the Christian idea of work, then they will be able, with God's grace, to help make sense out of life for their fellows in high school or college, in their neighborhood or place of work, at that most trying and difficult age when one wants the best, but is learning to expect the worst. What a marvelous opportunity for charity this would be, were more Catholic young people trained to take advantage of it!

If we consider human nature, then, in the light of Christian teaching, we see that God made men as incomplete creatures, needing each other's services and many kinds of material and spiritual goods and services in order to exist and grow and perfect themselves. We see also that God made men to His image and likeness so that they could fulfill each other's needs and their own. As God is our Creator, He made men able to be makers: as He is Truth itself, He made men able to be teachers, communicating what they learn of His wisdom to each other. And as He is Goodness and Love, the end of all human wills, He made men able to rule and guide one another toward the ends of human life.

The work of mankind, then, consists in one way or another in making, teaching, and ruling, and, because of the very relation of men to God, in the work of uniting men to God, the work of priesthood. Farmers, herdsmen, miners, builders, storekeepers, businessmen, all who work to make or produce or make available goods and services, are, obviously, makers, and many of them are also rulers of their enterprises and of those who work under them.

A doctor is a maker of health and a teacher, as his name implies, of how to become healthy. A lawyer is (or should be) a maker of peace and order and a teacher of how to achieve it. A writer is a teacher of some aspect of wisdom and a maker of the story or play or poem or article by which he communicates his vision to others.

Now all this four-fold work of mankind was planned by God in the beginning. But it has been, obviously, warped and thwarted and perverted in many ways by sin and sinfulness throughout human history, as it has been made arduous and difficult in punishment for original sin. But it has all now been redeemed and consecrated by Christ our Lord, so that men can now, in Him and through Him, work as befits God's children.

Our Lord was anointed with the Oil of Gladness of the Holy Spirit at the very beginning of His human life, to be the Priest, the King and the Prophet of all mankind (see the Preface for the Feast of Christ the King and the ceremony for the Consecration of Holy Chrism). And the great work which His Father gave Him to do of making us all into a Kingdom, included during His life on earth the ordinary human work of making tools and furniture at Nazareth, and of making stories and sermons in His public life.

Since, then, by Baptism and Confirmation, we share in our Lord's life and His powers, His work and His purpose, we can in very truth work in Him, with Him and for Him. We can make the work by which we earn our daily bread a part of our Lord's one great work of building up the Kingdom of God.

In the first place, as we all realize from the words of the Morning Offering, because of our share in Christ's Priesthood as baptized and confirmed Christians, we can offer our lives and work and sufferings to God with Christ's sacrifice in the Mass. We were incorporated into Christ's mystical Body by Baptism. Our vitality as members of that Body is increased as we grow in grace; we are living and useful members to the degree of our union with Christ in love.

According to the degree of this union, according to the measure in which our life is at the service of Christ's life, our activity is somehow united with His so as to share in the value of His great work. The more perfectly Christian we are, then, the more whatever we do and suffer is united with His work and suffering, represented in the Mass, for the redemption of mankind. In this way, all our work and suffering, whatever its other value, may be transformed into a positive contribution towards the greater vitality, growth and perfection of the whole mystical Body, the welfare of mankind and the glory of God.

One of the deepest and most glorious truths of our faith certainly is that what is only waste and loss in terms of temporal value--mistakes, suffering, failure, and death itself--can, in Christ, have the greatest possible value, individual and social, for all eternity.

But our attempts to realize this should not make us forget that ordinary human work which does produce temporal results can also have, in Christ, its eternal value. No normal man wants to spend his time and strength and energy on mere busy-work or boondoggling. And normal men resent, at least subconsciously, that so-called Christian view of work which would make of it only a punishment, or a kind of busy-work to keep us out of trouble during our earthly exile.10

But this is, of course, nowhere near the glorious Christian truth. The fact is that all rightful human work duly satisfies a real God-given or God-permitted human need, has the eternal value of helping to build up the kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, to its full and everlasting perfection.11 The City of God is "not made with hands," the houses and statues we make will not last for eternity, neither will the books we write, the laws we frame, the institutions we establish. But the effects of all these things on the human beings who are to be the living stones of God's eternal temple will last forever.

The way in which a man is fed, clothed and housed, the way in which he is taught, ruled, and entertained, given the tools and conditions under which he himself does his work--all this affects the quality of his human living (and so of the meritorious value of his actions); all this aids or hampers his achieving his final perfection as the unique member of Christ's Body that God means him to be for all eternity.

When our Lord said: "Whatever you do to these My least brethren, you do to Me," He meant it as a fact, not as a mere manner of speaking, for in feeding, clothing, comforting, advising, guiding one another, we are actually 'edifying,' that is, building up the members of Christ's own Body.

Only God himself knows, of course, when and to what extent His grace makes up for our mistakes and failures and mistreatment in fulfilling each other's needs, so that somehow in spite of all this, 'all manner of things shall be well' and the perfection of the mystical Body and each of its members finally and beautifully achieved. But we do know that we shall be judged and given our place for all eternity on how we have tried to fulfill each other's needs..."Come," or "Go" as we fed, clothed, housed, comforted Him in His brethren.12

We can easily see that a well-planned and well-built house, for instance, contributes to the possibility of men's living a good and Christian life. The lack of proper housing is one of the chief occasions of sin and discouragement today a poorly planned and built house is a source of irritation; of waste of thought and energy that might have been put into prayer or study or needed relaxation or the fruitful service of others.

But a house planned for the needs of those who live in it and built as well as a house can be, conduces to contentment, to hospitality, to good human living and so to the more effective service of God and our neighbor. Clearly, then, the work of the architect, of the contractor, of all the craftsmen who gave their time and strength and skill to building such a house, in actual fact contributes objectively to the building up of the kingdom of God. So too, for all other forms of work.

But if our work is to have such an everlasting value (as well as a real temporal value), it must satisfy duly a true human need. This means that it must be done both charitably and skillfully, so that we try to find out and satisfy our neighbor's real needs rather than to seek our own gain, and that we try to satisfy these needs as well as possible, rather than try to get away with whatever a patron or customer will take. For, obviously, if the work we do is actually for the purpose of pandering to our neighbor's vices, of hindering him from leading a good life, it is serving not Christ, but the devil. And as we would certainly not offer careless, shoddy work to Christ Himself, so neither should we offer less than the best we can, or could learn to do, to Christ in our neighbor.

If we look at the list of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we see that it adds up to a summary catalogue of human needs in an acute form. The only difference, then, for a Christian between performing a work of mercy and doing the work by which he earns his daily bread should be that he expects no return from the work of mercy, while he expects, in justice, to receive from his daily work either enough of its products, or a fee, salary, or wage sufficient to enable him to continue to satisfy his neighbor's need by means of his own particular skill, and to support his family and bring up his children to take their due part in the work of mankind, the work of Christ.

How fruitful and how wonderful, therefore, every rightful form of human work might be! As things are, few people besides priests and religious realize that they are co-workers with Christ and that their daily work has an eternal value of its own. And so the vast majority of Christians have lost the joy of this realization, and, what is worse, have lost the norms of what constitutes true and fruitful work.

Here is one of the chief causes for the desperate state of things in the world today. For the Christian truth is only the fulfillment and perfection of the true human idea of what work should be, and today we have almost completely lost both. While, thank God, many a doctor, many a small-town storekeeper or banker, many a farmer and craftsman still works primarily for other people's welfare, yet in general all kinds of vicious and artificial wants are mistaken for true "needs," the efficiency of machines and not the true welfare of the worker or the customer is the norm for what should be made, keeping up with or getting ahead of other people are the norms for success, rather than the true service of others.

Now, surely, it is the full Christian truth about work that we must be ready to give to our children. For if they are called to any form of lay life, they will have the double vocation of carrying out their own daily work as Christians, and of doing whatever they can to re-establish their chosen profession or occupation "in Christ"; to make it easier for others to work as Christians and to produce the full effects of Christian work and so leaven the whole of society. Or, if God calls our children to be His priests or religious, a part of their vocation will be to teach and lead and guide others by work and prayer toward the Christian idea of work.

In the next chapter, then, we will consider some concrete suggestions as to how we may best communicate to our children this Christian view of work and train them to work in accordance with it.

Discussion Topics

1. Discuss the place of work in the life of a Christian. Is work to be considered primarily as a punishment imposed on man? A man has an independent income sufficient to satisfy his normal needs; would this man be a better and happier person if he did not work at all?

2. Contrast the basic Christian motives for work with the prevailing secular ideas about work. Analyze the various professions in terms of how their members seem to be motivated by Christian motives of work. How many workers get satisfaction from their work because they are filling a "true human need" of someone else? How extensive is the concept that work is to provide a service for others?

3. A husband works long hours and overtime because he wants to provide the "best" for his family. The wife works regularly away from home in order to increase family income so they can buy things of the same standard as their neighbors and friends. Do their motives reflect the Christian concept of work?

4. Discuss methods of developing a Christian idea of work in children. How far can children be expected to appreciate the deeper motivations of routine work at home? The mother of a family does most of the cooking, cleaning, and sewing rather than have her daughters help because, she says, "It's easier and faster to do it myself than to try to show them how--and besides, I can do it better." Is this the Christian approach?

5. To what extent should the father share in the work of homemaking? Should the wife assume that her husband will take over the chief responsibility for family work after he gets home in the evening? Should the husband and wife share equally the necessary work on Saturday afternoons and Sunday? How does a Christian philosophy of work provide a basis for solving this problem?

Study Questions

1. Classify the four ways in which man works.

2. Explain the meaning of the word "works" in the Morning Offering.

3. What is the principal purpose of work?

4. Why are the conditions under which men work important?

5. What is the difference between one's regular daily work and a spiritual or corporal work of mercy?

Continue:
The Christian Pattern
Our Neighbors
"...You Did It Unto Me"
Things
Places
Work
Training for Life's Work and Play
Vocations
Redeeming the Times
Sex Education
Attaining Our Ideals

 

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