Working for an Eternal Living
May 1, 2012
On this feast of St. Joseph the Worker, I am reminded of my past jobs, particularly the part-time ones.
My first job (chore?) was working (paying back a debt of nature?) for my dad doing yard work. Mostly I cut the grass on the 14 acres of our used-to-be-a-farm, but I also cleared out and hauled away brush, stacked wood, and other such tasks as can safely occupy a kid outside. I enjoyed it, and the methodical hours passed in the seat of a tractor help me to develop an internal life, an introspective approach to life, and the beginnings of a steady prayer life. Personally, I “blame” this job (chore?) for my Philosophy and Theology degrees. I also enjoyed the work because of the deep satisfaction of seeing the job completed: the well-maintained yard, the trimmed bushes, the neatly stacked woodpile. It gave me the sense that I had left my mark on the world. It something concrete I could point to and say, “I am responsible for that.”
My next job, my first “real” job, was a food service aide at an assisted living home. Indoors, set hours, and a supervisor who was not my dad made this job quite a bit different from my home job (chore?). Yet it still provided an opportunity for personal reflection and a deep sense of accomplishment. I couldn’t point to a pile of logs and say, “I am responsible for that.” However, I could point to a smiling old man in a wheelchair and say, “I am responsible for that.” I wasn’t leaving my mark on the physical world of creation so much as on the intangible world of another human person.
There were many other more mundane tasks that went into leaving my mark on this intangible world of the soul. Part of my duties includes washing dishes, taking out the kitchen trash, and keeping the dining room and the kitchen clean. These mundane tasks, though not ever glorious, were as much a part of touching a resident’s heart as the conversations in the dining room, but they were a part of it that the residents never saw. Without clean plates and silverware, not a single resident would eat and not a single food service aide would have a dish to bring to a resident—and that dish was the impetus for conversation. Even the most mundane tasks at this job carried the hidden weight of great dignity.
That is exactly what the Church teaches about all work. The Compendium to the Catechism describes it this way: “Work is both a duty and a right through which human beings collaborate with God the Creator. Indeed, by working with commitment and competence we fulfill the potential inscribed in our nature, honor the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him, provide for ourselves and for our families, and serve the human community. Furthermore, by the grace of God, work can be a means of sanctification and collaboration with Christ for the salvation of others” (no. 513). Whether you work at a church and report to a man with the title “Monsignor” or in a cubicle and report to someone who may not even know your name, all work is an act of collaboration with the Creator and an extension of His work of creation. St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us.
For more on this topic, check out this document from the Vatican: “Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection”