From what flows the joys of human work? God wanted man himself to be the creator of his own well-being. In depriving him of all ready-made instruments, God left him with the most precious gifts of all: reason and his hands. Here precisely is the source of all our joy in work.
Thanks to our talents we have the possibility of continuous improvement, of changing the instruments of our work, and of spiritualizing the whole of human work, including every facet of it down to the lowest form of service. All honest work ends, even after the hardest toil, with a certain joy.
Work can bring about natural joy
kinds of work are not hard or toilsome to the same extent. There are pleasant
forms of work; and even in extremely exhausting work there can be sublime
moments. For there exists some natural joy for man in triumphing in the act of
making things that will serve human needs. There are types of work, especially
those closer to nature, which contain much human joy. The farmer beams at the
sight of growing corn, an abundant crop, and trees full of beautiful fruit.
Do we not feel joy in the very act of using our energy, our abilities, our physical and spiritual faculties? Let us look at the healthy, smiling, sunburned faces (even if they are sometimes moist with sweat) of people who know the value of useful creative effort. In such physical labor, man takes delight.
But we are faced with something still more profound: our consciousness of self. Thus we are faced not only with the satisfaction that comes from our inborn skill in work, but also with the sense of our own personality, which is reflected in our works and somehow projects us into them. Man feels an almost divine joy when he contemplates the signs of his labor in material works. Just as God during the seven days of creation declared repeatedly that all He had made was very good, so man in his works sees a reflection of his own image.
How often we recognize the master from his work: the artist, scientist, artisan, and farmer from the fruits of their work! These works indeed bear witness to the man. When we want to know the worth of a man, we ask what he does and what he has achieved.
Man sees in his work the continual development of his abilities and qualities. He sees the development of his personality, as well as his growing physical and spiritual powers, to which increasingly perfect works bear witness. Does not this make us happy? In this happiness man completely forgets the pain and labor of work. If he does remember the toil or how he overcame his difficulties, do not these memories afford new causes for joy? Besides, is it not just when we have managed to struggle through a whole forest of sufferings and trials that our well-wishers express their admiration and respect for us?
When our work is already crowned with success, when our efforts — of many years, perhaps — have brought us to our goal, which is the liberation of man by the fulfilment of his longings, how much joy this gives us! In this happy state of exaltation, plans for new work usually arise, although we know beforehand that they will once more wring sweat from our brows, “the burden of the day and the heat” (Matt. 20:12), grief, pain, and sleepless nights. Our joy rises above all this; the man who gives himself over to idleness will never know it.
Nor will the man who does not know how tiring work can be ever know real rest. Even when it comes to amusing himself, it is only the working man who can have full pleasure.
Finally, there is the joy that flows from the feeling of having completed some task that will be useful for one’s neighbors. Man is glad that he has given some preconceived form to matter, that he has made something in his own image and likeness, and that through this both he and his work are of service and have achieved human usefulness. When we consider the work itself, its goodness, usefulness, fitness, and its acceptance by other people, joy is born in us, as well as love for the work of our hands, which is similar to the love of God for the world.
Work can bring about supernatural joy
Human work is love for God and for one’s brother. It is the reply of a rational being to the summons of love by which God asked us in a sublime manner to cooperate in His creative activity. Man plays the part of the second cause in the government, by Providence, of the world.
this derives the great dignity of man working with God and also the unusual
dignity of his work: it is cooperation between man and God in both joys and
sorrows. It is the work of prayer, worship, and the love of God.
As such, work becomes for man the source of great new joy from the vocation and elevation by which he has been honored, from the knowledge that he is acting “hand in hand” with the Creator, from the graces of his state flowing over all his works, and from the actual grace given like a good spirit to all his efforts, labors, and works.
A new joy flows from love for men. St. Paul bears witness to how necessary this love is in work: “I may give away all that I have, to feed the poor; I may give myself up to be burnt at the stake; but if I lack charity, it goes for nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).
How many people burn themselves out at work! There is no lack either of people who, while proclaiming the dignity of work, look on it with hatred as a sad necessity. This is an almost universal tragedy, just as work is a universal phenomenon.
And yet work has its usual reward in the love of men and
the world. Through work a link is forged with other people, and this teaches us
to love. Man works so as to create and renew the good things that are useful to
his neighbors; the fruit of our work is the proof of our friendliness to other
people. In this sense, work brings us closer to love of our neighbors in God.
And therefore work cannot be carried out with a clenched fist and a shrivelled
heart. The heart must unfold just as the hand must. Otherwise it is not real
work. It is only at this price that the hardest work, like charity, “sustains,
believes, hopes, and endures to the last” (1 Cor. 13:7). It is only then that
the heaviest sacrifices that go with work can be faced without class hatred,
only then that work gives out all those virtues without which it cannot be
fruitful. “Charity is patient, is kind, feels no envy, is never perverse or
proud, never insolent, does not claim its rights, cannot be provoked, does not
brood over an injury; . . . but rejoices at the victory of truth” (1 Cor.
13:4-6). Of truth! Of this truth: that all creation is filled by the open hands
of people, as by the open hands of God, with a plenitude of blessings.
And there is one more human joy in work, a joy that is really divine. This is the joy that comes from the fact that work done with love helps to achieve man’s redemption. When we unite our work with an act of love for God, by this love we lighten our labor; we wipe the sweat from our brows.
When we undertake work from love of God, this merciful God lets us share in a task of great honor and efficacy — that of atonement. Thus it follows that work in the sweat of our brow both cleanses and ennobles us. The feeling of freedom that work gives is the highest joy. To gaze at God, face-to-face, gladdens us through all our toil and weariness. Our sorrow is turned into joy.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Cardinal Wyszynski’s spiritual classic, Sanctify Your Daily Life: How to Transform Work Into a Source of Strength, Holiness, and Joy. It is available as an ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press.