Has man’s God-given vocation been entirely lost sight of? Look around you. You live in a world that has lost faith. Religion has been replaced by work and achievement. In such a world, men take work very seriously. They want nothing less than perfection in it. Hence, their goal and their norm of judgment is efficiency. Consequently men are judged not by what they are, but by what they can do. No wonder your economic world wobbles. It has lost its center of gravity.
Your primary vocation, like that of every other human, is to be, not to do. Your life’s aim is holiness, not efficiency. God and godliness, not production, is your goal, for you have an immortal soul; you are not a machine. Every work and every profession, even the highest, is but a means for man to express his inner wholeness and to acquire more holiness; none of them is ever to become any man’s idol or total absorption.
You are now grappling with truths that have been horribly distorted in your day. Twist them back into shape so that you will be able to live twenty-four hours a day as a human, a child of God, and not spend a great part of your life on earth as a robot that keeps going through the motions so that it can make a living, but which is really only waiting for the whistle that will allow it to go out and play.
Realize first that while all men are created equal, all men are not born equal. Far from it! Some are born with silver spoons in their mouths; others with a pick and shovel by their side. In his encyclical on labor, Leo XIII showed that society always was and always will be stratified. God so wills it, as is evident from the fact that “among mankind, differences of the most important kind exist: people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength. Unequal fortune is the result of unequal condition.”
But note well that for attaining their last end, for getting back to God whole and holy, each human has been liberally endowed by His Maker. No man has grounds for complaint. You may not be gifted enough to conquer the world, but you have more than enough to conquer your sinful self — and that is, of course, the only conquest that counts. In eternity, you will not be judged on productivity, but only on Christlikeness. Hence it is essential that you learn how you can grow in Christlikeness while at work, for work you must. It is the God-given law of life.
Work is part of God’s plan for humans. But God is your Father, and God is all-good. Therefore, the work potentials He gave you must be for your happiness.
Work is holy
The second step is easy. If work is God’s will, it must be sanctifying; for, in ultimate analysis, sanctity is only doing the will of God. Therefore, work is a sacred thing; it is a “sacramental” — an outward sign that can give grace. Hence, you can go to work for the same reason you go to church to worship God! Work is a religious thing. It is holy.
That view, of course, is the antithesis of the way many modern men conceive work. They exalt it, but only by a complete reversal of values and truths. The person who helps produce impersonal goods is placed far below the goods he helps to produce and is thus completely dehumanized. Pius XI exposed this situation in his Quadragesimo Anno, saying, “Conditions of social and economic life are such that vast multitudes of men can only with great difficulty pay attention to the one thing necessary; namely, their eternal salvation.” But you can combat those conditions and overcome that very real difficulty. All you need to do is to think with the mind of Christ and will with the will of God; then you will go to work for the same purpose you go to church.
Is that possible? Well, you are what your thoughts are. A man is his mind. What are your thoughts and motives for going to church? The same can be had for going to work, for first it is God’s will. Therefore, you can make it an act of obedience to your Father. Faith, hope, and charity are already exercised in that one act and attitude of mind. Further, since you know it was the first penance laid on a sinner, you can make it reparation for your own sins and the sins of the world. You can make it plead with God for mercy on all who toil and thus fulfill those two commandments of love of God and love of neighbor which Christ said was all that is required of man.
Have you ever realized that, in making you a worker, God has given you a share in that universal Providence by which He governs the human race and in His act of conservation by which He keeps the world in being? If you are a farmer, you well know you work hand in hand with God in the production of food for man’s body and, hence, indirectly for his soul. The multiplications of bread and fishes, twice told about in the New Testament, were truly marvelous happenings. Yet St. Augustine is right to laugh at those who marvel, as he points to the relatively few seeds that are sown in the earth and the millions that are fed from their harvests. He reminds you that this annual miracle is due to God just as much as those multiplications you read of in the Gospels.
But God’s Providence does not end in the fields. He rules the entire process from the sowing of the seeds to the growth, the harvest, then the threshing, milling, and marketing. He has a hand, too, in the baking of the bread and putting it on your table. So, in all truth, every human who helps in the process is actually working hand in hand with God.
This truth brings Heaven very near. Prunes may grow in California, potatoes in Idaho, peaches in Georgia, wheat in Kansas, and corn in Kentucky; beef may be raised in Texas, and hogs butchered in Chicago. But none of these commodities will ever be served at any table miles and miles away unless all sorts of men and women cooperate with God in producing, processing, preserving, shipping, selling, and preparing them. So everyone from the grower to the boy who pastes on the labels to the housewife or the hired chef are God’s helpers — so that you may have a meal.
Viewed in that perspective, how can work be anything other than worship? Since Adam fell, work should be a sacred thing! For it can be offered to God in thanksgiving for the pardon He extended to the sinner, as expiation for the sin committed, in petition that there be no more falls, but rather an ever-increasing adoration of God’s will and His Providence. But those four ends are the four ends of the Mass. Hence, your work can be, and should be, Eucharistic: sacrifice and sacrament.
Only out-and-out pagans can consider work servile. In the Roman Empire, before Christ and Christianity, slaves did all the work. The so-called cultured class deemed it beneath their dignity to toil. But since the Son of God became the village Carpenter, no truly cultured person can look upon work — hard, manual labor — as anything less than ennobling, even deifying.
The Council of Trent has taught that the Passion and death of Christ were the principal means He used to redeem mankind. That explicit bit of dogma teaches you implicitly that it was not on Calvary alone that Christ redeemed. In other words, when Jesus was down in Nazareth working on wood, He was redeeming mankind just as truly as when He was on Calvary nailed to wood. It tells you that when Jesus’ hands held a plane or a saw, He was doing His Father’s will and thus making salvation possible for you, just as truly as when these same hands held spikes and were held by them! The Son of God was redeeming men at the carpenter’s bench in the obscurity of Nazareth just as surely as when He was followed by crowds that would take Him and make Him king — just as surely as when He was followed by that other crowd that had taken Him, mocked Him, and crucified Him for being King!
Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from a chapter in Fr. M. Raymond’s Spiritual Secrets of a Trappist Monk, available from Sophia Institute Press.