We turn our attention to the spiritual life in work. In God’s plan, work is one of the means of interior sanctification.
Sometimes work turns man from God
The value of work is generally judged from the material point of view, according to the amount and cash value of what it produces. The benefits it yields to the human person are, on the other hand, ignored, as if the whole value of work were something that did not affect man himself. Herein lies an impoverishment of the concept of work, and a one-sidedness of the view of work. In this field, work is often considered an obstacle to the interior life, for work dissipates it, and diverts it from God.
Man, when he is forced into excessively heavy work, is, as it were, handicapped, wronged by God, for he cannot discover God in his work. In fact, the contemporary organization of work very often distracts man completely from God owing to its one-sided exploitation of the former’s efforts and time.
It is true that man is not destined for prayer alone, but neither is he created for work alone. Man is made for both prayer and work. Work can be allied to sanctification, for the inner harmony of human life has a salutary influence on work.
Exterior work not only should not become an obstacle to man; on the contrary, it should help him to sanctification. The very fact that work takes up the larger portion of our life induces the thought that God could not arrange life in such a way that man has his back turned on Him for so long. The truth is to be found halfway between both extremes. So the problem arises of how to arrange our work in such a way that it serves our interior life and, indeed, becomes one of the means of our sanctification.
St. John’s words are worthy of note: “The wages paid to him who reaps this harvest, the crop he gathers in, is eternal life, in which sower and reaper are to rejoice together” (John 4:36).
This seems strange at first. Of course whoever reaps receives his wages; this is clear. But that he should gather the fruit unto life everlasting!
It is plain that everything we do has some connection with the sanctification of the human soul and profits us not only materially but spiritually. That, in fact, is how it is.
Work expresses our love for the Creator of all things
Work is the development and formation of love in oneself, and a wonderful opportunity of expressing to God our love for Him. For in work man becomes God’s “wise and faithful servant” (Matt. 24:45), on the model of the Gospel servant whom his master entrusted with care of the household to ensure that it received its measure of wheat at the appointed time.
Every man who is performing useful and purposeful work is appointed to it by God, who calls us by a vocation or an inclination, a fancy or a sense of mission, or through compliance and obedience to our superiors. Man is appointed by different methods, so that his labor may bear some fruit.
From this it follows that everything that man does — provided that it is intelligent, noble, fitting, and useful — is embraced by the will of God. God has assigned to us a certain section of work, determined by duty, vocation, obedience, or inclination, that we might go and bring back fruit. The heavenly “Householder” settles accounts wonderfully with the workers under Him: “Since thou hast been faithful over little things, I have great things to commit to thy charge” (Matt. 25:23). God entrusts us with the small details of temporal life and repays our faithfulness with life everlasting.
Therefore whatever we do, we should regard as being done on God’s orders. Seeing things in this light, we must be faithful even in small matters; the great God ordained them and by faithfulness to God and love for Him, everything becomes great. For these little things are bound up in the plan and order of the world; they are included in God’s thought and commands. God foresaw these things, gave the energy for them, allotted them a time and a place, and appointed their goal and executor. Man, by his submission, is the executor of God’s universal plan in its details.
The greatness of our life in furthering God’s plans does not depend on what we do, on what form our activity takes, but on how we perform our tasks. Tiny and insignificant achievements can make us great, while great ones, if they are badly performed, can degrade us. Those who are “faithful in little things” are also entitled to the reward of eternal happiness — which is the greatest reward there is.
From such trifles of life, when they are performed with a great heart, arises the greatness of man. This is a truth of no little weight in daily life, for in its name are undertaken the dull, dirty, wearisome jobs of the world, without which human life would become impossible. It gives patience, submissiveness, and humility to all those unknown workers whom the proud world values so little, but who are rightly convinced that no honest work can harm a man, for we are all capable of, and are all called to, higher things.
The value of a human act does not depend on what sort of work one does, but on how one does it, on the degree of one’s love and submission to God.
Man, by his work, becomes God’s friend
“And you, if you do all that I command you, are my friends” (John 15:14). Man wins God’s friendship by every task that he does in submission to God, in concert with God’s plan.
“I do not speak of you any more as my servants; a servant is one who does not understand what his master is about, whereas I have revealed to you all that my Father has told me; and I have called you my friends” (John 15:15). This can be seen particularly in work, by which we enter into a direct relationship with everything around us. We recognize the Creator in creation, in the ordering of the world’s affairs in accordance with God’s thought. We are obligated to carry out God’s plans. This work is necessary to God; God intended it, that the world might fully respond to His temporal and eternal purpose. The fulfilment of God’s plan in the world is the revelation of friendship with God. And this is just what happens in every kind of human work that brings people closer and binds them together with the ties of fellowship and friendship.
We come to know God through our work
For labor brings one closer to creation, which is God’s work. The book of Wisdom teaches us this: “For by the greatness of the beauty, and of the creature, the Creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby” (Wisd. 13:5).
In external work the link with the Creator’s works becomes so close that this very link opens our eyes to the moving force behind the marvels of the world. Next to interior life, an active life is one of the most direct ways of bringing one close to God. God wished to make creation witness to His existence, like a voice saying to men, “There is a God.” Even if there were no divine Revelation and teaching Church, creation would bear witness to the Creator. The closer people are to nature, the more strongly they sense the nearness of God.
People in the country are more religious not because they are less exposed to corruption, but because they are in closer touch with nature. We feel our full dependence on God when we work on a farm; we recognize more easily the richness and greatness of creation and its inner beauty. Those who have lost God will find Him again in the voices of nature. Let us read the poetry of Kasprowicz, Bak, and Staff, which is full of the testimony that nature bears to its Creator. It is fortunate that towns no longer impress people so much, and that men are returning to the “bosom of nature.”
We feel God in the various gifts we use in the effort of work. We adore God in the gift of physical strength, recognizing our dependence on the Creator in the most elementary conditions of our work: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We feel God in the gifts of mind and will, which give us the ability to act and to arrive at an understanding of the created world and of those around us.
Our love for God is born from a deep knowledge of Him. Those whose lives are closely bound up with work usually have a greater love for God than have the idle. For in work we have the most vital contact with the goodness of God and with His love, which purifies and elevates us. From love is born the will for cooperation with God, for love consists in our surrendering our thought and will to Him. We approach God in our work, knowing that we can do all things, but only by relying on the help of God.
Work is an expression of our love of God
Work, undertaken from love of God and carried out in that spirit, is the high point of an active working life. It is a participation in the act of creation and in the work of God’s Providence, that inconceivable work through which God by an act of His love keeps everything in existence.
With human work God brings His act of creation a step further. Man, in fact, creates nothing, for he is not omnipotent; but by his toil he causes the works that have been created by God to attain the perfection that is proper to them and to which they have been ordained. The cooperation of men with God’s works enhances their effectiveness, because man “comprehending by the power of his reason things innumerable . . . governs himself by the foresight of his counsel, under the eternal law and the power of God, Whose Providence governs all things.”
Man’s cooperation helps to bring about the achievement of God’s purpose. God willed that a rational being should go in among all the riches of nature and order them according to his own needs. God has need of human hands and legs, that with their help creation may reach the perfection that is His aim. In our work we usually forget about this loving cooperation with God; we do not realize that we are performing an act of love toward Him, that to some extent we are supplementing what I will be bold enough to call the “insufficiency” of God. And merely a little control will direct, in the fullest way possible, all our spiritual and physical powers to cooperation with God.
Work contributes to our salvation
Work, done for the love of God, is the participation of man not only in the act of creation, but also in the act of our salvation. For in every type of work, we experience toil and hardship that we can offer to God as a measure of atonement for human sins. The hardship of work flows from the clouding over of will and reason by Original Sin, and their consequent opposition to the laws of blessed work.
Should we want complete emancipation from this salutary hardship? Should we not realize rather that this work is due to God, as is our gratitude that the duty of work should be combined with the opportunity of restoring the order that was disrupted by sin? To accept the small amount of toil that is unavoidable even with the best organization of work, is to cooperate in the purification of our reason, will, and feelings, and to repair in ourselves whatever can be repaired in the course of work.
Finally, it should be remembered that only the work that is undertaken out of love for God is salutary and meritorious. All other work, no matter how heroic, will not bring about man’s salvation.
Our salvation will not be brought about even by heroic work undertaken with the future of the state in mind; it will not be brought about by painful, competitive toil, driven by the desire for profit or wages. It is regrettable that so great an effort, undertaken by millions of people, should neither cleanse them from guilt, nor free them from sin, nor atone to God, nor redeem, nor increase God’s glory.
Work done without love has no power to redeem man from guilt. “In eating, in drinking, in all that you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Cor. 10:31). The smallest act can be sanctified by the intention that inspires it; it can bring merit with it and redemption, if its motive is the love of God. And on the other hand, spiritual, interior work, and even prayer itself, becomes materialistic and pagan when it is without love. Such are the mysteries of love, which lead us toward God through temporal affairs.
If the world were arranged otherwise it would long ago have become totally material and been lost. The value of human acts comes from the intention behind them. The lowest work can, through love, raise one to the heights of holiness, while the loftiest work, when it is performed without love, lowers and damns one. “I may give myself up to be burned at the stake; if I lack charity, it goes for nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).
Since our life is bound up with the immensity of daily work, since work is our blessing in the mind of God and a need of rational human nature, since work can raise man to the very peaks of holiness, let the purest love for God guide it. Love shall be its beginning and fulfillment. For this, “every man shall receive a reward, and reap a harvest in everlasting life” (John 4:36).