faith work

Does God Care About Work? 5 Ways To Be Catholic On The Job

Labor Day is just a few days away. It’s a U.S. tradition dating back to 1882 in New York City, promoted by the labor movement who wanted safe work environments and fair pay for workers. It is now a national holiday, giving thanks to the American worker.

All that is good, but does it matter to our Catholic faith? Does God care about our work? Whether we are behind a counter taking food orders, holding a sign by the side of the road to guide traffic, pacing with a baby who won’t settle down for the night,  or performing a delicate operation to save someone’s life, we all work. It’s part of our daily lives. It is necessary to us personally and to society as a whole. Of course God cares about our work.

St. John Paul II, in 1981, gave us the encyclical Laborem Exercens (Through Labor). In it, he reminds us that, of all God’s creations, only humans are capable of work. In fact, work was part of humanity from its very beginning, as Adam and Eve were given the mandate to care for the Garden in which God had placed them, along with the animals. St. John Paul II also reminds us that work must be dignified; it must lift people up, not oppress them:

If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being”.

Without this consideration it is impossible to understand the meaning of the virtue of industriousness, and more particularly it is impossible to understand why industriousness should be a virtue: for virtue, as a moral habit, is something whereby man becomes good as man. This fact in no way alters our justifiable anxiety that in work, whereby matter gains in nobility, man himself should not experience a lowering of his own dignity. Again, it is well known that it is possible to use work in various ways against man,that it is possible to punish man with the system of forced labour in concentration camps, that work can be made into a means for oppressing man, and that in various ways it is possible to exploit human labour, that is to say the worker. All this pleads in favour of the moral obligation to link industriousness as a virtue with the social order of work, which will enable man to become, in work, “more a human being” and not be degraded by it not only because of the wearing out of his physical strength (which, at least up to a certain point, is inevitable), but especially through damage to the dignity and subjectivity that are proper to him.

John Paul II also made clear that the Church has a duty to workers. Indeed, he said, there is a spiritual dimension to work:

The Church considers it her duty to speak out on work from the viewpoint of its human value and of the moral order to which it belongs, and she sees this as one of her important tasks within the service that she renders to the evangelical message as a whole. At the same time she sees it as her particular duty to form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God, the Creator and Redeemer, to participate in his salvific plan for man and the world and to deepen their friendship with Christ in their lives by accepting, through faith, a living participation in his threefold mission as Priest, Prophet and King, as the Second Vatican Council so eloquently teaches.

Thus, God not only cares about our work, but He uses work to transform us spiritually, give us dignity, and help us become closer to God, who is the Ultimate Creator.

What does it mean practically? We all have work situations we don’t like: the person in the cubicle next to us who talks non-stop, the manager who seems to hate everyone she manages, a tedious job we don’t like, but it pays the bills. How can we bring our spiritual life into these situations? Here are a couple of practical ways:

  1. Begin your day at work with prayer. It can be something formal, like Morning Prayers or a more simple prayer asking that God be with us as we work, and be with our co-workers as well.
  2. Be open about being Catholic. You don’t have to preach a sermon daily, but you can put a prayer card up in your cubicle, keep a Bible on your desk or wear a symbol of your Faith. Be open to discussions about the Faith as well: when a co-worker asks why you don’t eat meat on Fridays, have a ready answer.
  3. Show Christ’s love. We all bring our home lives to work in some way. Maybe you have a co-worker who is struggling with an illness, or someone is going through a divorce. Quietly acknowledge their situation and let them know you are praying for them. More importantly, that co-worker who talks all the time or the manager who is downright ornery? Pray for them too. Our actions should always be loving.
  4. Be a good steward of your time and space. That means a tidy work space, knowing where documents or tools are, and working while you’re at work. While the occasional walk around the office is good for body and mind, we also need to make sure that we don’t end up taking time from our work by playing games, chatting or indulging in other activities that “steal” time from our primary task.
  5. Be thankful. Some of us are blessed to have jobs that we find fulfilling. Others of us have work that is physically or emotionally difficult (think of a psychologist who helps people solve issues in their lives all day long – that’s hard work!) Others of us have jobs we really don’t like, but we must have that paycheck. No matter what our work is, there are things we can be thankful for. Find those things and offer God your thankfulness every day.

Yes, God cares about our labor, because He cares about us. In turn, we must always remember that our work is part of the order of God’s creation and be mindful of all that we have to be thankful for. Happy Labor Day!

hearts long for

What Does Your Heart Long For?

Our daily walk through this world can be tedious. We have to-do lists, calendar items, agendas: everything we must get accomplished in a day. Our walk can be lonely: friends drift apart, children grow up, people die. We have more things now to entertain us than at any other time in history, and yet boredom sets in.

We are not made to do things. We are made for Christ, and Him alone. Our purpose here is to become saints. Our hearts do not long for another meeting or another chore. Our hearts do not long for television shows or video games. Our hearts long for God.

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke knew this. His parents wished that he join the military but his heart was for something else. He loved language and poetry. In 1899, at the age of about 24, Rilke traveled to Russia and there met the great writer Lev (Leo) Tolstoy, whose work explores the deepest desires of the human heart. Tolstoy’s influence on Rilke’s work is clear to see.

Raised as a Catholic, Rilke rejected the faith. However, his poems are full of Christian references and imagery, leading one to think that Rilke, too, longed for more than what this world has to offer. His entire life he struggled with light and dark, God and man, faith and despair.

Despite his struggles with faith and his avowed atheism, one cannot reject his poetry merely because he could not find faith and hope himself.  Who among us does not doubt? Who among us has not cried out to God in anger? Who among us has not turned his face to Heaven and said, “I want you, Lord. I need you. What I have is not enough; I long for more”? Even those who do not believe have searched the heavens, knowing that there is more, yet not being able to grasp it.

What does your heart long for?

Here is Rainer Mariaa Rilke’s Go To the Limits of Your Longing.”

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.


God And The Creative Spirit

God is the Ultimate Artist. He – unlike us – can create something out of nothing. And create He does! The natural world is filled with His glory: flowers, animals, mushrooms, sea creatures – we are surrounded by His delight in color, movement, textures. His sense of humor is evident too; all one has to do is watch kittens play or pandas roll in the snow to know that God finds humor in His creation as well.

Despite the fact that some folks think elephants can create works of art, humans really are the only creatures who can purposely create. Some of us create very useful things: we knit sweaters or build a house. Others are blessed with more artistic talents: painting and sculpting and great works of literature. But all human art first, is created out of “something” and second, is a reflection of God’s good creation.

In 1999, during his pontificate, St. John Paul II wrote a letter to artists. It is worth reading regardless of whether or not you are an artist. He tells us what the unique role of the artist is in human culture … and it’s an important one.

Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, technicians, workers, professional people, witnesses of the faith, teachers, fathers and mothers, who ensure the growth of the person and the development of the community by means of that supreme art form which is “the art of education”. Within the vast cultural panorama of each nation, artists have their unique place. Obedient to their inspiration in creating works both worthwhile and beautiful, they not only enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity, but they also render an exceptional social service in favour of the common good.

The particular vocation of individual artists decides the arena in which they serve and points as well to the tasks they must assume, the hard work they must endure and the responsibility they must accept. Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labour without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. There is therefore an ethic, even a “spirituality” of artistic service, which contributes in its way to the life and renewal of a people. It is precisely this to which Cyprian Norwid seems to allude in declaring that “beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up”. [emphasis added]

St. John Paul II also reminds us that the gift within each artist comes from God:

Dear artists, you well know that there are many impulses which, either from within or from without, can inspire your talent. Every genuine inspiration, however, contains some tremor of that “breath” with which the Creator Spirit suffused the work of creation from the very beginning. Overseeing the mysterious laws governing the universe, the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power. He touches it with a kind of inner illumination which brings together the sense of the good and the beautiful, and he awakens energies of mind and heart which enable it to conceive an idea and give it form in a work of art. It is right then to speak, even if only analogically, of “moments of grace”, because the human being is able to experience in some way the Absolute who is utterly beyond.

Even if we are not schooled in great art or literature, we know when we are in its presence. It creates a sense of awe and wonder. It deepens our understanding of ourselves, the world, of God. Art creates “moments of grace.”

Here is one such moment of grace. Enjoy the beauty of “Kinetic Rain,” an art installation at the Changi Airport in Singapore.


male and female

Male And Female He Created Them

We return today to the Holy Father’s apostolic letter, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love.) Pope Francis, following the groundwork laid by St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, reminds us that men and women are equal in dignity, but are distinct in the gifts they offer the world. It is a primary tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition that humanity was created male and female and as with all God’s creation, both are fundamentally good.

This apostolic letter addresses many current issues and problems in the world that, even 50 years ago, would have been thought outlandish or impossible. The scourge of drug abuse and its burden on families, the idea that one can choose to “identify” as a different gender and the scientific advances that have made procreation outside of the conjugal act possible are all discussed.

It needs to be emphasized that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. On the other hand, “the technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the reproductive act, making it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples”. It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created. Para. 56

The letter expounds further that women, in the role of motherhood, are indispensable to children and families:

[W]e cannot ignore the need that children have for a mother’s presence, especially in the first months of life. Indeed, “the woman stands before the man as a mother, the subject of the new human life that is conceived and develops in her, and from her is born into the world”. The weakening of this maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world. I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities – motherhood in particular – also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all. Para. 173

The pope laments that fathers, in so many cases, are absent in today’s family. This leaves an enormous hole in the heart of the family and of a child.

God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present. When I say ‘present’, I do not mean ‘controlling’. Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don’t let them develop”. Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that “children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it”. It is not good for children to lack a father and to grow up before they are ready. Para. 177

In the day-to-day life of our homes, we rarely think of the “grandeur” of the feminine or the “gifts of masculinity.” Nor does every family follow traditional roles; in some families, the father is at home with the children while the mother works outside the home, the father is the one who cooks and cleans and the mother is the one who maintains the car. The point made in this letter from Pope Francis is not that men and women should do certain things, but rather that men and women are different beings. We know we must care for the created world: we recycle, are careful with our use of water and so on. Yet many of us never give a thought to how we respect the masculine and feminine, the man and woman God created. Pope Francis, in this apostolic letter, gives us the opportunity to reflect on this.

God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. 

God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food.

And so it happened God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Gen. 1:27-31