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!


Prosper The Work Of Our Hands!

At the end of Psalm 90, there is a beautiful cry to the Lord:

Fill us at daybreak with your mercy,
that all our days we may sing for joy.
Make us glad as many days as you humbled us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
Show your deeds to your servants,
your glory to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our God be ours.
Prosper the work of our hands!
Prosper the work of our hands!

It is easy to leave God out of our professional life. Some of us may think that our faith and our work don’t really have much to do with each other; what does driving a truck have to do with being a faithful Catholic, for instance? Maybe we work somewhere that has strict rules about displaying religious signs or affiliations – a government job, perhaps. Or maybe you just think that all the “holy roller stuff” is for Sunday mornings and not for work. All that Jesus talk is best left to Father, not me.

If you work full-time, you spend at least 40 hours a week, or 2,400 minutes a week working. That does not take into account the time any of us spend working on chores at home: mowing the lawn, doing laundry, preparing meals. If we leave God out of this time because we’re not sure He belongs there, that means the majority of our lives is spent without Him. He simply becomes someone we think about for about an hour or so once a week.

How much time do you spend chatting with a co-worker or customers? When you’re home, do you take time from your family to complete projects from your job? All of this is common and sometimes necessary. But how often do you talk to God during your work day? Have you invited Him into your cubicle, your office, the factory floor, the hospital rooms? Do you begin your day asking Him to bless your work that day with His presence?

“Prosper the work of our hands!” This is not about asking God to make us rich. No, it is about reminding ourselves that first and foremost, we serve God. Everything else in our lives springs from that.

“Prosper the work of our hands!” St. John Paul II, in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (Through Work), wrote:

[T]he basis for determining the value of human work is not primarily the kind of work being done but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person. The sources of the dignity of work are to be sought primarily in the subjective dimension, not in the objective one. . . . [T]he whole labor process must be organized and adapted in such a way as to respect the requirements of the person and his or her forms of life, above all life in the home.

God gives our work dignity, because He gives us dignity. No matter the task at hand, no matter our job or career, God wishes for us to invite Him in.

“Prosper the work of our hands!” Today, give over your work to God. Allow Him into your work, paid or unpaid, serving a boss, a company or your family. Remember Him throughout your day. Whatever your task your hands are busy with, ask God to prosper their work.

living faith

Living Your Catholic Faith Out Loud

You’ve probably heard the question, “If you went on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict  you?” It’s not a bad way to examine yourself. When  you reflect upon your life, do people know you’re Catholic? Are you living your Catholic faith intentionally, with prayerful purpose? Are you living your Catholic faith out loud?

For instance, think of your house. When guests come over, do they see a home that reflects your faith or simply a place where people live? No one is suggesting you have to turn your home into a shrine, but if you are serious about your faith, your home should certainly be the “domestic church” we are called to create. A prayer space, crucifixes, a picture of the Holy Father and many other items are a great reminder to all that this home is dedicated to God.

Speaking of a prayer space, one can easily create this. You don’t need an entire room; a nook or corner will do. Even young children can help with the creation and use of a family prayer space. A comfortable chair, a small table to hold a Bible and other reading material, a votive candle and a small crucifix or picture makes for an easy-to-do space for personal prayer and meditation.

Many of us like to decorate our vehicles. If you do, are those stickers compatible with the faith? We don’t want to give the world the impression that our faith is something we leave at church, so a bumper sticker that is off-color or mean-spirited is in contradiction to our faith. And let’s not forget driving itself! Are we kind when we drive? Do we give in to road rage? The ultimate goal is to get everyone to where they are going safely. A short prayer before we even start the engine can keep us “on track” in our vehicles.

Most of us can display items on or around our work space. If possible, make sure your desk has a Catholic “spirit” about it (Yes, sadly it’s true that some work places restrict this sort of thing.) A small cross, a prayer card, a favorite Scripture verse – all of these are great for us but can also start conversations with co-workers about faith and its centrality in our lives. If you can’t put up such items, you can still live out your faith at work by the way you speak about others, refusing to gossip or speak poorly of someone, being ethical and kind in your work.

Even a trip to the grocery store gives opportunities to share your faith. Let’s say the cashier has some dog tags around her neck (this is a true story!). You ask her about them, and she tells you they are a copy of her son’s dog tags. He is a combat soldier, and works in very dangerous places. You ask his first name, and she tells you. You promise to pray for his safety. A simple gesture like this is another way to live your faith “out loud.”

Remember, we are not meant to be “show offs” or holier than thou. However, Christ is very clear: we are to go out and make disciples of all nations. In order to do that, people need to know that we are persons of faith, open to questions, dialogue and that we are someone who prays with intent. Learning to not be shy about sharing the Good News and being open to situations like the ones above can help lay the groundwork for opportunities to share Jesus with someone. Let’s all learn to live our faith out loud just a little bit more!