Tag Archives: Laborem exercens

St Joseph models work

Yesterday (May 1), we observed the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker. The history of this feast is rooted in the ideology of work propagated by Communists and Pope Pius XII wanted to remind Catholics that theory of work of the Communists contradicted what the Church (and by extension St. Benedict) taught about work so he instituted the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. That was 1955.

Pius XII considered St. Joseph to be the model of work: “The spirit flows to you and to all men from the heart of the God-man, Savior of the world, but certainly, no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with Him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work.”

In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope St. John Paul II wrote: “…the Church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide [social] changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.”

The coronavirus has many of us on a work hiatus it so it seems like a good time to break this great encyclical out and read or reread it. Do you consider your professional work to have meaning for your life in the family, does your professional life have dignity and an importance that you can see it as cooperating with the work of God in building up the Kingdom of God? Is there a creative genius that connects with the care of the land as proposed by Genesis 2:15?


Labor Day and St Benedict

“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 fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’.”

Laborem Exercens (1981) St. John Paul II

The Pope focuses our attention on the the subjective experience of the worker, who bears the imago dei and thereby lends work its dignity. He raises some things we need to regularly recall. Today, too often, workers disconnect their experience from that of God’s image, and the life of the Church’s genuine experience of prayer, work, the moral life (one’s personal encounter with the Lord) and the community of faith. Their might be good reason for this fact. That is, too many of us are not doing anything meaningful in contributing to the common good; there is a lack of generatively, a failure to see work as working with God to advance His Kingdom on earth and looking forward to Paradise.  Work is not vocation; work may be more akin to one’s mission but not a “calling.” Big difference. And I think we need to revolutionize work according to the mind of St. Benedict and the Benedictine tradition.

Having just returned from the annual Benedictine Oblate retreat I attend with men and women in the greater New York City area, where we conferenced on St. Benedict’s idea of accountability as a cor ad cor experience. Today, I am also thinking of, in general terms, what the Rule of Benedict and the gift of Benedictine monasticism gives us on the theme of work. Just as accountability is a heart-to-heart experience, so is work.

In the experience of the monastery –which needs to be translated in the life of those of us not professed monks and nuns but Oblates, living in the world– work is a daily (except Sundays in selective cases) component and necessary part of the spiritual life, i.e., there is a natural rota of attending to prayer and work. In relation to our Sabbath observance which has become so non-existent today, the teaching of Abraham Joshua Heschel is worth considering anew and taking his challenge seriously. (As an aside, if you have not read Heschel’s work on the Sabbath, do so. You won’t regret the time with the book.) The Jewish scholar argues for the idea that Sabbath is at the heart of human existence. He says, on the Sabbath, the person “must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of”man and woman. So, work is placed within the ambit of the Sabbath.

Not to distract, St. Benedict’s teaching is germane for us today: work is essential to fulfilling the community’s needs without becoming an end in itself; he in fact limits work in order to prevent it from inculcating vicious habits that will distract our focus on seeking God. The monastery (our home) is a “workshop” for holiness. Further, Benedict uses work as way of keeping a monk (nun and Oblate) from sinful indolence: he should “be given some work in order that he may not be idle.” Think of all the ways we get into trouble by being idle, of having an essential focus on God.

From the perspective of the holy abbot, Benedict places a limit on how long a monk should perform any one job in the monastery. Essential common work done on behalf of others, like cooking, cleaning and reading at mealtime, are to rotate among the monks. Today, monks change these jobs weekly for the most part. The kitchen master’s job may be more stable than the table reader. In fact, no one becomes a permanent reader, no matter how good he is. The avoidable danger is becoming specialized and seeing yourself as indispensable. Likewise, the artisans from his Benedict’s experience, end up with the wrong priorities. In the Rule we read: “If one of them becomes puffed up by his skillfulness in his craft, and feels he is conferring something on the monastery, he is to be removed from practicing his craft and not allowed to resume it unless, after manifesting his humility, he is so ordered by the abbot.” No work of the artist is a work placed ahead of the companionship’s journey to conversion of manner, to holiness.

The Benedictine approach to work might be characterized this way:

NOT, What work am I called to do? BUT, How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness? How does my work contribute to my life of virtue, and edify others? Is my work missionary, human, loving and creative?
NOT, How does this work cooperate with society’s expectations, material creation? BUT, How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being? How does my work make me more a man, (or, more a woman)?
NOT, Am I doing what I love? BUT, What activity is so important that I should, without hesitation, drop my work in order to do it? What is my God-given mission for the sake of the Kingdom and the good of others?

Always remembering the exhortation of Saint Benedict, Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ  (RB 72.11).

Blessed Labor Day

“Work is a duty, because our Creator demanded it and because it maintains and develops our humanity. We must work out of regard for others, especially our own families, but also because of the society we belong to and in fact because of the whole of humanity.” Laborem exercens, 16


“The most profound motive for our work is this knowing that we share in creation. Learning the meaning of creation in our daily lives will help us to live holier lives. It will fill the world with the spirit of Christ, the spirit of justice, charity, and peace.” Laborem exercens, 25

St. John Paul II clearly orients our ideas to how we live and work, the sign of a great pastor of souls.

Labor Day 2013

truck-thumb-250x162-13063The Christian finds in human work a small part of the cross of Christ and accepts it in the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted the cross for us. In work, thanks to the light that penetrates us from the resurrection of Christ, we always find a glimmer of new life, of the new good, as if it were an announcement of “the new heavens and the new earth” in which man and the world participate precisely through the toil that goes with work.

Blessed John Paul II
Laborem exercens, 27

John Paul II’s Laborem exercens makes 30 years

John Paul II’s Laborem exercens (On Human Work; September 14, 1981), celebrates 30 years next week. Itself was a document written on the 90th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s landmark work Rerum Novarum. I think we ought to give more attention to the meaning of work and its connection with the work of the Creator. Too often we disparage work and its place in the daily experience of men and women. This morning at Lauds, by Providence, I read from the Apostle’s work that a person who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat. I could help thinking about the implication of this teaching. THence, today, is an appropriate to think about work and it’s meaning. 

Some paragraphs from LE:

workers in the field.jpeg

Through work man
must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science
and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral
level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong
to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or
intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity
that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many
activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very
nature, by virtue of humanity itself.
Man is made to be in the visible universe
an image and likeness of God himself
, and he is placed in it in order to subdue
the earth. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of
the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose
activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable
of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence
on earth. Thus
work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of
a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its
interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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