Tag Archives: work

St Benedict’s Legacy on Work

Our Catholic Faith, I believe, has something important to say to the concerns of post-modernity, especially regarding matters of faith and reason AND faith and the public order. Work –our labor– is one of those things that Catholicism speaks eloquently about. We still live with the legacy of Marx and his kind when it comes to understanding the role and place of work. Contrary to Marxism’s theory of alienation, we would say, human labor does have meaning and there is a dignity to the process of work and the worker.

The following is an excerpt of a 1980 letter sent to the Benedictines by John Paul II on the 1500th anniversary of monastic life. John Paul writes:

Man’s face is often wet with tears impelling him to pray, but these tears do not always spring from sincere compunction or excessive joy. For often tears of sorrow and disturbance  ow from those whose human dignity is disregarded, those who cannot achieve what they justly desire, and who cannot do the work that suits their needs and talents.

St Benedict lived in a civil society deformed by injustices. The human person frequently counted for nothing and was treated as a criminal. In a social structure drawn up in orders, the most wretched were segregated and reduced to slavery. The poor grew poorer, while the rich grew richer and richer. Yet this remarkable man willed to found the monastic community on the prescriptions of the Gospel. He restored man to his integral condition, no matter what social order or rank he came from. He provided for the needs of each according to the norms of a wise distributive justice. He assigned significant duties to individuals, duties which cohered aptly with other duties. He considered the conditions of the weak, but left no room for easy laziness. He allowed space for the cleverness of others lest they feel hemmed in, or rather, so that they might be stimulated to give their best. Thus he removed the pretext of a light and sometimes justified murmuring, and brought about the conditions of true peace.

Man is not reckoned by St Benedict as a kind of nameless machine, which someone uses to get the maximum profit, providing no moral justification to the worker and denying him a just wage. It should be noted that in his time work was usually done by slaves who were denied the status of human beings. Benedict considered work, however it happens to be done, as an essential part of the life and obliges each monk to it, making it a duty in conscience. This labor is to be borne ‘for the sake of obedience and expiation’, since indeed pain and sweat are attached to any truly efficacious effort. But this distress has a redemptive character when it purifies a man from sin, and it ennobles the things carefully worked on and also the environment where the work is done.

St Benedict, leading an earthly life in which work and prayer were properly balanced, in this way happily inserts work into the supernatural way of considering life. By doing so, he helps man to know himself as God’s fellow-worker, and truly he becomes such when his person, acting with a certain creative energy, is enhanced in an all-round way. Human action is carried out in a contemplative manner, and contemplation attains a certain dynamic quality. It influences the work itself and throws light on the ends proposed for the work.

Work is, therefore, not performed solely in order to avoid the idleness which enfeebles minds, but also and indeed chiefly, to enable a man to grow gradually as a person mindful of his duties and careful about them. Also, talents perhaps concealed deep inside the person may be discovered, and brought to fruition for the common good, ‘so that in all things God may be glorified’.

Work is not relieved of its burden of the harsh clash of forces, but a new interior impulse is added to it. The monk is united to God not in spite of his work but through it, because ‘while working with hand or mind he continually raises himself to Christ’.

Thus it happens that even lowly and insignificant work is done with a certain dignity, and becomes a vital part of ‘that sovereign effort by which God alone is sought in solitude and silence, so that to such a life is added the vigor of continual prayer, the sacrifice of praise, celebrated and consummated together, under the influence of cheerful fraternal charity’.

Europe became a Christian land chiefly because sons of St Benedict gave our ancestors a comprehensive instruction, not only teaching them arts and crafts but also infusing into them the spirit of the Gospel which is needed for the protection of the spiritual treasures of the human person. The paganism which was formerly drawn over to the Gospel by the many hands of missionary monks is now spreading more and more in the Western world, and it is both the cause and the effect of the loss of the Christian way of esteeming work and its dignity.

Unless Christ endows human action with a constant lofty meaning, the worker becomes the slave –a special kind of slave unique to modern times– of profit and industry. On the contrary, Benedict affirms the urgent necessity of giving a spiritual character to work, enlarging the purpose of human labour so that it can escape the excessive application of the technical arts and the excessive greed for what is useful to one’s self.

(An excerpt from Pope St John Paul II’s 1980 Apostolic Letter for the Fifteenth Centenary of the Birth of St Benedict)

Can working for the Church be a good thing?

Ideas bounce around my head about working for the Church if one is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. Some of my friends would say, “Why bother?” There’s some truth in this attitude. There’s a lot of problems with working in the Church these days and not all of it regarding pay. Let’s just say, working for the Church can be a great place to use your talent for Someone greater and for eternal consequences. Experience tells me that church-working need not be a sad, hostile, dysfunctional place to spend one’s life. BTW, what I say is not only for the laity because the clergy have the same issues.

I wonder if working for the Church could be:
  • a great place to work at; a fun place to work, a welcoming, loving & fulfilling culture
  • a place where a good use of technology possible for the Gospel (tech is hot these days)
  • a place to network with Catholics (Christians and “seekers”) to propose a new lens of life
  • time available to see how your work affects lots of people
  • a place that will teach you something new
  • pay and perks that strive to be competitive
  • a place where the employees are happy
  • have opportunities for spiritual development.
There’s a lot that’s wrong with the way the Church works in the world today. Many dioceses, indeed, the Holy See and the Vatican, have effectively disaffected people because a lack of humanity, courage, love, compassion and faith. What comes to mind, is that working for the Church ought to be a place where the glory of God is man and woman fully alive working for something Greater: salvation.
If business is working on these matters, why not the Church? The proclamation of the Gospel and a sacramental life ought to take on best practices of the business world. I pray for the grace of knowing my own need for conversion, fraternity, vocation and mission. We all need a place to exercise a God-given diakonia and martyria (service and witness).
Saint John, beloved friend of the Lord, pray for us.

Work, culture and education according to Benedict

Last week Benedict XVI spoke to people who belong to various movements in the Church that make contributions to work, culture and education. Why is my posting this important? Because I believe what the Pope has to say is crucial in following his lead in the life I lead, and I believe it is helpful for others who desire to live similarly. I am confronted –in a good way– with questions about the value of work, culture and education and the place of the Church in these sectors. As Father Giussani told us, the Church is not here to fix our problems but to offer us a lens by which we can judge the reality in front of us so that we can fix a problem. Pay close attention to what Benedict has to say:

Work is not only an instrument of individual profit, but it is a moment in which to express ones’ own skills with a spirit of service in a professional activity, be it factory work, agricultural, scientific or otherwise,” 

“Culture, voluntary service and work constitute the indivisible trinomial of the Catholic laity’s daily life, which makes belonging to Christ and the Church more real, in the private as much as in the public spheres of society.” 

The lay faithful put themselves in the game when they touch one or more of these contexts and, in the cultural service, by showing solidarity with those in need and on the job, they strive to promote human dignity.”

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Saint Joseph the Work: the model of holiness through working

St Jospeh working.jpeg

Work is often treated as a four letter word; something to be avoided. Understanding what the value of work is today is rather complex due to the ideology we’ve been subjected to since at least the 19th century as a result of industrialism, Communism and Socialism. 


One of the many beautiful things John Paul II wrote about is the human person and how the person is meant to thrive, not just exist. His ideas about what and who the person is understood in what he taught about subjectivity, meaning that there is “the ground on which the dynamic relation, or rather inter-relation, between the person and the action is actualized. The failure to recognize man´s subjectivity would deprive us of the level on which can be grasped all the aspects of this interrelation.”

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Faith and works in the process of our justification

In today’s general audience, the Pope said:

St Paul Giotto2.JPGIn our continuing catechesis on Saint Paul, we now consider his teaching on faith and works in the process of our justification. Paul insists that we are justified by faith in Christ, and not by any merit of our own. Yet he also emphasizes the relationship between faith and those works which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action within us. The first gift of the Spirit is love, the love of the Father and the Son poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). Our sharing in the love of Christ leads us to live no longer for ourselves, but for him (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-15); it makes us a new creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) and members of his Body, the Church. Faith thus works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). Consequently, there is no contradiction between what Saint Paul teaches and what Saint James teaches regarding the relationship between justifying faith and the fruit which it bears in good works. Rather, there is a different emphasis. Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, we are called to glorify him in our bodies (cf. 1 Cor 6:20), offering ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. Justified by the gift of faith in Christ, we are called, as individuals and as a community, to treasure that gift and to let it bear rich fruit in the Spirit.

ARE WE CLEAR???????

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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