From Spirituality and Work
Work is an essential part of our humanity. We are called to work as part of our human identity. Work has a significance and value in our lives through its acts of creativity, sense of community and opportunity to provide for ourselves, our families and society. The call to work is universal and as part of God’s plan, it not only transforms creation, but helps people to fully realise their dignity and to increase it. Through the application of the teachings of Jesus Christ in the workplace and the offering of human labour to the glory of God and the good of all people, our work can be sanctified and made holy.
From the beginning of time humankind has sought to understand the mystery of creation and God’s plan for the world. One of the big questions frequently asked is ‘what is the meaning and purpose of work?’ A spirituality of work tries to give some of the answers. The spirit is that which gives life and energises. It is the belief that there is some higher power or inner energy that has control over our lives. For Christians this power is the Trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The ability to recognise and relate to the Trinitarian God, the creator of our universe, is an indispensable element of our spirituality, no matter what sphere of work we are engaged in, or what our state in life is. We relate and connect to God through worship, prayer and the sacraments. To this three-fold God-centred relationship we bring the joys, the achievements, the trials and the sacrifices of our daily work. Furthermore, through our work we render service to others and express solidarity with our neighbour.
Work, paid or unpaid, is an indispensable and inevitable part of our human condition. Created in the image of God, the Master Workman (Gen 1:26), we were always destined to work. It is by becoming stewards of the earth (Gen.1:29-30) that we co-operate in God’s ongoing creation. But, Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience in the Garden of Eden conferred on work a negative aspect which is toilsome and laborious. For many this can lead to feelings of alienation, psychological stress and powerless-ness. In a positive sense we are transformed by our work and transform work by our ability to master its intrinsic complexity and challenges. These negative and positive aspects of work are important ways in which we reach our human potential and achieve the fullness of life that Christ promises us. Not only this, our endeavours, ingenuity and skill are able to subject the earth and its natural resources to our personal economic benefit and to that of our families and society at large.
This increasing ability to dominate and subdue the earth has had a far-reaching effect on our culture and society at large. For the vast majority, the capacity to control our destiny and fate has made God irrelevant and dispensable. Many people manifest a spiritual impoverishment and hunger. In some cultures they seek nourishment in new forms of ‘new age spirituality’ which seek to replace a God-centred spirituality with an esoteric and self-centred approach. This is not the Christian way. God is the beginning and end of our daily work. In the workplace we encounter God in many different guises. Part of the task of a spirituality of work is to reveal God to us in the job that we do and the people we meet.
No more than in our present time has it been important to affirm the meaning of work and its purpose in God’s creation. To this end the teaching of the Catholic Church, especially from the time of the papal encyclical of Leo XIII Rerum Novarum (1891), reminds us of the indispensability of a spirituality of work. More recently the document of the Second Vatican Council Gaudium et Spes (1965, §63-72) together with John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens (1981, §24-27) reiterate the centrality of work, economic activity and their interface with a workplace spirituality. A spirituality, which in the words of Laborem Exercens (§24.2), “will help all people to come closer, through work, to God, the Creator and Redeemer, to participate in his salvific plan for mankind and the world and to deepen their friendship with Christ in their lives by accepting, through faith, a living participation in his three-fold mission as priest, prophet and king.”Contributed by Fr Dermot Tredget OSB – Douai Abbey