Tag Archives: work

What Can We Do?

30 Jul

Pope with EucharistEarly in my marriage, I got in the habit of leaving my wife “to do” lists before heading off to work. After a while, I started getting creative and playful with the lists. One time, for example, the final item on the list was “Do something you enjoy.” Upon reading that item, she immediately wadded up the list and with obvious enjoyment tossed it in the wastebasket!

In the Gospel this coming Sunday, the gathered crowd asks Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” (Jn. 6:28). This is a very natural question. However, it does betray a “to do list” mentality. What tasks do we need to do to please God and accomplish His will on earth? Armed with such a list, we can start checking off items one by one.

Yet, in reply the Lord did not give us a laundry list of tasks, though surely there is much to do when it comes to evangelizing our world today. Rather, He replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (Jn. 6:29). Of course, that is true, as without the Lord we can do nothing. We would be like branches disconnected from the life-giving vine, unable to bear fruit.

But even more, I think Our Lord is pointing to the primary importance of interiority, of developing a close personal relationship with Him in prayer and seeing in that relationship the vital source of living effective Christian lives. He is teaching us that who we are as children of God and beloved companions of the Lord Jesus is more important than what we do.

Interestingly, yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Martha. As Catholics, we try to balance in our lives of faith the active Martha and the contemplative Mary. Sometimes in the process Martha gets a bad rap. She’s anxious and worried about many things (Lk. 10:41), so at times we might picture her as a frantic busybody flitting about, doing everything on the to do list, while the serene Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, believing in “the one he sent.”

May we imitate the faith of St. Martha, who said, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn. 11:27). And, like St. Martha, we should express our faith in active works of charity, especially with regard to the poor.

As we do so, however, we must keep in mind the clear teaching of Scripture. Our Lord said that Mary chose the better part, the one necessary thing (Lk. 10:42). Our Lord is truly present at every Mass and in every tabernacle throughout the world. If we truly desire to be saints, to become the holy men and women God calls us to be, we do well–frequently and with much love and devotion–to return to the Source: Jesus, Our Eucharistic Lord, the center of our faith. Not surprisingly, to follow up on His comment on doing the “works of God,” Jesus is about to embark upon His beautiful discourse on the Eucharist, which we will hear in the coming weeks.

Working for Sunday

15 Jan

st joseph the workerA friend recently asked me, “Isn’t human work the result of the fall? How should Catholics view the subject of work?” Here’s how I responded:

In the beginning, God fashioned man in His image and likeness and called him to “cultivate and care for” (Gen. 1:15) the land that was given him. Therefore, work was part of human life before the fall, and thus it is not in itself a punishment or curse. Since the fall, work has become burdensome (see Gen. 3:17-19), but it has also been redeemed by Christ.

The life and preaching of Christ is instructive. For example, we know that He spent most of His years tending to the carpentry trade that St. Joseph taught Him. Once His public ministry began, He described His mission as involving work: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn. 5:17), and He often likened His disciples to laborers for His harvest (e.g., Mt. 9:37-38).

He taught us to be diligent in our work, but also not to be enslaved by it. We must not let work or other worldly concerns consume us with anxiety, but rather we must see our work as a way of honoring the Father.

Work is a duty. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (no. 264) teaches: “No Christian, in light of the fact that he belongs to a united and fraternal community, should feel that he has the right not to work and to live at the expense of others (cf. 2 Thes 3:6-12).” Work enables us to participate in the ongoing work of creation as collaborators with God. In doing so, we become who we were created to be, we honor God through our use of the gifts and talents He gave us, we provide support for ourselves and our family, and we help build up the human community. Continue reading

Catechesis on the Seventh and Tenth Commandments

13 Dec

stealToday in our catechetical series on the commandments, we turn to the Seventh Commandment:

You shall not steal.

But just as the Sixth and Ninth Commandments work together to shape our approach to human sexuality, the Seventh and Tenth Commandments work together to shape our approach to the goods of this world, recognizing that we “cannot love God and money” (Mt. 6:24). The Church isn’t satisfied with our simply not taking what doesn’t belong to us (though that’s a good start!), but wants us to approach worldly goods in a spirit of stewardship and detachment. So we also include here the Tenth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

The Seventh Commandment forbids theft, which is the unjust taking or using of another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. This can be done also by paying unjust wages, speculating on the value of goods in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others, or by forging checks or invoices. Other acts forbidden by this commandment include tax evasion, business fraud, willful destruction of private or public property, usury, corruption, the private abuse of common goods, work deliberately done poorly, and waste.

Early in its treatment of the Seventh Commandment, the Catechism talks about the “universal destination of goods,” a principle which acknowledges that God entrusted the earth’s resources to all people. This speaks not only to our sharing resources with others who are less fortunate than we are, but also being good stewards of creation and the earth’s resources for future generations.

At the same time, the Church affirms the right to private property, so long as it’s justly obtained and used. The purpose of private property is to guarantee the freedom and dignity of individual persons by helping them to meet the basic needs of those in their charge and also of others who are in need.

As Vatican II, citing numerous saints and social encyclicals, teaches:

“[M]an should regard the external things that he legitimately possesses not only as his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others. On the other hand, the right of having a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this opinion, teaching that men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 69).

One can readily see that the Church finds in this commandment the basis for her rich social teaching, which guides our approach to economic, social, and political life, the right and the duty of human labor, justice and solidarity among nations, and love for the poor. Over the course of 2013, we will survey the various dimensions of the Church’s social teaching in more detail.

The Seventh Commandment requires respect for the goods of others through the practice of justice and charity, temperance and solidarity. In particular it requires respect for promises made and contracts agreed to, reparation for injustice committed and restitution of stolen goods, and respect for the integrity of creation by the prudent and moderate use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe with special attention to those species that are in danger of extinction (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 506).

The Lord truly does hear the cry of the poor and identifies with them. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy and the many charitable institutions formed throughout the centuries are a concrete witness to the preferential love for the poor which characterizes Christian disciples (Compendium, no. 520). We need look no farther than Blessed Teresa of Calcutta for evidence that we are called to love the hidden Jesus in the poorest of the poor (cf. Mt. 25:31-46).

As we interiorize the Seventh Commandment, we come to see Our Lord as our treasure, and we hear the call to abandon ourselves to His providential care.  The Tenth Commandment continues this work upon our heart, as it calls us in particular to work against the vices of avarice and envy.

Avarice involves an excessive, disordered desire for riches and power.  In other words, we “covet” our neighbor’s good and may go to the extreme of unjustly taking these goods for ourselves.

Envy, meanwhile, involves sadness at another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for ourselves by whatever means we can.

We combat these vices of avarice and envy–and thus observe the Tenth Commandment–by fostering in ourselves a spirit of goodwill and humility, and by rejoicing in other’s blessings.

For more on these commandments, check out Catechism, nos. 2401-63 (Seventh Commandment) and nos. 2534-57 (Tenth Commandment).

The Economy and the Election

1 Aug

This week The Leaven published “The Economy and the Election,”  the fourth in a series of reflections related to the upcoming election, offered by the leaders of the four dioceses in Kansas.

The purpose of this series of articles is not to tell us how to vote or to provide some sort of “voter’s guide.” Rather, as our teachers in the faith, the bishops are helping us to understand our role as Catholics in society, and what that means as we exercise the right and responsibility to vote in the upcoming election. As the most recent reflection makes clear, “The Church’s duty is to articulate principles; it is the duty of the lay faithful in their mission to renew the face of the earth to put those principles into action.”

While I think the document in its entirety is worth reading (it’s not that long, btw), we do well to consider the bishops’ conclusion:

“If the primary criteria in our evaluation of candidates for public office is, ‘Which person will help me get the biggest piece of the pie? (either because of their support for lower taxes or for programs that directly benefit me),’ we are failing to employ the principles of our Catholic social teaching. We end up adopting a politics of self-interest, not stewardship.

“In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy famously posed the question, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ Perhaps we can take this even further. Taking our cue from the saints, ask what you can do for your country, for your state, for your community, for your family. Ask what you can do for the poor and most vulnerable and needy in your midst. How you answer these questions should inform your vote.

“When you think in those terms, you become drawn to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which have always been part of our Catholic tradition. You will also become drawn to what Pope Benedict XVI has called the ‘market of gratuitousness,’ a culture governed by human solidarity, not the thirst for acquisition–a culture that looks first to the family, churches and the local community to provide for the needs of the poor and the vulnerable, and a culture that lives to serve and not be served (cf. Mt. 20:28).”

For those wishing to go deeper into the social teaching of the Church in preparation for the upcoming election, I recommend reading the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which is generally available at Catholic bookstores, and which can also be viewed online. It is a masterfully summary of the Church’s social teaching as it has developed over the past century. If you read just six or seven paragraphs per day, you will have read the entire volume before the election.

May we truly “think with the Church” and bring the Gospel to bear on the important issues we face in our community and in our world!

Labor Management

1 Sep

For many men today, one would think a “holy hour” means being able to watch the second half of a game without interruption, and that a “retreat” is 36 holes of golf interspersed with appropriate beverages. In countless parishes I’ve visited, the women far outnumber the men in the pews (and in the sanctuary). Meanwhile, try getting a seat at the local sports pub now that football season is starting up again.

There are countless things competing for men’s time and attention and, frankly, we don’t always do a good job of prioritizing, of putting first things first. And what could be more important than bending the knee before Our Heavenly Father, the source of all fatherhood (see Ephesians 3:14-15)?

In this regard, I suggest that we take a lesson from St. Joseph as we begin Labor Day weekend. St. Joseph’s entire life was ordered to God. This enabled him to reflect in his actions an interior life that perfected his manhood and thus enabled him to take the right approach to his work. Continue reading