The Word of God Worked: Understanding the Dignity of All Human Work
rich man Dives lands in Hades. (Luke 16:19-31) "I tell you the truth," Christ says, "it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." He follows it up with an image which is harrowing to a man of means: "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matt. 19:23-24; Mark 10:24-25; Luke 18:24-25)
The Christian must therefore always subject himself to an examen of conscience, and he may have no better guide than Job: "Had I put my trust in gold or called fine gold my security; or had I rejoiced that my wealth was great, or that my hand had acquired abundance. This too would be a crime for condemnation, for I should have denied God above." (Job 31: 24-25, 28)
In his life, and in His Sacred Humanity, Jesus gives us an example of Christian work. One must remember that in all Christ's "hidden years," Jesus labored in obscurity. In fact, Jesus "'devoted most of the years of his life on earth in manual work at the carpenter's bench' in the workshop of Joseph." (Compendium, No. 259) (quoting JP II, Laborem exercens, 6) Nothing Jesus did was in vain. Nor must we think these almost thirty years of obscure labor meant nothing to Jesus or to humankind.
In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton said that there was one thing too great for God to show us when He walked upon earth, and that he "sometimes fancied that it was His mirth." In truth there was also something other than Jesus' mirth that was not shown us: the almost thirty years of obscure labor in Nazareth: God in humility, poverty, and silence--in hiding--doing "the work of human hands," the opera manuum hominum, of a poor carpenter. It was this mysterious "non-revelation" that so inspired Blessed Charles de Foucald himself to live this "hidden life" outside of Tamanrasset, among the Berber Touareg tribe, in the hostile southern Sahara.
Jesus, Blessed Charles tells us, "came to Nazareth, the place of the hidden life, of ordinary life, of family life, of prayer, of work, of obscurity, of silent virtues practiced with no witness other than God, his family, and his neighbors, of this holy life, humble, kindly, obscure, that place where the greater part of humans lead their lives, and where he set the example for thirty years."
The value that Jesus ascribes to work is apparent in his parables and in his words. Useless servants are chastised for hiding talents. (Matt. 24:46) Hired laborers in the vineyard should accept their agreed wage. (Matt. 20:1-6) The laborer deserves his wages. (Luke 10:7) Servants that are faithful to their masters are held in high esteem. (Matt. 24:46) He views his entire mission as work: "My Father is working still, and I am working." (John 5:17)
Given all this Scriptural teaching, the Compendium summarizes as follows. "Work," reflected upon in the revelation of Jesus Christ, "represents a fundamental dimension of human existence as participation not only in the act of creation but also in that of redemption." (Compendium, No. 263)
The difficulties of work can be part of that cross which, as disciples of our Lord, we are called to carry in imitation of our Lord. Our work, not through any merits of its own, but as a result of the grace of Christ, becomes "an expression of man's full humanity, in his historical condition and his eschatological orientation." (Compendium, No. 118) Work deals with things of this earth, but somehow it ought to point to the heavens.
We might express all this even more succinctly: The Word of God worked.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at email@example.com.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: work, labor, dignity of work, holiness, social teaching, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
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