Monday, June 05, 2006
The Dignity of Labor
The Dignity of Labor
by Fulton J. Sheen
The Catholic position is that working is to some extent like eating-it is a means to an end, and that end is freedom to develop oneself as a child of God and an heir of the Kingdom of Heaven. As we do not live to eat, so neither do we live to work; we work to live, not only physically as the cows and camels, but spiritually as persons endowed with an intellect and a will who seek the perfection of their personalities in Him for Whom they were made.
Work is a condition of developing our personality, because through work man establishes relations with God; his neighbor; and nature. Work is a means to the salvation of our souls, the betterment of society, and the advancement of civilization.
First of all, work unites us to God. Not only by its ascetic character does it impose discipline on man by subjugations of his lower passions to order and reason; but more than that, through the intention of the worker the material universe is brought back to God. St. Paul tells us; "All are yours; you are Christ's and Christ is God's." All are yours: the rivers, the seas, the birds and beasts, the gold and steel, the earth and the fullness thereof. All belong to man, but as such they are not to be turned to his selfish ends, but to be used as a menas to lift both him and them to God through Christ. The universe is thus a kind of scaffolding up through which man climbs to the Kingdom of Heaven; It is also a kind of sacrament-a material thing used as a channel of spiritual sanctification. Flowers and trees, metal and machines are dumb and inarticulate. Flowers have no other voice than their perfume, and trees no other speech than the whispering of their leaves. Their mute gaspings need a mind and a voice to lift them out of their materility and give them utterance before the throne of God.
The man who labors does this. When he goes down into the bowels of the earth and says to the gold; "Praise ye the Lord" and hammers it into a chalice to contain the redemptive wine of Calvary, he has united himself to God in one of the noblest of human prayers. The worker in the automobile factory who adds only a screw to an engine, can, if he uses his will, make that act a prayer. If in his own mind, he says: "Propter te Domine," he has made a piece of steel a prayer, and his act will be far richer for his salvation than the carrying of a sick man for miles in the name of science. The Catholic philosophy of life is that not all the best prayers are said on our knees; some of them are said not at work but by works. And just as the flower of a garden can take an added value when plucked out of love for our mother, so a street cleaned by a worker can take an added value when done out of love for God. The kind of work we do has nothing to do with its value; its value comes from the One in whose Name it is given. A drink of cold water in His Name receives reward a hundredfold. The professor at his desk, the scientist in his laboratory, are not nobler men if they work for a salary and human glory than the bootblack or the delivery boy who did their appointed tasks not just to live, but to live for God.
There are millions of Catholics in the world today who are doing these very things, though no one except probably their confessor knows anything about it: typists who in their souls breathe the Divine Name of Jesus every time they put a sheet of paper into their typewriter; iron molders who mark with their thumbs on their great ladles the sign of the cross; night watchmen who make their rounds saying their rosary; nuns and nurses and doctors in hospitals who open sick doors to face in each sickbed in human disguise the suffering and bleeding Christ; policemen and firemen who begin their daily rounds of duties by climbing Calvary, offering its mystical renewal in the Mass as a consecration of their whole day to Christ; mothers feeding, nourishing, and watching over their children as future citizens of the Church and members of the family of the Blessed Trinityh; and athletes offering an aspiration to the Blessed Mother before their race. So the litany of historical cases might go on but of them the rest of the world is ignorant, because it has forgotten that work is not an end but first and foremost a means to the salvation of one's soul and the glory of God.