This Labor Day reflect on spirituality of work Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald LangeLabor Day invites workers to reflect upon their work’s spiritual value. This is important because most active adults spend the majority of weekday hours they are awake working, commuting to work, preparing for work, or resting from work.

Many retired persons including priests, also work in various ways. I know!

St. Benedict said, “To work is to pray.” Brother Lawrence made his work in the kitchen a prayer that brought him closer to God.

In Colossians 3:17, it says, “Whatever you do in word or work, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, the Father, through him.”

‘Whatever your work, do it well’

Since the early Church, Catholics have offered their work to God as a prayer. We Catholics can continue to offer our work to God at Mass, in our morning offering, while we work, and in other ways.

Dorothy Sayers wrote that it is unfortunate that on Sundays in the homily, a carpenter may hear, “Don’t get drunk on Saturday and be sure to give generously to the collection.” Instead she says that they should hear, “Be the best carpenter you can be.” Whatever your work, do it well.

At a rare parish help-out, I noticed that a man who received Communion had paint imbedded in the cracks of his hands. They reminded me of dad’s hands. After Mass I told him that his hands reminded me that like St. Joseph, he did an honest days’ work. St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers.

A spirituality of work might mean doing the best we can at work, saying a quick prayer or praising a co-worker. It often includes the difficult task of respecting colleagues.

Opportunities to do God’s work

Research indicates that success at work often depends upon how well we work with and relate to co-workers.

We reveal our Christianity when we treat others in Christ-like ways. According to Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, a woman who works at a supermarket check-out counter stated, “I feel that my job consists of a lot more than ringing up orders, taking people’s money, and bagging their groceries. By doing my job well, I know that I have the chance to do God’s work, too. I try to make my customers feel special. While I serve them, they become the most important people in my life.”

Workplace spirituality includes ensuring just wages and safe working conditions, giving a full day’s work, utilizing grievance procedures, forgiving, communicating openly and respectfully, developing personal talents, and contributing to the common good.

A graced spirituality of work helps workers balance work with family, Church, and community obligations. Married persons especially should avoid the trap of gradually becoming married to their work rather than to their spouse. If this happens, when they are needed, husband and wife may not be there for their loved ones.

Understanding others’ burdens

Because I was ordained at a later age, I enjoyed varied work experiences. I think this has helped me to better understand the work of others. I worked in construction for two years, four years in a Navy foundry, on farms, factories, and taught over two years in public schools before I entered the seminary. I also coached baseball for 42 years as priest and lay person.

As a priest, I served as parochial-vicar and pastor. I did minor maintenance work, mowed parish lawns, shoveled snow, checked doors and windows every night, and more. I served as full time teacher-chaplain at Beloit Catholic High for 20 years.

As a high school sophomore, I worked on a farm and got pinned between a big Case tractor and a harrow. I promised God that if I were rescued I would become a priest. The farmer rescued me. But I quickly forgot my promise. The farming accident was not why I became a priest. But I think that it was a step along the way.

An honest day’s work

I fondly remember the statue of St. Joseph in front of Beloit Catholic High and in St. Paul’s Church in Beloit. His example of honest work in the carpenter shop can inspire us to bring meaning to our work. We can pray that his example gifts us with patience, perseverance, and hope as we work.

We can ask the intercession of St. Joseph for the unemployed because he experienced unemployment. When Herod tried to kill Jesus, Joseph had to leave his thriving carpenter business in Nazareth and flee to Egypt with a minimum of possessions. There he had to begin again to find work and new customers.

Doing one’s best at work helps to build character. Feeling work is worthwhile, receiving just compensation, and making work a prayer, helps workers to do quality work. Workers can also pray for employers and co-workers who bear heavy burdens.

Let us pray that Labor Day inspires workers to praise and thank God through their work and Christ-like relationships with co-workers, employers, and employees. May we, and all workers enjoy a sacred, restful Labor Day that helps us all enjoy each day of work as a grace!

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.