To work and to rest
What a delight it was to have a blissful day off in the middle of this week: time to relax and take a break from the demands of work. And yet it is precisely because I am blessed to have work that is meaningful that I can enjoy taking a break.
The day off this week was in honour of Workers Day and it is not long since we celebrated Vocations Sunday; in my mind there is a strong connection between the two. Each of us is called by God to contribute our gifts in a unique way that collaborates with God in the on-going creation of the world. Blessed John Paul reminded us that work is ‘for humans’ and not humans ‘for work’. “Through work we not only transform the world, we are transformed ourselves, becoming ‘more a human being’.” We each have to discern what that invitation entails for us: this distinctive call is “our personal vocation.”
For those of us who have work this is by doing something that gives us value as humans rather than just taking value from us. Pope Pius XI, 80 years ago, captured this in a memorable image: “It is a scandal when dead matter comes forth from the factory ennobled, while the humans who work there are corrupted and degraded”.
But in our own country so many people (some figures suggest a number as high as 40%), do not have paid work. The impact of that is not only on the critical level of survival for them and their families. Lacking the dignity that work gives is also profoundly damaging emotionally and spiritually. It erodes self-esteem and makes it difficult to connect with a sense of meaning and purpose. Those who are forced by their circumstances to stand at the side of the road begging, month after month, and often year after year, are deprived of the sense of being able to make a contribution. Catholic social teaching recognises the vital importance of work and of just conditions of employment for the human dignity of the person. The problem of unemployment is without doubt one of the biggest challenges we must address. And yet it becomes worse as companies attempt to squeeze more and more profit from fewer and fewer workers. Pope Benedict warned against believing that ‘the sole criterion for action in business is….the maximization of profit.”
For those of us who are privileged to have the opportunity to work, ironically the challenge can be to work too much without taking the opportunity to ‘be’ and to nurture deep connections with family and friends, and with God. This is what Blessed John XXII called ‘the immense task: to humanize and to Christianize this modern civilization of ours’
Cell phones, email and social media make it increasingly difficult to draw boundaries around work which can result in exhaustion and burnout. We are created both to do and to be, and both work and leisure are essential to what it means to live a fulfilled life collaborating with Christ. As God laboured for six days to create the universe and rested on the seventh day, we too need to work and rest if we are to become the people God created us to be.