My mom was here for a visit. Yay!! We reorganize all my decorations – it was a big job. I had bins, boxes, more boxes and random bags of decorations, ornaments, window clings and Easter eggs for days. Many hands make the work light, and it is so true. While she was here we were talking about memories, of course.
One morning, my mom was asking the kids what I did during the day. Rosie, my sweet Rosie, said that during the day I do “nothing.” My mom reminisced about how her mom would be cleaning the floor, or dusting, or anything and the phone would ring. My mom or one of her siblings would answer the phone and say “Sure my mom can talk. She’s doing nothing.”
We started talking about how, as a mom and honestly, as any person, we are very rarely actually doing “nothing.” Just right now, though you may be sitting down, you are reading. Or you could be stirring a pot of tomato sauce for pasta or flipping bacon for breakfast. You might be exercising, watching TV or rocking a baby to sleep. We are always moving, always working, always playing. Even when you are sleeping, you aren’t doing “nothing.” You’re sleeping!
In this sense, we are always working. Our bodies are always working, our heart is pumping blood, our lungs are expanding and contracting, we are smelling, seeing and hearing. Our minds remain active and more often than not so are our hands and feet. Pope John Paul II’s Laborem exercens (1981) is about our relationship with work and how it is through work we come to know ourselves and our Creator. When God created Adam and Eve, he commanded them in no uncertain terms to work. They were to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill and subdue the earth. Notice how the work our first parents were called to is creative work. As images of a creative God, we are capable of participating in the continued creation and renewal of the earth.
If we are called to work, and the work we are given has been directed by God, then the work we do in our fulfillment of our vocation is holy work. Our work, whatever it may be, has the potential to bring us closer to God and to one another. We might scrub floors, change diapers, balance accounts, engineer electrical systems or direct traffic. When we do our work with our best effort and with love for God and neighbor, it is sanctified and so are we.
This might sound sweet and naive. After all, work is more often than not hard! We have to go back to Genesis for the reason, and then look ahead to the Gospels for the reward. Our first parents, though called to be creative, also sinned. The command to work was not taken away, but toil was added to it. Now they were to be fruitful and multiply, but they also had to toil or struggle to make the ground produce food. Work became hard. Death entered the equation. If this was the end of the story, work would amount to a whole lot of nothing.
Now look ahead to Christ. Jesus did not simply pronounce us saved. He did not creatively leave us His Body and Blood and call it good. Jesus, the Incarnation, suffered, he toiled for us through His death on the Cross. The Paschal Mystery is where our salvation lies – Jesus death and resurrection. You cannot have one without the other. And so when we toil, when we work hard to do the will of the Father, we can unite ourselves to Christ crucified. Our work is purified through His work and we collaborate with Christ for the building of the Kingdom of God. All that nothing just turned into a whole lot of something.
- To learn more about these ideas you should read Laborem exercens, especially the first and last chapters.
The will of our Father is different for each of us and therefore we each have our own unique work. Right now, my work is finding a cheerful, dedicated attitude toward keeping up with my house cleaning. I am also embarking on a new consulting/contractor position as a facilitator for online classes to help form and train catechists and adults in the faith. In August I’ll be lesson planning for our next homeschooling year. Each of these has their own elements of the Cross, of toil and struggle. But thanks be to God I can also see how each of them is bringing me closer to Jesus, closer to holiness.