Spiritual value of work

No matter what kind of work we do – whether inside or outside the home – our daily duties have a spiritual dimension.

The Church offers us a rich theology of work, what St John Paul II calls a “gospel of work,” that may revolutionize how we see our workaday lives. In Laborem Exercens, JPII explains that we are in fact collaborating with God’s work of both creation and redemption.

“The Church finds in the very first pages of the Book of Genesis the source of her conviction that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth.” God created us in His image and gave us the task of earthly stewardship. “In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe” (4).

This truth took on special resonance when God became man in Jesus, and worked in St Joseph’s carpentry shop. Jesus “belongs to the ‘working world’…He looks with love upon human work and the different forms that it takes, seeing in each one of these forms a particular facet of man’s likeness with God, the Creator and Father” (26).

And the “sweat and toil” of our work likewise give us a share in Christ’s work:

This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross. By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ by carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform. The Christian finds in human work a small part of the Cross of Christ and accepts it in the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted His Cross for us (27).

Crux fidelis

Good Friday CrossA beautiful hymn with great theological depth, Crux fidelis is a 6th century composition by Mamertus Claudianus, according to Dom Prosper Gueranger’s Liturgical Year.

You can listen to it chanted in Latin here.

And here is the translation as it appears in the current edition of the Roman Missal:

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare. Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear!

Sing, my tongue, in exultation of our banner and device! Make a solemn proclamation of a triumph and its price: how the Savior of creation conquered by His sacrifice!

(Repeat) Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

For, when Adam first offended, eating that forbidden fruit, not all hopes of glory ended with the serpent at the root: broken nature would be mended by a second tree and shoot.

(Repeat) Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear! 

Thus the tempter was outwitted by a wisdom deeper still: remedy and ailment fitted, means to cure and means to kill; that the world might be acquitted, Christ would do His Father’s will.

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

So the Father, out of pity for our self-inflicted doom, sent Him from the heavenly city when the holy time had come: He, the Son and the Almighty, took our flesh in Mary’s womb.

Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear! 

Hear a tiny baby crying, Founder of the seas and strands; see His Virgin Mother tying cloth around His feet and hands; find Him in a manger lying tightly wrapped in swaddling-bands!

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

So He came, the long-expected, not in glory, not to reign; only born to be rejected, choosing hunger, toil and pain, till the scaffold was erected and the Paschal Lamb was slain.

Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear! 

No disgrace was too abhorrent; nailed and mocked and parched He died; blood and water, double warrant, issue from His wounded side, washing in a mighty torrent earth and stars and oceantide.

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

Lofty timber, smooth your roughness; flex your boughs for blossoming; let your fibers lose their toughness, gently let your tendrils cling; lay aside your native gruffness, clasp the Body of your King!

Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear! 

Noblest tree of all created, richly jeweled and embossed; post by Lamb’s Blood consecrated, spar that saves the tempest-tossed; scaffold-beam which, elevated, carries what the world has cost!

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

Wisdom, power, and adoration to the Blessed Trinity for redemption and salvation through the Paschal Mystery, now, in every generation, and for all eternity. Amen.

Engaging the Gospel – First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent — Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus rebuffs the devil’s temptations

Sunday’s readings present contrasting portraits of temptation: while our first parents made the wrong choice in Genesis, Jesus offers us a model of faithfulness to the Father in the Gospel.

Although simply summed up as the choice between obedience and disobedience, its root lies deeper: Do we trust God, and know that He wants the best for us? Or do we mistakenly imagine in our pride that we know better?

The serpent’s first tactic was to insinuate doubts about God’s word:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart, and abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in His goodness.

— Catechism paragraph 397.

Benedict XVI zeroed in on the fundamental aspect of temptation:

At the heart of all temptations…is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive Him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives.

— Jesus of Nazareth Vol. Ip. 28.

The devil tries to use such ploys on Jesus, to the point of misusing Scripture itself in an insidious questioning of Jesus’ identity.

But Jesus’ absolute trust in the Father never wavers; perfectly united to the Father’s will, the Word made flesh dismisses the tempter by authoritatively reciting God’s Word in Scripture.

“Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion” (Catechism paragraph 539), when His obedience atoned for our disobedience, and accomplished our salvation (615, 1850).

Question for reflection: What kind of internal dialogue do I go through when tempted to sin?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 6:24-34

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

Jesus reassures us not to worry, but to seek the kingdom

For Blessed John Paul II, Sunday’s Gospel features “particularly touching” words about the Father’s loving care for each one of us:

With these words the Lord Jesus not only confirmed the teaching on divine Providence contained in the Old Testament. He entered more deeply into the subject as regards humanity, every single person, treated by God with the exquisite delicacy of a father…

They are said by the Son who, ‘scrutinizing’ all that has been said on the subject of Providence, bears perfect witness to the mystery of his Father, a mystery of Providence and of paternal care which embraces every creature, even the most insignificant, like the grass of the field or the sparrows. How much more, therefore, human beings!…

In this page of the Gospel on Providence we find the truth about the hierarchy of values which is present from the beginning of the Book of Genesis, in the description of creation — man has primacy over things. He has that primacy in his nature and in his spirit, he has it in the attention and care of Providence, he has it in the heart of God!

Moreover, Jesus insistently proclaimed that man, so privileged by his Creator, is duty-bound to cooperate with the gift received from Providence. He cannot be satisfied with the mere values of sense, of matter and of utility. He must seek above all ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’

General Audience, May 14, 1986.

Question for reflection: What worries must I let go of and entrust to the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24 — Joseph obeys the angel and takes Mary into his home

St. Joseph serves as a model of profound faith and generosity of spirit, as Blessed John Paul II has reflected upon in Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer).

Calling the angel’s revelation to Joseph “the ‘annunciation’ by night” (19), the Holy Father links Joseph’s acceptance of God’s plan with Mary’s obedience as the handmaid of the Lord.

“Joseph not only heard the divine truth concerning his wife’s indescribable vocation; he also heard…the truth about his own vocation” (19) – that is, “to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood” (8). By taking Mary into his home, “he showed a readiness of will like Mary’s with regard to what God asked of him through the angel” (3).

Thus “Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah’s coming into his home” (26).

Pope Paul VI contrasted the sanctity of Joseph and Mary with the disobedience of Adam and Eve:

“We see that at the beginning of the New Testament, as at the beginning of the Old, there is a married couple. But whereas Adam and Eve were the source of evil which was unleashed on the world, Joseph and Mary arc the summit from which holiness spreads all over the earth. The Savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family — that sanctuary of love and cradle of life” (quoted in Redemptoris Custos 7).

Question for reflection: When has God led my life into an entirely unexpected direction?

Divine Providence

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 302-24, 410-21:

  • The universality of sin throughout history gives rise to questions about God’s governance of the world, or His providence – that is, the way that He orders and guides the unfolding of His plan.
  • God is the Lord and Master of history, whose care extends to everything, from the smallest trivialities to the greatest world events.
  • But God grants His creatures the dignity of acting on their own; when creatures misuse their free will, and thereby sin, they inject evil into the world.
  • God never causes the evil brought about by sin.
  • God permits evil to occur because He has given His creatures freedom, but especially because He will act to derive a greater good from it.
  • Adam and Eve’s Fall is an example of this truth: God did not prevent their sin, but used it to work ultimately for His own purpose.
  • After our first parents sinned, God announced His plan for our salvation, and promised us a Savior.
  • By redeeming us, God will raise us to an even higher state than Adam and Eve enjoyed in the garden, enriching us in the end with far nobler blessings.
  • But this is not to minimize or gloss over the pain and suffering caused by the problem of evil in the world.
  • The only compelling response to this tragedy is Christ Himself, who willingly endured the extreme limit of suffering and death on the Cross, absorbing all of the world’s evil, to accomplish our redemption.

Live Your Faith

God’s providence is sometimes apparent in the workings of our own lives, even if we only recognize His action in hindsight. At other times, we may not grasp why God is permitting us, our loved ones, or innocent people around the world to suffer.

Whenever we feel overwhelmed, let us recall the ways that God has cared for us, and trust that He does so still, even if our limited vision cannot see it.

The Fall

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 385-90, 396-409:

  • Sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives us.
  • We can abide in friendship with God only by realizing the truth of our limitations as creatures, and by living according to His will for our own well-being.
  • Our first parents failed to do this; as described in the figurative language of Genesis, the sin of Adam and Eve – their “Fall” – set the pattern of sin that has darkened all of human history.
  • Adam and Eve preferred themselves to God: in St. Maximus the Confessor’s phrase, they wanted to be like God, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.”
  • Instead of trusting God, they believed the lies of the devil; by disobeying God’s will, they cast themselves into an adversarial relationship with Him.
  • Immediately afterward, Adam and Eve discovered that they had been deceived; far from becoming like God, they had, in fact, suffered a ruinous loss.
  • Separated from God, Adam and Eve lost their original justice and holiness, their self-mastery; their mutual relations were subject to tensions and injustice; and even the rest of creation had turned in opposition.
  • Death now entered into the world as the direct result of sin.
  • A cascade effect ensued, for all human nature has since been transmitted in a fallen state; we call this deprivation of holiness “original sin,” which we inherit from our parents; we are born with a wounded nature that is inclined to sin.
  • This is why we need a Savior: by ourselves, we are incapable of reconciling with God or repairing the incalculable damage wrought by sin.

Live Your Faith

God wills what is best for us, knowing perfectly what will lead to our true happiness and well-being.

But like Adam and Eve, we too sometimes prefer ourselves to God. We insist on having our own way, no matter what the unhappy consequences may be.

Let us identify and examine our own particular weaknesses, so that we can pray to overcome them with the help of God’s grace in Christ.