Work: The Stuff of Saints

by Eric Tinsay Valles

God is an incredible worker. He is equipped with what experts call 21st century skills. He is creative: He has made the cosmos; lush, soothing vegetation; animals; and people out of nothing. He continues to be innovative: He makes deep-ocean fishes reflect light in the dark depths. He is efficient. The same light, apparently, is emitted by people and animals, especially after exposure to the sun. In many ways, God never fails to surprise. He neither needs job development nor wastes company time on distractions such as Facebook.


We are called to imitate God—ie., we are called to be incredible workers. The standard is pegged high: “Be ye perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect.” This perfection is shown through balance: the wide universe is expanding fast, but the galaxies are being tugged inward by powerful black holes.  Plants and animals maintain symbiotic relations in our surroundings. People seek freedoms, but societies enforce laws to prevent their abuse. This balance in nature in a way mirrors that in the Holy Trinity: thought balancing with love.


Work is the primary and permanent material that the ordinary Christian has to sanctify. The founder of Opus Dei speaks of “ordinary work,” but he usually made the term more precise by adding the adjective “professional.”


How can we be more God-like at work? First, by being united with Him –i.e., by being in the state of grace. This will assure that we practice order, the act of giving to things the attention and the effort that they deserve. Without sanctifying grace, our work will gain no merit. It will be like building a magnificent palace on porous sand.


Second, we need to do things as well as we can. As the old adage goes, whatever we do is worth doing well. God affirms this: “Thou shall not offer one that has any defect for such a one would not be acceptable” (Leviticus 22: 20). We do so by practicing professional competence, down to the last detail. Competence comprises the practice of virtues, among which are order and constancy.


The late Sidney Harman, executive chairman of Newsweek, exemplified this by working despite his acute myeloid leukemia at 92. He prepared lectures at the University of Southern California and managed operations at Newsweek. He said, “I have told the dragon to go stand in the damn corner. I have important stuff to do.”


“If you consider the many compliments paid to Jesus by those who witnessed his life, you will find one which in a way embraces all of them. I am thinking of the spontaneous exclamation of wonder and enthusiasm which arose from the crowd at the astonishing sight of his miracles: bene omnia fecit (Mk 7:37), he has done everything exceedingly well: not only the great miracles, but also the little everyday things that didn’t dazzle anyone.”


Third, work should be offered to God. We can offer our work to God as we begin it, renew that offering during the day through aspirations and the memorare, a beautiful prayer, and, also important, end it with an act of thanksgiving or petition. We are sure we are doing that when we are able to set aside quality time with Our Lord. Are we more free and more alert early in the morning, then we may do the mental prayer and gospel reading and even attend mass tthen before we start working. Are we passing by a church on the way home? We may do the visit to the blessed sacrament and pray the rosary there. We may do the examination of conscience before we read a bedtime book or watch . If we can work smartly, why can’t we pray smartly too?


We need to persevere like rivers. Confucius said, “In the battle between the river and the rock, the river will always win. Not through strength but by persistence.” The river can shatter rocks into smaller chunks over time. It does so quietly. Voltaire said, “Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time.” Placido Domingo made many sacrifices starting at a young age in order to be the world’s leading tenor. Without perseverance, anyone in any field, even in football or the recording industry, fails. Great works, like diamonds, require tremendous pressure or concentration of resources. John Steinbeck, for instance, took two and a half years to wrap up The Grapes of Wrath. The poet Elizabeth Bishop took her time to publish only two volumes. Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird has yet to publish a literary work of the same scope.


We need to lay the last stones. Our Father wrote in Furrow (488), ”Heroism at work is to be found in finishing each task.” It is like climbing a hill. It is an arduous task, with falls and few compensations. But reaching the summit is most gratifying. What work do we offer God? “…I don’t have to think twice about the answer: offer the same things as before, but do them better, finishing them off with a loving touch that will lead you to think more about him and less about yourself” (495) Offer up the work plans and reviews that may not seem exciting. We need perseverance at work in our spiritual life. “A clear sign of lukewarmness is a lack of supernatural ‘stubbornness,’ of fortitude to keep on working and not stop until you have laid ‘the last stone’ (Forge 489).


Fourth, we can help others, especially for them to be saints. Even non-believers have a sense of this. Chinese activist AI Wei Wei, who is under detention, did a documentary on other activists who tallied the student deaths in the Szechuan earthquake. He was later assaulted by police officers and had to undergo cranial surgery to treat internal bleeding. He told Time magazine, “Everybody has worries, but being scared will not help the situation.”


Last, if we are working for God, the natural consequence will be for us to work cheerfully and calmly, with a spirit of self-sacrifice. St. Josemaria did that when he visited several young men to whom he was giving spiritual direction on foot in Madrid. He walked several miles everyday even during the dark moments prior to the Spanish civil war. 


As we can see in God’s creation, hard work

is compatible with rest. Rest can be an opportunity to do apostolate. Sports, cultural shows, hobby workshops are good occasions to meet people, provide opportunities for new friendships and sanctify ourselves and others.


Rest is not idleness or wasting time. It ought to be a change of occupation. St. Josemaria explained:


Our whole day taken up with a flexible schedule in which, besides the daily norms of piety, an important place should be given to rest, which we all need, to family get-togethers, to reading, and to time set aside for an artistic or literary hobby or any other worthwhile pastime … by filling the hours of the day usefully, doing everything as well as we can, and living little details of order, punctuality and good humor. (Conversations with St. Josemaria Escriva, no. 111).


If we see our duties at work and at home as a divine call, we will strive to carry them out as best as we can.  




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