Posted September 02, 2011 in My Dear Family:
The Holiness of Work

by Catherine Doherty.

At times it seems we have lost all sense of direction. Truth hides her face from us because we have turned away from her source, God.

We tread water and beguile ourselves into thinking that we are swimming. Goal-less, road-less, frightened, and bewildered, we make gods of passing things, of shadows without substance, trying to convince ourselves with all the might of our starved hearts that the shoddy tinsel we hug so tightly to our hearts is pure gold.

But in the soundless depths of our souls, we know better. And this half-buried, hidden knowledge, instead of spurring us to arise and turn our faces toward God, frightens us who are so faint of heart and sends us with renewed frenzy to the worship of false gods.

One of the truths of God that we have lost is that of work. Its theology utterly escapes us. Its beauty, comeliness, joy, fruitfulness, and creativity, and its powers of healing, restoring, and making whole again, have become unknown quantities to us.

In our day and age, manual labor, especially what the world calls "menial work," is disdained by those who do not know Christ the carpenter and Mary, the housewife.

Nor do such people know the endless rosary of saints—male and female—who delighted to be humble, lowly, "menial" workers. These saints understood that, because they did everything out of love, they were the aristocracy of earth and the nobility of heaven.

Worse, since we lack the understanding of the value of manual labor, we use the intelligence God gave us to invent thousands of ways to avoid what little work we do have. Then we excuse our heresy by telling ourselves that by this "inventiveness" we give ourselves more time.

Time for what? Time to waste on baubles. Time for temptations to become rooted in us, eventually to flower into sins. Idle time, which the Prince of Darkness can use to weave a net of perdition around us.

And all the while work, manual work, awaits us.

It stands patiently outside the doors of our hearts, ready at a moment’s notice to enter this inner house of ours and set it in order, so that the Lord Christ may come and dwell therein and feel at home.

All work is holy. Through it we walk the royal road of Christ. We seem to have forgotten that.

Behold how the Church uses this hallowed word: the corporal works of mercy, the spiritual works of mercy. These works encompass prayer and sacrifice; and intellectual and physical labor.

The summit of all work is the Cross on Calvary, on which hung a Carpenter who worked with his hands—God, who worked with his perfect creative mind in a flame of love.

Christ chose to be a manual laborer as an example to us. And our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, was an ordinary housewife in Palestine, one who did all the household chores without our modern conveniences.

How can we restore work—all work—to Christ?

For your soul’s sake, even for your health’s sake, look upon all manual labor as dignified, glorified, and sanctified by the Holy Family—by the Lord himself, Our Lady, and St. Joseph.

The other thing is that, through manual work, you are one with the poor who are so beloved by God. They must work with their hands in order to make a living.

By doing little things well with a great love for God, little, humble, ordinary souls like ourselves can become great. But even more importantly, we will restore the world to Christ.

For how can we restore the world to Christ if we cannot restore a room to its normal, beautiful order and keep it that way? How can we restore the world to Christ if we cannot keep drawers and shelves and rooms tidy?

Work is holy. The humble tasks of everyday life are holy, because God did them and Our Lady did them. I have come to serve, not to be served (Mt 20:28).

The moment you become the servant of others, you unite yourself to God and to Our Lady. For God himself washed the dirty, calloused feet of fishermen, ordinary peasant folks, his apostles. In that humble action—God at the feet of man, washing their dirty feet—our fastidiousness gets a sort of twist.

We do not like that. There are so many things we do not like that God did, because we do not understand. And we do not understand because we do not listen with our hearts.

Do you disdain being a servant? You think it is beneath you? Then you deny the very words of God: I have come to serve (Mt 20:28).

Have you ever thought of the song of cleaning? Here I am dusting a chair well. You can just hear the swish. But if I am putting my heart, my soul, my love for God into this action, not missing any corner, I am disciplining myself.

I am beginning to die to self. I am singing a song of love with every movement. I am beginning where Christ began, at the feet of his apostles.

Listen to the song of the dishes; listen to the song of the laundry. Listen to the gardener and the farmer, the secretary and the taxi driver, the nurse and the doctor. A great and beautiful chorus lifts itself up from the hearts of those who believe.

Have you experienced the utter joy of scrubbing a floor? Do you know how to make it a prayer, a song of love and gladness? Have you recited the litany of dusting and sweeping whose goal is a home bedecked with cleanliness? Or are these humble tasks irritatingly monotonous to you?

Have you experienced the creativity of cooking a meal or making a loaf of bread? Do you understand the sublimity of service—humble, daily, constantly repeated?

And why work with great care and attention? Because then your work is a song of love that goes up from a world that has nothing to offer God but hatred. These humble little things are a tremendous song before God and before Our Lady.

Do them well. Offer them up. Pray—not just with words. Pray with your hands; their movement is a prayer.

Among the roads of life is the road of service through manual work. Let us open this road to our young people. Even from a purely natural point of view, manual labor can be very remunerative.

Someone who cleans houses or cooks at times commands a salary greater than that of a college professor. The same goes for a carpenter, plumber, or bricklayer. All we have to get rid of is the pagan attitude of despising manual labor and exalting intellectual work. Both are good. Let us exalt both.

Place yourself in Nazareth with Our Lady and sweep for those who never sweep the cobwebs and the dirt from their souls. Sweep in the Nazareth of human minds and hearts. Prepare that inn eternally every day for the Child to be born in, the Child who was denied the inn and is still denied the inn of our hearts.

When a house is in order, it is at peace, and charity blooms in that order. Disorder in a house reflects a restless soul, a soul not at peace. All things that rest in God are orderly. An orderly house bespeaks people who rest in the heart of God where the perfection of order is obtained.

Make the Sign of the Cross before you begin a task. Your time is God’s time; your tools are God’s tools. God will see the love in your heart.

Do not waste his time. We have so little of it to give him. Let us give him all of it, full of our love. Let our work be a song and a prayer of atonement and love.

Fewer and fewer are the people who believe, and fewer still are those who lay down their lives for God. Begin to lay down your life in the exacting, disciplining, routine, monotonous, repetitive work of the humble tasks of everyday life.

Excerpted and adapted from The People of the Towel and Water, (2010), pp. 59-64, available from MH Publications.



If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!


Restoration Contents

Next article:

Previous article:
One Man's Scrap, Another Man's Gold (July-August 2011)



RSS 2.0RSS feed

Madonna House - A Training Centre for the Lay Apostolate