Work is man’s original vocation. It is a blessing from God, and those who consider it a punishment are sadly mistaken.
The Lord, who is the best of fathers, placed the first man in Paradise ut operaretur, so that he would work.
To study, to work: these are inescapable duties for all Christians. They are means of defending ourselves from the enemies of the Church and of attracting, with our professional prestige, so many souls who, being good, fight in isolation. They are most fundamental weapons for whoever wants to be an apostle in the middle of the world.
I ask God that you may take as your model Jesus as an adolescent and as a young man, both when he disputed with the doctors in the Temple and when he worked in Joseph’s workshop.
Jesus’ thirty-three years!…: thirty were spent in silence and obscurity; in submission and work…
That big young man wrote to me saying: “My ideal is so great that only the sea could contain it.” I answered: “And what about the Tabernacle, which is so ‘small’; and the ‘common’ workshop of Nazareth?”
—It is in the greatness of ordinary things that He awaits us!
Before God, no occupation is in itself great or small. Everything gains the value of the Love with which it is done.
Heroism at work is to be found in finishing each task.
Let me stress this point: it is in the simplicity of your ordinary work, in the monotonous details of each day, that you have to find the secret, which is hidden from so many, of something great and new: Love.
You say it helps you a lot to wonder how many businessmen have become saints since the time of the early Christians.
And you want to show that it is also possible today… —The Lord will not abandon you in that effort.
You too have a professional vocation which spurs you on. Well, that spur is the hook to fish for men.
Rectify your intention, then, and be sure you acquire all the professional prestige you can for the service of God and of souls. The Lord counts on this too.
To finish things you have to start them.
—It seems a truism. But you so often lack that simple decision! And… how satan rejoices in your ineffectiveness!
You cannot sanctify work which humanly speaking is slapdash, for we must not offer God badly-done jobs.
By neglecting small details you could work on and on without rest and yet live the life of a perfect idler.
You asked what you could offer the Lord. —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.
Here is a mission for ordinary Christians which is heroic and will always be relevant to the present day: to carry out in a holy way all different kinds of occupations even those that might seem least promising.
Let us work. Let us work a lot and work well, without forgetting that prayer is our best weapon. That is why I will never tire of repeating that we have to be contemplative souls in the middle of the world, who try to convert their work into prayer.
You are writing to me in the kitchen, by the stove. It is early afternoon. It is cold. By your side, your younger sister — the last one to discover the divine folly of living her Christian vocation to the full — is peeling potatoes. To all appearances — you think — her work is the same as before. And yet, what a difference there is!
—It is true: before she only peeled potatoes, now, she is sanctifying herself peeling potatoes.
You say that you are now beginning to understand what a “priestly soul” means. Don’t be annoyed with me if I tell you that the facts show that you only realise it in theory. —Every day the same thing happens to you: at night time, during the examination, it is all desire and resolutions; during the morning and afternoon at work, it is all objections and excuses.
Are you in this way living a “holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”?
When you started your ordinary work again, something like a groan of complaint escaped you: “It’s always the same!”
And I told you: “Yes, it’s always the same. But that ordinary job —which is the same one your fellow workers do — has to be a constant prayer for you. It has the same lovable words, but a different tune each day.”
It is very much our mission to transform the prose of this life into poetry, into heroic verse.
We read in the Scriptures: Stultorum infinitus est numerus, the number of fools is infinite, and they seem to grow more every day. In all sorts of places, in the most unexpected situations, under the mantle of high office and respected positions — and even in the guise of “virtue”— you will have to put up with so much forgetfulness and so little good judgement.
But I do not understand how you can lose the supernatural view of life and give up caring. There is nothing you can do but put up with these situations, though your interior dispositions must be very poor if you put up with them for human motives.
If you do not help these people to find the right way by doing your work responsibly and finishing it well — by sanctifying it! — you will become like them, a fool. Either that or an accomplice.
You really do need to make an effort and put your shoulder to the wheel… For all that, you should put your professional interests in their place: they are only means to an end; they can never be regarded — in any way — as if they were the basic thing.
How many of these forms of “professionalitis” make union with God impossible!
Forgive my insistence: the instrument, the means, must not be made into an end. —If a spade were to weigh a hundredweight instead of what it should, the labourer would be unable to dig with it. He would use up all his energy carrying it around, and the seed could not take root, for it would remain unused.
It has always been the same: however upright and blameless the behaviour of someone at work may be, it can easily arouse rivalry, suspicion and envy. —If you occupy a position of authority, remember that some people may have prejudices against a particular colleague, but that is not sufficient reason for getting rid of “the accused”. It could be a sign, rather, that he would be useful in a greater enterprise.
Obstacles…? Sometimes they may be present. But at times you just invent them out of cowardice or love of comfort. —How cleverly the devil makes those excuses for not working look plausible! He knows full well that sloth is the mother of all vices.
You are untiring in your activity. But you fail to put order into it, so you do not have as much effect as you should. It puts me in mind of something I heard once from a very authoritative source. I happened to praise a subordinate in front of his superior. I said, “How hard he works!” “You ought to say”, I was told, “ ‘How much he rushes around!’”
—You are untiring in your activity, but it is all fruitless… How much you rush around!
You tried to belittle somebody else’s work by mumbling: “He has only done his duty.”
And I said, “Does that seem so little to you?” The Lord gives us the happiness of Heaven for doing our duty: Euge serve bone et fidelis… intra in gaudium Domini tui — Well done good and faithful servant, enter into eternal joy!
The Lord has the right to be glorified by us “at every moment” — it is an obligation for each one of us. So if we waste time we are robbing God of his glory.
You know that the task is urgent, and that one minute given to comfort is time taken from the glory of God. Why, then, do you hesitate to make conscientious use of every moment?
Moreover, I ask you to think whether the minutes you have to spare throughout the day, which taken together come to hours, might not be prompted by your disorder and laziness.
Sadness and uneasiness grow in proportion to the time you waste.
—When you feel a holy impatience to use every minute you will be filled with joy and peace, because you will not be thinking about yourself.
Preoccupations…? I replied I had no preoccupations, for I had enough occupations to keep me busy.
You are going through a critical stage. You feel a certain vague fear and find it difficult to adapt your plan of life. Your work seems to weigh you down, since twenty-four hours are not enough for everything you ought to do each day…
—Have you tried following the Apostle’s advice: “let all things be done decently and according to order”? That means, in the presence of God, with Him, through Him, and only for Him.
When you parcel out your time, you need also to think how you can make use of the odd moments that become free at unforeseen times.
I have always seen rest as time set aside from daily tasks, never as days of idleness.
Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job.
Now that you’ve got a lot to do, all your “problems” have disappeared. —Be honest: as you have made up your mind to work for Him, you no longer have time to think about your own selfish interests.
Ejaculatory prayers do not hinder your work, just as the beating of your heart does not impede the movements of the body.
Sanctifying one’s work is no fantastic dream, but the mission of every Christian — yours and mine.
—That is what that lathe-worker had discovered, when he said: “I am overwhelmed with happiness when I think how true it is that while I am working at the lathe and singing — singing all the time, on the outside and on the inside — I can become a saint. How good God is!”
Your work has become disagreeable, especially when you see how little your colleagues love God and at the same time flee from grace and the good services you want to render them.
You have to try to make up for all that they leave out. You must give yourself to God in work too, as you have done up to now, and convert it into prayer that rises to Heaven for all mankind.
Working with cheerfulness is not the same as “working away merrily” with no depth, as if you were getting rid of a troublesome burden.
—You must try not to lessen the value of your efforts through lack of attention or superficiality, so that in the end you are in danger of coming to God empty-handed.
Some people act out of prejudice in their work: on principle they trust nobody, and it goes without saying that they do not understand the need to seek to sanctify their job. If you mention it to them they tell you not to add another burden to their own work, which they put up with reluctantly as if they were supporting a heavy weight.
—That is one of the battles of peace we have to win: to find God in our work and, with Him and like Him, serve others.
You are put off by difficulties, and you shrink back. Do you know what characterises your behaviour? Nothing but comfort, comfort, and more comfort!
You had said that you were ready to wear yourself out, unstintingly, yet you still seem to be at the level of an apprentice to heroism. It is time to act with more maturity!
As a student, you should dedicate yourself to your books with an apostolic spirit, and be convinced in your heart that one hour added to another already make up — even now! — a spiritual sacrifice offered to God and profitable for all mankind, your country and your soul.
You have a warhorse called study. You resolve a thousand times to make good use of your time, yet you are distracted by the merest thing. Sometimes you get annoyed at yourself, because of your lack of will, even though you begin again every day.
Have you tried offering up your study for specific apostolic intentions?
It is easier to bustle about than to study, but it is also less effective.
If you know that study is apostolate, but limit yourself to studying just enough to get by, it is clear that your interior life is going badly.
Such carelessness makes you lose the right spirit. Just like the worker in the parable who cunningly hid the talent he had received, you may, if you do not put things right, exclude yourself from God’s friendship, and be stuck in the mire of your comfort-seeking calculations.
You must study… but that is not enough.
What do those who kill themselves working to feed their self-esteem achieve? Or those who have nothing else in mind but assuring peace of mind for a few years ahead?
One has to study… to gain the world and conquer it for God. Then we can raise the level of our efforts: we can try to turn the work we do into an encounter with the Lord and the foundation to support those who will follow our way in the future.
In this way, study will become prayer.
I have seen many people live heroic lives for God without leaving their own place of work, and I have come to this conclusion: for a Catholic work is not just a matter of fulfilling a duty — it is to love: to excel oneself gladly in duty and in sacrifice.
When you come to understand that ideal of fraternal work for Christ, you will feel better, more secure, and as happy as one can be in this world, which so many are bent on making distorted and bitter by following their own selfish aims alone.
Sanctity is made up of heroic acts. Therefore, in our work we are asked for the heroism of finishing properly the tasks committed to us, day after day, even though they are the same tasks. If we don’t, then we do not want to be saints!
I was convinced by that priest who is a friend of ours. He was talking about his apostolic work, and he assured me that there are no tasks of little importance. Hidden under this garden covered in roses, he said, is the silent effort of so many souls who with their work and prayer, their prayer and work, have won from Heaven abundant showers of grace, which makes everything fertile.
Place on your desk, in your room, in your wallet… a picture of Our Lady, and look at it when you begin your work, while you are doing it, and when you finish it. She will obtain, I assure you!, the strength for you to turn your task into a loving dialogue with God.