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                      Work

 

All the passages below are taken from Fulton J Sheen’s book “Way To Happiness.”

 

Very few people in this age do the kind of work they like to do. Instead of selecting their jobs by choice, they are forced by economic necessity to work at tasks which fail to satisfy them. Many of them say, "I ought to be doing something bigger," or "This job of mine is only important because I get paid." Such an attitude lies at the bottom of much unfinished and badly executed work. The man who chooses his work because it fulfils a purpose he approves is the only one who grows in stature by working. He alone can properly say at the end of it, "It is finished!"

This sense of vocation is sadly lacking nowadays. The blame should not be placed on the complexity of our economic system, but on a collapse of our spiritual values. Any work, viewed in its proper perspective, can be used to ennoble us; but a necessary prelude to seeing this is to understand the philosophy of labour.

Every task we undertake has two aspects---our purpose, which makes us think it worth doing, and the work itself, regarded apart from its end-purpose. We play tennis to get exercise; but we play the game as well as possible, just for the joy of doing the thing well. The man who argued that he could get as much exercise by sloppy technique on the courts would have missed an understanding of the second aspect of all activity: the accomplishment of the task in accordance with its own standards of excellence. In the same way, a man working in an automobile factory may have, as his primary purpose, the earning of wages; but the purpose of the work itself is the excellent completion of the task. A workman should be aware of the second purpose at all times---as the artist is aware of the aim of beauty in his painting and the housewife is aware of the need for neatness when she dusts.

Today the first aspect of working has become paramount, and we tend to ignore the second... so that many workmen lead half-lives in their labouring hours. They are like gardeners, ordered to grow cabbage to qive them sauerkraut juice, but indifferent as to whether their plots are weeded properly or their cabbages are healthy vegetables. This is a mistaken attitude: God Himself worked when He made the world and then, viewing it, He called it "good".

The legitimate pride in doing work well relieves it of much of its drudgery. Some people, who have held to this craftsman's standard, get a thrill from any job they do. They know the satisfaction of "a job well done" whether they are engaged in caning a chair or cleaning a horse's stall or carving a statue for a cathedral. Their honour and their self-respect are heightened by the discipline of careful work. They have retained the old attitude of the Middle Ages, when work was a sacred event, a ceremony, a source of spiritual merit. Labour was not then undertaken merely for the sake of economic gain, but was chosen through an inner compulsion, through a desire to project the creative power of God through our own human effort.

No task should be undertaken in a spirit which ignores either of these two primary aspects of work. To link together the two things---the joy of making a table well with the purpose of making it at all, which is to earn a living---the following principles should be kept in mind:

(1) Work is a moral duty and not, as many men imagine, a mere physical necessity. St Paul said, "The man who refuses to work must be left to starve" (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:10). When work is seen as a moral duty, it is apparent that it not only contributes to the social good, but also performs further services to the worker himself: it prevents the idleness from which many evils can arise and it also keeps his body in subjection to the reasoned will.

(2) To work is to pray. "The well-regulated life does not defer prayer until work has been accomplished; it turns the work itself into a prayer." We accomplish this when we turn to God at the beginning and completion of each task and mentally offer it up for love of Him. Then, whether we are nursing a child or making carburettors, turning a lathe or running an elevator, the task is sanctified. No amount of piety in leisure hours can compensate for slipshod labour on the job. But any honest task, well done, can be turned into a prayer.

(3) A medieval economist, Antonio of Florence, summed up the relationship of work to life in the happy formula: "The object of making money is that we may provide for ourselves and our dependents. The object of providing for self and others is that one may live virtuously. The object of living virtuously is to save our souls and attain eternal happiness."

 

Work should, in justice, receive two kinds of reward---for it is not only individual, but also social. John Jones, who works in a mine, is tired at the end of the day: this is his individual sacrifice. For it he receives his wages. But John Jones has also, during the day, made a social contribution to the economic well-being of the country and the world. For this social contribution, John Jones today is given nothing, even though he has a moral right to a share of the social wealth his work creates. We need a modification of the wage system, so that the worker may share in the profits, ownership or management of his industry. When labour leaders and capitalists thus agree together to give labour some capital to defend, there will no longer be two rival groups in industry; labour and management will become two cooperating members working together, as the two legs of a man cooperate to help him walk. [36-39]

 

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