Sunday with Ron Rolheiser: Sacred Work

Craftsmanship (2016)


Sunday with Ron Rolheiser
Sacred Work

We lack a good theology of work. Too often work is seen as something that takes us away from the God and prayer, a distraction to the spiritual life. Hard work is admitted to be a good, honest thing, but, even so, never a holy thing in itself, a gift from God so that we can be co- creators with Him.

In fact, in some theologies, work is seen as a punishment for sin, something introduced on the planet after Adam’s sin, not willed or intended by God ideally. In this view, except for sin, there would be no work.

Some of this, of course, is true. Work can be a distraction and an escape (both from God and family). It can be a rationalization against entering into the deeper things. As well, we too easily take our self-worth from our work so that we feel good about ourselves only when we are achieving something and are anxious always that, deep down, outside of our work and our achievements, we have little to offer. And so we work to try to prove ourselves and our work often becomes cancerous, something we can’t quit doing because our entire sense of self-worth is tied up with it. There are real dangers in work.

But there are dangers in everything. Work can be an excuse to avoid the deeper things, but it is also the deep, natural form of contemplation that God gives to us as humans.

We have to spend most of our waking lives working. That should tell us something, namely, that work must be the major avenue through which God wants us to journey towards the deeper things. Given the way we are built and the way life is shaped, God surely does not expect us to consciously think about Him most of our waking moments. God is not an egoistical tyrant, demanding our conscious attention, even while we are have to work long hours amidst all the heartaches, headaches, restlessness, anxieties, fears, and preoccupations that impale themselves upon us every waking minute. If God wants our conscious attention every waking minute, than there is some fatal flaw in the way we are built and the way life is set up.

But there is no fatal flaw. God is the ground of our being, the ground too of our work and our relationships. In God “we live and move and have our being.” We know God not just in our conscious awareness and in prayer, but also in a deep inchoate way, by participating with Him in building this world – by growing things, building things, carving things, creating things, cleaning things, painting things, writing things, raising children, nursing bodies, teaching others, consoling others, humouring others, struggling with others, and loving others. Work, like prayer, is a privileged way to get to know God because, when we work, we are toiling in partnership with Him.

Jesus knew well both the feel of work and of tiredness. Here’s a little meditation from Caryll Houselander:

“Christ earned his living, with the joys, exultations, fatigues of other men. Had you gone to visit his home in Nazareth you would have found him like other men, but giving a significance to ordinary things that others often fail to do. Imagine such a visit. … you have come to supper. He is putting away his tools; unconsciously he smiles at the burnish on them; you see how he loves his tools. On the floor by the bench there are wood shavings, how clean and fine they are, curled like yellow petals. What a beautiful thing work is, seen from this man’s angle! He sits down in the doorway, you with him, you notice the signs of the day’s fatigue, good fatigue that seeps out of one in the evening. He wipes his face, his eyes are a little tired, they have the intensity of eyes that use the last rays of light. Yes, he works hard. He gives good measure.”

6 thoughts on “Sunday with Ron Rolheiser: Sacred Work

  1. below is a list of moral and humane ‘rights’ of workers, listed in the Catholic Social Compendium, in hopes that jurisdictions might consider them:


    301. The rights of workers, like all other rights, are based on the nature of the human person and on his transcendent dignity.

    the right to a just wage;
    the right to rest;
    the right “to a working environment and to manufacturing processes which are not harmful to the workers’ physical
    health or to their moral integrity”;
    the right that one’s personality in the workplace should be safeguarded “without suffering any affront to one’s
    conscience or personal dignity”;
    the right to appropriate subsidies that are necessary for the subsistence of unemployed workers and their families;
    the right to a pension and to insurance for old age, sickness, and in case of work-related accidents; [656] the right
    to social security connected with maternity;
    the right to assemble and form associations.

    whether you work in an inner-city school with behavior-challenged young people, or in a coal mine in West Virginia overseen by greedy owners, or in any atmosphere where the ‘boss’ is a bully even sometimes expecting ‘sexual favors’ from workers who need their medical insurance for a family member, or . . . . . (so many other examples of work settings where ‘rights’ are often at the mercy of circumstances out of the hands of the workers . . . .

    in the year 2018, ‘labor’ has an uphill fight ahead of it, and I’m not so sure the courts or ‘the government’ as it now exists is interested in supporting the rights of labor, and most certainly not the ‘dignity’ of workers

    might be better to nip some of the offences against labor in the bud than allowing the powers that be to destroy what has been achieved so that the wheel must be re-invented that shields workers from abusive situations


  2. I started out as a teacher and morphed into a painter. I, even after thirty years, enjoy painting. I have a business so there is very little time that I am actually doing the painting myself these days but when I can just pick up a brush or a roller it is always a meditative experience. I forget everything.


  3. comes ‘Labor Day’ again . . . . . a look at the past reminds us of a story from the history of the American worker


  4. I think I’ve learned the most about work, as I’ve study and embraced rest, Sabbath rest. They go hand in hand.


  5. The gist of this is true. Work is a noble and a holy thing. But human societies have made work alienating for many, because of the injustice involved in those with little power working for those with much of it, and the benefits of that work going very disproportionately to the employers, the powerful. Human societies have thwarted the divinely intended relationship of worker to work, just as the they have thwarted the divinely intended relationship of human beings to creation. The resultant widespread alienation from work is not so different in kind or cause from the Garden we have polluted and ruined, when we were intended to work it and care for it.


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