Work is a central component of both our faith and our daily lives. The average person spends more of their waking hours at work than with friends and family. More often than not, we are working to provide for our loved ones. Work puts a roof over our heads, food on our plates, and clothes on our backs. But, as Catholics, we believe that this work is more than earning a living; it is a central part of our identity as Children of the Father, it is a prayer of our love for the people we support, as well as a message to God.
We know theologically that we are children of the Father and the Father is the Creator. We often think of this in the abstract, but this is not an abstract reality – it is fundamental to our being and to our purpose. We are children of the Creator and as His children we have an interior drive to create, to do work for Him and he has created us to live out this interior drive. That is, our purpose is to join God in His work finishing the Universe he has provided to us so that we might enjoy together the fruits of creation as a family of God.
Additionally, work shows God how much we love him, and it displays His love through us to those around us. In the epistle of St. James, he says, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” – that is to say, we cannot separate our faith lives from our working hours. Faith is not meant to be confined within the walls of a church, only brought out on Sundays and holidays; we are meant to live our faith, communicating it through the world we are building, behind desks, in classrooms, offices, cars, kitchens, and homes. No job is too big or too small, and all have equal dignity when they are performed for love of Christ.
The prayer of our work needs to extend beyond our immediate family and loved ones to be a gift to the Creator himself, a gift offered up for the salvation of the world. We give this gift of our work in union with the one who is still creating, still working for the love of his children on earth.
We must turn our work into prayer because God wants us to do so. In the book of John, Jesus tells us, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” He also says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me to accomplish his work.” Jesus hungers to do the work of the Father in heaven, and we are to follow his example. Let us strive to be like Jesus, and in doing so, unite ourselves to the Father in our work.
Turning our work into continual prayer is not an easy task, but nothing good and worthy ever is. St. Benedict, a founder of monastic life, took his motto to be the Latin phrase, “ora et labora” (translated as “pray and work”), and he developed a complex set of rules for his spiritual sons and daughters to follow in order to turn their work into prayer. In today’s world, the laity does not need to (and often can’t!) escape to a monastery to provide for our spiritual wellbeing or that of our loved ones. For us, the phrase should and can be, “work is prayer.” We must learn how to find and adore the presence of God in our daily work.
We must develop our own rules for the modern life, rules that are unique to each one of us and to our particular jobs. Here are some simple tips to begin uniting your work with the work of God:
Most importantly, always tell God, “I’m doing this for you!” When you send an email, when you hammer a nail, teach a student, council a patient—all these are opportunities to say, “God, I’m doing this for you.” And don’t forget to ask him, “What next?”
Matt Meeks is the Chief Digital and Marketing Officer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and President at the OneWord Group, a strategic consultancy helping the Church elevate her marketing, operations and communications so that “all might be one.”