I have been reading Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Querida Amazonia.” It focuses upon the needs of the region and the people of the Amazon. Emphasizing many important points for action and reflection, it considers questions of ecology, inculturation, and the role of women in the Church, as well as many others. By now, however, those who stay attentive to the words of the Holy Father expect to find some wondrous short statements that give pause as one reads and invite one to sit back and think.
For me, one of those statements in this document called attention to “the very thing which is most important about work: its meaning” (83). I stopped to ponder this simple phrase. Like most people, I spend a significant portion of my day being “busy” and I think of my day in those terms. “What did I get done?” “How much more do I have to do?” “How much time do I have?” I rarely ask myself “Why am I doing this?” “How does this work contribute to the good of the human community and those whom I serve?” In other words, “what does this work mean?”
Francis wrote his words in the midst of a deliberation on the importance of reflection and contemplation for a human being. He says, “Christian spirituality incorporates the value of relaxation and festivity” (83). Getting the task done in itself is not the highest value. One needs to consider the meaning of the action; one needs to take a step back in order to see the value in the effort and result. Remember the story in creation. We hear:
On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. (Gen 2:2-3)
The ability to take joy in one’s task is valuable. The Lord God shows us that certainty from the very beginning. Work without the opportunity to find its purpose and its contribution to creation in the service of others is work that can dehumanize. The encouragement to be grateful for one’s accomplishments and the opportunity to praise the Giver of all possibilities suggest the intent of the third commandment.
During this Lenten Season, I hear a call to take stock of my tasks. Taking a more serious look at what I do each day offers a chance to find meaning in my labors. I can too easily keep doing the same things and accomplishing the same results. I can do this without engaging my heart and soul on any level. I want my life to be purposeful and given for the benefit of others. Although I may not be able to identify that truth in each task, the big picture should and does offer more clarity.
The call to work connects to the dignity of a human being. We recognize that from the stories of our first parents. Vincent reminds us of how to unite our efforts with dependence upon our God:
So, do not dwell any longer on what you are, but consider Our Lord close by you and within you, ready to put His hand to the work as soon as you call upon Him for help, and you will see that all will go well. (Vincent de Paul, December 19, 1646, CCD 3:143)