Saturday, December 19, 2009

All You Who Labor

If you've been reading Josef Pieper's book Leisure: The Basis of Culture and been somewhat puzzled by some of his points, a good book to read along with it might be All You Who Labor by Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski. We've had it around the house for years. My oldest son mentioned it recently and that reminded me that it might have something to say about the role of work versus leisure. Pieper can be difficult reading, though his style is clear; Wyszynski seems to write more directly to the normal layperson, and bases his thinking directly on theology and the tradition of the Church, while Pieper's approach is more informed by the philosophical tradition. So I am finding that the books fit nicely side by side, and I plan to spend some time during these Christmas holidays reading more of Wyszynksi's book (and also, if I blog again, learning to spell Wyszynski without having to stop and delete several times)

Wyszynski, writing contemperaneously to Pieper (his book was originally written in 1947 in Poland) deplored the "deification" of work and the tendency it has nowadays to be demeaning and vulgarizing. Nonetheless, he celebrates work itself as an essential part of our humanity. He quotes Jesus as saying "My Father has never ceased working, and I too, must be at work." He cites the example of Our Lord's closest companions on earth, most of whom were physical laborers -- fishermen and the like. He says that man was made to work (Genesis 2:15) even before the Fall; it was because of the fall that our work became difficult to perform as the "normal consequence of the corruption of the mind and the will through sin".

He writes:

"Christianity.... brought about the real liberation and elevation of humn work. The first Christians, even the rich ones, sometimes showed their memebership in the Church by doing physical work. They professed Christ not only in word but in deed. For is it not true that "faith without deeds to show has no life in it?" ... What is more, the Christian world emphasized the importance of uniting spiritual and physical work. We see this especially in monastic life, where the most sublime contemplation has gone hand in hand with manual labor.

I do not think his work contradicts Pieper's in any key respect, in spite of its difference in emphasis. He, too, writes that "man is made for both prayer and work"; he, too, deplores the drowning of man in the world of "total work":

"Man is lost in the pursuit of profit, driven by "duty" which he often understands rather as a sense of external need than as a moral value. Morever, we are becoming the slaves of things. We are so absorbed in and engrossed by the prefecting of what we do that we completely forget about ourselves. We even consider that excessive work frees us from the duty of molding our own souls.

Now, just as work perfects, so also the lack of it demoralizes the mind and weakens the will. The working day must help the progress of our mind and will.

The day's work should be such that it does not exhaust all our human powers. A man ending a day's work should still have some physical strength at his disposal.

Prudence and justice command man to refrain from the sort of work that would exhaust his strength completely, for work is not the most important task; it is not the only duty in the day, or in life, either.

The day's work should be of such a kind that one is able, with the strength left over to fulfil the other daily tasks of life. .... He should have some time, as well as some physical and spiritual strength."

Obviously, of course, the Cardinal in post war Poland was seeing that some men do NOT have this kind of time, through no fault of their own. His point was that this is a symptom of a sick society, if it is something imposed on the man; and if the man imposes it on himself or herself, it is a sickness in the person, and will not lend itself to sanctification. It will be like that "clanging of cymbals" St Paul talks about in efforts done without love.

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