Friday, February 26, 2010

Radicality -- Necessity of Work

...We did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.
2 Thessalonians 3

Work is connected to the essential dignity of man. At Christmas I was reading a book called "All You Who Labor". Maybe I'll study that one next. The book makes the point that God showed by His example, both in creation and in the Incarnation, that work was a good thing in itself. The pain involved, the "labor" aspect of pain and toil, was a result of the Fall, but the work itself preceded the Fall.

One characteristic of the natural ecology is that everything works not just for the benefit of itself, though that is a primary component, but indirectly for the benefit of everything around it. Every single natural thing contributes and receives and a balance is set up that allows for a general flourishing. Even things that die become aids to new life. It is similar with us -- only we do it mindfully, not just because that is how things are set up. OK, we CAN contribute and receive reflexively, but that is not our highest mode.

This does not mean just work for monetary gain. That part of it is a byproduct. It doesn't even mean "work" as in mental or physical endeavour, I don't think. There are people who are so disabled that they cannot consciously give or receive. They receive by nature of their helplessness and give back in the same way, blessing us by their radical trust and simplicity. Those in the contemplative life are not "working" in the sense of plowing or producing books or managing things but they are contributing through their prayers and their witness.

Jesus says that the lilies in the field do not toil or spin. They reflect glory in their own way, and God provides for them because of their contribution.

For humans, being deprived of work is essentially a deep hardship, and those who are too rich to have to work or cannot find work to alleviate their poverty are in an unhappy condition, in somewhat different ways, because the former has a choice and the latter doesn't. The former usually fill their empty lives with trivialities that only distract them from their suffering and the latter often simply have to stand and wait, like the laborers in the marketplace in the parable. The latter are blessed because they would work if they could; the former are "turned away empty".

Father Dubay says we have to work to the best of our ability. It seems that we each have our own work just as everything in nature does. We each have our own niche in the "ecology".

So this is one way to judge whether what we have or do is "necessary". Is it concerned with our duties, with our work? If we look around our house, are our possessions connected with the Acts (or Works) of Mercy? Are we actually, actively using them for these things? Then they are probably all right to have. Those possessions are not owning us.

So going through the Acts of Mercy:

  • Feeding the hungry -- enough food for my family and for hospitality if the opportunity comes up. Giving drink to the thirsty -- similar.
  • Clothing the naked -- we need clothes that are appropriate to what we are doing.
  • Harbouring the homeless -- shelter for ourselves and for hospitality.
  • Visiting the sick -- some medical supplies.
  • Ransoming the captive -- hmmm.
  • Burying the dead -- whatever is needed to properly remember and memorialize our family history, those who have gone before us.
  • Instructing the ignorant -- teaching things for ourselves and our children.
  • Counselling the doubtful -- doesn't seem to require any material possessions, just time and knowledge of the truth and sympathy. Same with admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living and the dead. These are all in one's personal reach even if one is very poor indeed.
LOL -- the tailored ads on my dashboard seem to think I'm a member of the clergy.

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