When is 'work' work?

Sister Judith Sutera | May 19, 2017

Last Wednesday was the annual employee picnic for all those who work for the sisters at Mount St. Scholastica and Dooley Center. Each year, we honor those who have completed another 5 years of employment.

Debra Seager, a Dooley Center nurse for 20 years, spoke of the difference it makes to work in a place where spirituality is at the center of all that is done for the residents and by the residents. Darleen Blasing had the great accomplishment of having worked in food service at the Mount for 35 years. Asked about her long service, she said, “The sisters are a family. It is a fun place to work but the sisters have also helped me and my family in many ways.”

“Work” is a hard concept to pin down. One meaning is the employment by which we make money. I’ve often heard people say that they never “go to work” because what they do is such a pleasure that they hardly consider it work. They think they are getting paid to do what they thoroughly enjoy and would want to be doing even if they didn’t get paid. What they do for a living may be very hard, strenuous physical labor, but it has a value for them that lightens the burden.

“Work” is not just used to mean what one is paid to do. Each of us has a different attitude towards unpaid labors like housework, but it is work that must be done. People who build things or tend gardens may physically be working very hard, but to them, this is something that gives them the kind of rest and renewal that would classify as leisure.

In his rule for monasteries, St. Benedict wants to be sure that his followers understand that their most important work is what they do to make each other’s lives better. When they take their turn at meal preparation and other tasks of daily life, when they care for the sick and poor, they are following Jesus who told his disciples they must serve one another and welcome those in need.

People sometimes mistakenly say that St. Benedict had a motto of “pray and work.” This motto came many centuries later, reflecting a very different view of monasticism, is not in the rule, and has little to do with Benedict’s concept. He would never have subdivided the self into these two areas. He would have recognized that there are many dimensions to life: communal prayer, sacred reading time, personal relationships, employment at a craft, service to others, leisure, etc. He would have wanted us to remember that each of the dimensions is a form of prayer and beyond it there are no “ands.” There is no “pray and work,” there is only “pray in work and in everything else too.”

The comments of these long-term employees suggest that it isn’t so much what we do as the spirit in which it is done and the environment that people create. If your work doesn’t feel like a prayer, perhaps mindful prayer can help. Perhaps there is something in the work environment that does not produce the kind of joyful and caring place that keeps our employees energized for decades.

Is there anything in your speech or attitudes that contributes to this? Is there anything you can do to offer the light of faith to those who need uplifting? If it is just drudgery, at least you can be grateful to God that you are providing for yourself and your loved ones and sharing in the great work of creation entrusted to Adam and Eve and all their descendants.