Meditations for Layfolks - Labour

Labour is the law of life. Even before the Fall, action of some kind was necessary. The curse of God that followed upon sin only added the punishment of difficulty and weariness. Man must always work, but since the sin of Adam it has become a burden as well as a necessity. That it is a necessity is apparent from the very facts of consciousness; it is the price we pay for existence; life is in compatible with inactivity, for if we stagnate we die. Will, fancy, conscience, reason, every known power of man is subject to the same law of development namely, to preserve a faculty it must be exercised. Without such frequent recourse to activity, the power will become atrophied, will cease really to be of any value. Labour, therefore, is the origin of all true greatness and dignity, the badge of intelligence. God on His throne is a principle of fuller life than ours, because of higher activity; and the Infinite life of the Blessed Three-in-One, the constant interchange of Power, Wisdom, Love, is the richest labour (though, of course, without difficulty or weariness) of which existence is capable. The development, then, of the faculties is essential to their preservation, is a condition of life, since life itself must be always dynamic i.e. moving, growing, changing, not static, hardened, still, wrought into a perfect shape without intensity. A language or a science is dead when it is no longer capable of being freshened to meet the ever-widening experience of life.

Labour of some kind (even if it brings with it no sense of toil) is a condition of human life. But since the Fall there has been added a sense of weariness, the result of which is to act upon human nature and make it shun activity as inconvenient. The difficulties, which labour itself now always universally implies, tend to make the average man escape from labour when he can. It is possible, indeed, that I am so interested in my work or profession that it is a real pleasure to me to be engaged in it; and the very sense of weariness that overcomes me as the day closes may itself bring with it an added joy, as of duty done. Yet, for all that, I know, and with increasing years am made daily conscious, that the very interest of the work adds to the exhaustion of the toil quite as much as though the whole of it were extremely distasteful to me. Whether I enjoy my profession, or whether I am out of all sympathy with it, it must certainly prove every year more exacting. Difficulties are assuredly not far off from me at any time; so that to earn the bread of mind or of body, I must first toil for it. While, therefore, I am assured that activity is the whole condition of life, I must also recognize the fact that this activity is bound to be full of toil in the continuance of human life. It is a toil, but not in itself a degradation; to work at certain trades may be degrading, but work in itself is a necessity for God and for man.

My attitude, therefore, towards all labour, whether my own or another's, must first be one of reverence, since, in so fulfilling the law of my being, I am made after the image and likeness of God, He, too, is a worker. Both pagan and Christian thinkers have made it their definition of God that He is sheer activity, that there is nothing that He can do and, as far as He is concerned, has not done. There are no latent capacities in Him. His power and wisdom and love are active to the extent of infinity. Then, besides simply accepting labour, whether of mind or heart or hand, as something sacrosanct, alone worthy to be exchanged for the material comforts of life, I must also remember that by a divine betrothal toil is married to labour, so that none may put them permanently asunder. No one should be exempt from either: all should work and all should feel the weariness of work. Moreover, of course I can see for myself how much I need the discipline of it, the actual strengthening, developing power it has on my character; and, correspondingly, the harm that is done me when I have no work. To be unemployed by man is to be dangerously near being employed by the devil. I must be prepared for the difficulties that attend the exercise of my profession, nor should I seek to scamp my work in order to avoid the toil of it. "Work first and fee second" should be, therefore, the object of human industry. The fee is important, but work to be well done must be done for its own sake.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.