Spirituality for Today – May 2011 – Volume 15, Issue 10

Love's Labor

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

Before retirement, people typically ask, "What do you do?" After retirement, people commonly ask, "How are you doing?" Apparently, a lifetime encompasses a great deal of "doing." The specter of joblessness – the lack of doing – has haunted the lives of many in this country for too long a time. The toll exacted on the lives of individuals and families is diverse and unfathomable. Work, or the doing of something, is not only essential to the well being of a society's economy, but also to the well being of an individual's personal and social life. Work, as an activity of being, refers to much more than wage earning. The action of one's life dictates the legacy of one's life. The legacy of one's life is a reflection of the values by which one has lived.

A photo of a stained glass image of Joseph holding the baby Jesus

Illustrating the ultimate height, width, and depth of life's labor is the springtime feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. He went to work as a carpenter, but he lived the life of a foster father to the Word of God incarnate and a husband to the Mother of God. Quite a legacy! The quality and the character of all the dimensions of the work contained in the life of Joseph evidenced the righteousness and the God-fearing nature operative within the man himself. The abundant flowering of his nature is not recorded in all that was written about him (which was rather sparse), but in the protective and nurturing environment provided for those under his care. Unknown is the full document of his particular labors, but its effect is displayed in the momentous lives of those whom he cherished.

In initiating his own work, Jesus found the building blocks in his apostles who were hard at their work. Scripture records the scene of Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, and John from their professions as fishermen to become fishers of men. Over the years they and the other apostles were with him, Jesus labored at the task of revealing his truth and instilling the necessary spirit of discipleship in these men. As with Saint Joseph and all people of faith, the interior, steadfast presence of the Holy Spirit is the source and definition of the exterior good work accomplished by them.

Capturing this reality in one's own life opens the door to achieving, in the fullness of one's days, a job well done and a life well lived. Spurred on by the Holy Spirit one can stand for justice among a crowd of unjust people, purity in the midst of a festival of vulgarity, and a great Truth in an atmosphere of fashionable falsehood. Although seemingly overwhelmed by the opposition, men and women of spiritual integrity and forbearance can roar with satisfaction. In the serendipitous nature of human existence, it is hardly imaginable, but often true, that the great work, the magnum opus of a person's life may be unappreciated in importance by the doer. The normal activity of a noble conscience could have bestowed life-altering influences on people that the originator might have deposited unrecognized in its effect. Thomas Carlyle wrote, "The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, making the ground green." The work and the product were the natural consequence of one's customary goodness. Given sufficient thought, one might venture that each person could attribute some profound lesson in their life to someone who never knew how important their word or example had been.

The "doing" throughout the course of one's years is a manifestation of the good or evil residing in one's mind, heart, and soul. In other terms, what principles forming the beliefs cemented to one's conscience is the crucial factor. Because the Creator God intended his creation to be free, it is the task of each person to determine the source of their motivation to act. This is a work in itself and is not easily matured. In the final analysis, the true self and the resulting work are an indication of a lengthy process of pondering choices and then rooting those choices in the core of one's being. One may hope that they have been virtuous choices. Thus, Samuel Butler once noted, "To do great work a man must be very idle as well as very industrious." Greatness needs to be imbedded in goodness. If being so, the labor of life is beneficial for the many as well as for the self. Work then becomes, in the words of Kahlil Gibran, "love made visible." Thus, a divine quality attaches itself to this declaration.

Things done for the assistance it provides someone or for the joy is pours into the heart of the doer often is called a "labor of love." If only love, inspired and molded by the truth and grace of God, became requisite to a person's decision to perform any work in their lives, then what is done would be of inestimable value. To paraphrase Shakespeare, love's labor is never lost.