About Work

MARCH 1997

It seems that the monastic way of the Benedictine Order can be summed up by the motto: ora et labora (work and pray). We spoke several times before about prayer and we can never say enough about this subject; but we have said very little about work. Thus, we should complete our teaching by saying something about the work proper to monks.

Certainly, work is proper not only to monks for it is also the duty of every man; God willed it so from the very beginning. God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden so that he could work the earth. Man's duty was to bring God's creation to perfection through his work. After the Fall, work served another purpose: in a certain sense, it became a means of redemption from sin. Work was no longer a completely joyful and positive activity, but it was also a burden for man; it was a mortification that man had to bear all through life. Work serves these two purposes in the monastic life as well; that is, work is man's mission, but it is also law and punishment for sin.

Without the effort and toil of work, it is not possible to serve others; and it is not possible especially to reach one's human potential or to achieve full human maturity. Whether it be to serve others or to reach one's own human potential, work, after the Fall, was no longer a completely joyful activity, but also a burden to bear.

What is the work of the monk? Certainly, it is before anything else ascetic practice. This involves the struggle to subdue our passions, making continual efforts to correct our defects and our tendency to succumb to the instincts of our wounded nature.

But even if ascetical practice is our main work, it not the only one. We also work to serve our religious community and our brethren, because human life is impossible without interaction and communion with others; and communion involves not only receiving but also giving, giving through continual loving service to others. Even the contemplative cannot be exempted from this work of service. Living together always involves patience, humility and service, even if it is modest.

Since work is the very means willed by God for man to reach his natural human perfection, and all the more, his religious perfection, it follows that the monk must submit to the law of work if he wishes to live his vocation fully. It is the task of the Superiors to give each a specific task and responsibility. It happens quite often that a person has temptations and falls into sin because he feels he is living a useless and empty life. No one wants a makeshift job; therefore, may everyone be given a well-defined task and mission.

No one, whether they live in the world or are of the Common Life, may be exempted from work. A consecrated member living in the world can certainly be given an additional task by the Superiors of the CFD, but it should never be something that gives more meaning to the consecrated member's life than the job he already has in the world. If you are a doctor, you should continue being a doctor; if you are a teacher, you should continue to teach; those who work in an office should continue their work. Certainly, the Superiors might ask those who already have a job in the world to take on a responsibility in the Community. As for those called to be Family Assistants, they should carry out their service to the Community with a spirit of obedience; and those who are called to form aspirants or to form CFD members who are preparing for vows should be aware of the responsibility involved in the task entrusted to them.

It remains true, however, that if a consecrated member is given a responsibility in the Community, he should not feel that his life has greater meaning because of this. On the other hand, a member of the Common Life must seriously apply himself to the work entrusted to him by the Superiors by reason of his duty of obedience to them; and he should carry out his job with the understanding that his religious life becomes thereby more meaningful. Each person in the Common Life must be given a specific task that fully engages him (where possible). If this is not duly arranged, then the superiors are to blame for the problems of their respective communities: vocational crises, discouragement, disappointment, distaste for everything (including spiritual life), etc.

I urge you, may it never happen that a Superior should seek to hoard the responsibility for the various tasks of his religious House. May every Superior feel that the harmony, peace and joy of life in common all rest on him. The Superiors must not perform a task that another brother is supposed to do; and no brother should expect to do everything with the result that the jobs of his brethren are taken away from them.

In a well-ordered community, everything proceeds harmoniously, charity reigns, and joy, the joy of brotherly love, is kept alive. It is true that work is also a burden, but if work is lived with love, then work itself will be the very thing that will ensure peace and joy in the religious family.

May the Lord grant that we should understand this and that we may generously embrace and live the work that Divine Providence has entrusted to us.
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