Why Do We Do What We Do?
by Jeff Montgomery
This is a question I ask myself almost daily. There are a number of reasons, of course – someone in our house needs to have an income, the need to feel as though I’m doing something constructive with my days, etc. But there are also other, more spiritual reasons for working.
These reasons apply no matter what the work is that you do. From businesspeople to teachers, to priests, to stay-at-home moms, we all want to know that what we are doing matters in a bigger way than simply providing an income.
Here’s a quote from Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U. S. President:
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.”
By working, we help the wheels of commerce to keep churning, or we educate people, or we keep the world safe. Whatever our particular occupation, our work contributes to society in large and small ways that, over time, do make a difference. We can be examples of achievement that inspire other people to do the same.
And this achievement doesn’t have to be some big, world-changing event. Even if it inspires one person to do better, or in some way to work more conscientiously we are fulfilling a big part of our mission.
From a Catholic perspective, we are fulfilling our human potential through our work. God grants us the talents and skills that we need to do our work the right way. By doing it the right way we bring dignity to that work, and bring glory to our Creator.
As Pope John Paul II states in his encyclical On Human Work (Laborem Exercens):
“Through work man must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family.”
How often do we feel as though our work is elevating the cultural and moral level of the society that we live in? Some days it may be difficult to see how we are contributing to this advance. If we look a little closer, the answer lies not just in what the immediate task at hand is, but in how we do it.
We advance the moral level of society by working with a high level of ethical behavior. Evan if those around us seem to be working at a lower level of ethics, our own behavior can and does influence others to raise their level of ethical behavior. Not always, since we all have free choice, but in many cases it does. Either way, we are fulfilling the mission God gives us to carry out through our work.
Beyond our immediate personal need for work, carrying out our duties in a spirit of thanksgiving and trust allows us to constantly worship God. It is God after all, who gives us our work. The talents he blesses us with lead us toward the work He has chosen for us. By carrying out the duties He gives us we are honoring God, and recognizing that we are accountable to Him.
One of the components of prayer is to give thanks. Even during the Mass, our worship includes many instances of thanks to God. We can look at our work as a way of giving continual thanks to God. By being good stewards of the gifts He’s given us (our talents) we thank Him for those gifts.
Through the lives of the saints, and through the reading of scripture, it is very clear that obedience to God is something we should all strive for. Our work provides us with a way of being obedient to God. Again, we wisely use the talents that we’ve been blessed with. We are doing what God expects us to do (why else would he have given us our particular talents?).
We can also be obedient by soldiering through any difficult times we may encounter at work. Many of us have been through layoffs and downsizing. Almost all of us have had difficult situations to deal with in our workplaces, be they people related or workload related. The obedience comes from staying true to the path that has been laid before us. God may be using these difficulties to shape us in some way.
In either case, being obedient recognizes God’s father-ship of us all.
Finally, our work provides us with the opportunity to praise God’s majesty through our efforts. Since we are truly images of God, everything that we do is a reflection of God. Through our excellence and ethics, we bear witness to God’s glory in everything that we do.
So why do we do what we do? We do our work our of gratitude, and to be obedient and give thanks. God in His mercy and love has created each of us uniquely, and provided us with ways, at a personal level, that we can do His work and better our world. By carrying out this work, we are fulfilling our God-given mission.
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