JQ Tomanek: Back in the day, holiness was misinterpreted as a cleric or religious life thing. How can a lay Catholic practice their faith? What are some ways to sanctify our work as lay Catholics? Is “ora et labora” just a monk thing?
Reverend Sirico: Yes, religious people are often tempted to become so “heavenly minded they are no earthly good” – as someone once said.
Ora et labora—prayer and work—should be a motto for all Christians, and the monks intended that to be the case. We need to respect the concrete reality of the world in which people spend most of their time: the “mundane” existence whereby people earn sufficient resources to support their families and fulfill their vocation to steward the earth. It is important that as Catholics we clearly communicate that work has great dignity and eternal significance. The Incarnation of the Lord was not so much Christ coming to earth as though he were an alien of some kind, but that he came through human agency (of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and worked in a carpenter’s shop.
It is important to remember that for Kuyper, reflection upon these disciples is not for the sake of their own merit, but instead, in an attempt to bring a coherent understanding of how, as the foreword states, ‘the gospel, and thereby the practice of the Christian faith, relates to every single area of society.’
Many who profess an interest in Kuyper have often become Kuyperians by reading about Kuyper instead of reading him. For many, Kuyper’s influence is mediated through second-hand sources. Wisdom & Wonder is an important step in bringing Kuyper’s cultural theology to bear on new audiences.
Wisdom & Wonder consists of the last ten chapters of Volume 3 in the larger Common Grace set by Abraham Kuyper. Common Grace Volume 1 will be released in early 2013. Click here for more information on the Kuyper Translation project. Read Walker’s entire review here, and connect with the Common Grace project on Facebook here.
Forbes recently ran a profile of Christian billionaire and Hobby Lobby CEO David Green. According to Forbes, Green is “the largest evangelical benefactor in the world,” giving “at upwards of $500 million” over the course of his life, primarily to Christian ministries.
Yet, for Green, his strong Christian beliefs don’t just apply to how he spends his wealth; they’re integral to how it’s createdin the first place:
Hobby Lobby remains a Christian company in every sense. It runs ads on Christmas and Easter in the local paper of each town where there’s a store, often asserting the religious foundation of America. Stores are closed on Sundays, forgoing revenue to give employees time to worship. The company keeps four chaplains on the payroll and offers a free health clinic for staff at the headquarters–although not for everything; it’s suing the federal government to stop the mandate to cover emergency contraception through health insurance. Green has raised the minimum wage for full-time employees a dollar each year since 2009–bringing it up to $13 an hour–and doesn’t expect to slow down. From his perspective, it’s only natural: “God tells us to go forth into the world and teach the Gospel to every creature. He doesn’t say skim from your employees to do that.”
Economists have increasingly recognized the ways in which healthy stewardship and property rights are linked—how increased ownership leads individuals to weigh costs and benefits more thoughtfully and effectively. Green’s comments add a slight twist to this approach, calling Christians in particular to reconsider who the “owner” actually is and how we might weigh particular costs/benefits and subsequent action accordingly:
In his Acton Commentary today, Jordan Ballor writes,
All work has a spiritual dimension because the human person who works in whatever capacity does so as an image-bearer of God. “While the classic Greek mind tended to scorn work with the hands,” write Berghoef and DeKoster, “the Bible suggests that something about it structures the soul.” If we derogate work with the hands, manual and skilled labor, in this way, we separate what God has put together and create a culture that disdains the hard and often dirty work of cultivating the world in service of others. The challenge that faces the church and society more broadly then is to appreciate the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work, to celebrate it, and to exhort us to persevere in our labors amidst the unavoidable troubles that plague work in this fallen world.
This point—the need for a renewed appreciation of “the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work” and “manual and skilled labor” in particular—reminds me of the following story that I recently reflected on elsewhere from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
Abba Agatho was asked: “Which is more difficult, bodily discipline, or the guard over the inner man?” The Abba said: “Man is like a tree. His bodily discipline is like the leaves of the tree, his guard over the inner man is like the fruit. Scripture says that ‘every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’ So we ought to take every precaution about guarding the mind, because that is our fruit. Yet we need to be covered with beautiful leaves, the bodily discipline.”
Abba Agatho was wise in understanding, earnest in discipline, armed at all points, careful about keeping up his manual work, sparing in food and clothing. (more…)
In today’s Acton Commentary, “Mike Rowe and Manual Labor,” I examine the real contribution from a star of the small screen to today’s political conversation. Mike Rowe, featured on shows like The Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs, has written letters to both President Obama and Mitt Romney focusing attention on the skills gap and our nation’s dysfunctional attitudes towards work, particularly hard labor, like skilled trades and services.
In his letter to Romney, Rowe writes that “Pig farmers, electricians, plumbers, bridge painters, jam makers, blacksmiths, brewers, coal miners, carpenters, crab fisherman, oil drillers…they all tell me the same thing over and over, again and again – our country has become emotionally disconnected from an essential part of our workforce.”
I thought this piece in BusinessWeek last month from Mark Oppenheimer was very well done, “The Rise of the Corporate Chaplain.” I think it profiles an important and under-appreciated phenomenon in the American commercial sphere. One side of the picture is that this is a laudable development, since it shows that employers are increasingly aware that their employees are not merely meat machines, automata whose value is only to be calculated in terms of material concerns, and that spiritual matters cannot simply be ignored or factored in as a variable included in the cost of doing business.
But this rise in corporate chaplaincy also reminds me of the comment by Walter Rauschenbusch (noted in this recent article from Hunter Baker) that “business life is the unregenerate section of our social order.”
If by some magic it could be plucked out of our total social life in all its raw selfishness, and isolated on an island, unmitigated by any other factors of our life, that island would immediately become the object of a great foreign mission crusade for all Christendom.
Book Note: “Walzer, ‘In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible'”
Michael Walzer, In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
In this eagerly awaited book, political theorist Michael Walzer reports his findings after decades of thinking about the politics of the Hebrew Bible. Attentive to nuance while engagingly straightforward, Walzer examines the laws, the histories, the prophecies, and the wisdom of the ancient biblical writers and discusses their views on such central political questions as justice, hierarchy, war, the authority of kings and priests, and the experience of exile.