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Fr. Glenn: The Worker

on March 10, 2019 - 6:13am

By Fr. Glenn Jones

I’m judgmental. I admit it. Guilty as charged.

Having grown up in the west Texas “pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps” culture of several decades ago, we were simply expected to work. Many summer days were out hoeing cotton, fixing fences, hauling hay, cutting wood, plowing, cultivating/harvesting the field garden (if I never have to shell peas again, I’ll be grateful), etc. In winter, it was breaking ice for cattle, feeding, calving … and atop all that, schoolwork. That was one of the greatest benefits of ranch and farm life—the work HAS to be done, rain or shine, so a work ethic is ingrained into one’s very marrow. One simply took pride in one’s ability to work, and to work hard. Young men especially tend to center self-worth in strength and virility, lending credence to the scripture verse: “The glory of young men is their strength, but the beauty of old men is their gray hair [experience and wisdom].” (Proverbs 20:29)

So … now in Albuquerque, to see the many panhandlers at virtually every major intersection is a challenge for me. Yes, yes, I know … the Gospel admonitions against judgments, and certainly the logical realization that one cannot know what the other person has experienced … difficulties encountered in life, misfortunes endured, etc. After all, that young and apparently healthy guy might be suffering from PTSD from Iraq or child abuse. That woman might have cancer. That person might have suffered a traumatic loss or experience. 

Even with apparent wrongdoing we must be careful, always trying to coax and teach toward the good rather than simply berate, for again we know not the totality of the other’s life, his experiences, his taught prejudices. As St. Paul writes: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” (Romans 14:4)  But … that same St. Paul also writes: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness…” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-11)

Thus human work is both gift and duty … a cooperation with God in the prolongation of the work of creation for the good of humanity, while not neglecting responsibility for care of “the garden”—the earth and its habitat—for its beauty and sustainability. 

We Christians believe that Jesus Himself sanctified the value of work (not to mention humility!) in his early and largely unknown life as a carpenter of Nazareth. So … if the divinity Himself can work so, no one should eschew or despise manual labor, and even less so, despise the manual laborer, for “…these rely upon their hands, and each is skillful in his own work. Without them a city cannot be established…they are not sought out for the council of the people, nor do they attain eminence in the public assembly…But they keep stable the fabric of the world, and their prayer is in the practice of their trade.” (Sirach 38:31-34)

This is in no way to dissuade young people from higher education; certainly I enjoyed my short tenure as an engineer prior to becoming a priest … missing that work even now (you just can’t do everything you want to do, though … dang it!). Yet, without the farmer, the rancher, the trucker, the oilfield and refinery worker, the truck/tractor assembly line worker, the mechanic, etc., those of higher education would neither work nor eat … nor would their families. 

That actually is a good thought exercise and appreciation for the work of others: to consider about all the types of work on which we are dependent, and yet we consider them little until they are not available—electricity, gas, gasoline, water, sewer, food, etc. And goodness knows many of you depend desperately on the morning barista at Starbucks! :)

Yes, human work IS both gift and duty. How a gift? Work is one of the most effective ways of developing true self-esteem. To work and to do it well elicits a joy and confidence in the worker—both in manual and intellectual labor, each having an artistry all its own when accomplished with skill and intensity. And work also gives the gift of sustenance, (hopefully) with just remuneration for the laborer and value of his sincere effort.

So … as is often said but rarely pondered adequately, sincerely done work redounds to the benefit of the laborer and the world. But parents: SO many times I’ve heard teachers lament the fact that their charges are almost forced to go into fields for which they are poorly suited or have no desire. Yes, every parent desires a good living for his/her children, but how can it be a good living if he/she is miserable in the profession? No, society may not explicitly honor a manual laborer like it does a scientist or engineer, but it seems that a child being a happy lineman is more desired than him being a miserable chemist or physicist.

But, kids … neither should you abandon difficult schoolwork prematurely simply because it’s “hard”, for there may come that “Aha!” moment when you suddenly think: “Wow. This. is. SO. cool!!” That “Aha…cool!” point hit me about halfway through my “materials” engineering course in college, so if I had bailed on my education prematurely, I would have never reached it. Some of the best views come only after the hardest climbs.

So … sincere and honest labor, good … haughty judgmentalism, bad. Therefore, Padre: “Physician…heal thyself.” Let us thus remember Jesus’ admonition when tempted to judge another or his state in life: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned…For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:36-38)

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.