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Brookline Carmel Bulletin                        

July 30, 1961


Cogitatio Sancta

(Holy Meditation)




Friendship is more than an interior feeling; it manifests itself in outward behavior.  A true friend does not spare himself in ordering his life and comporting himself in it in the manner that is most pleasing to his intimates.  It is quite natural, then, that the means employed to cultivate and deepen our friendship with God, i.e., Mental Prayer, practice of the Presence of God and Spiritual Reading, do not remain sterile, but issue in unflagging, persevering efforts to sanctify one’s daily occupations.  Many and varied though they be, we can insert any and all of a man’s activities into one of two very general categories:  on the one hand, the class of all those things by which physical and psychic energy is expended and consumed; on the other hand, the class of those things by which that energy is replenished.  The first category embraces chiefly all the species of activity we commonly designate as Work.  The second includes the principal ways of restoring our fund of energy, and regaining the enthusiasm (or at least the capacity) for more work, taking of rest, nourishment, refreshment and recreation.  When we say we sanctify these things, we mean we sanctify ourselves by using them in a way that is most conducive to the attainment of virtue, and consonant with moral perfection.  This week we will restrict ourselves to a consideration of the first category, and then only to the nature and dignity of work.


Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, whom we are following very closely in this regard, has given a very concise formulation of the notion of work:  the ordered, industrious activity of man undertaken to fulfill some human need.  Ordered:  directed to the achievement of a specific goal and therefore carried out according to some preconceived plan.  Not the sinless dissipation of energy of body and mind, but the channeling and coordination of one’s energies toward a definitive objective.  Industrious:  activity, which entails concentration, diligence, and seriousness of purpose, to which a great part of the day is devoted.  Casual, unpremeditated, intermittent efforts do not measure up to the requirements of work.  Ordained to the fulfillment of some human need:  a need of one’s fellowman, such that he is willing to purchase the service or handiwork in question, though monetary recompense is not of the essence of work.  Ordered, industrious activity that profits the doer only, as in the pursuit of a hobby, cannot be labeled work.  It deserves to be pointed out that the needs that are satisfied can be any one of several:  material, cultural and spiritual.


Lest it escape notice, we need to point out, too, that this definition implies work to be characteristically human, something demanded by our rational nature, not something thrust upon us by some external force or circumstance.  To be ordered, work requires the use of the intellect:  to be industrious, it requires the motivating and sustaining power of the will.  These two things, intellect and will, are what make us human beings.  Work, then, was necessary even in the lives of Adam and Eve before the fall.  Genesis does say explicitly:  The Lord took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till it and to keep it  (Genesis 2:15).  Sad to say, some kinds of work require nothing more than the monotonous repetition of the same kind of operation.  This requires a great deal of will power, it is true, but little or no brains.  Such work is scarcely better than ‘half-human’.


Once it is established that work is truly human, it follows easily that it is noble in itself and ennobling.  Since it is our intellect and our will that make us to be the natural image and likeness of God, whatever requires their use is, by that very token, party to the dignity of the human personality.  Work is also noble because of the one who is benefited, again, a human creature.  Because man, the beneficiary, is possessed of innate value and nobility, any kind of work, even that which caters to his most basic, earthy needs must still be considered noble.  Of course, it is clear also that the more exalted the exercise of the intellect, the greater the freedom and force of the will required, the more noble the work.  The same holds true for the work that satisfies the most sublime, the spiritual needs of men, or which serves the needs of those persons constituted in highest dignity.  Work is particularly ennobling if it contributes to the advance of civilization.  By civilization we mean that way of life, which, taking advantage of the fruits of learning, i.e., the arts and sciences, uses them to subject the physical universe and its laws to the service of man’s comfort and convenience, so giving him the leisure and freeing his mind for cultural pursuits, i.e., the contemplation and enjoyment of truth and of beauty in its manifold forms.  A true ‘civilization’ must be able to satisfy the legitimate aspirations and longing of the human heart.  A society is civilized, too, when it lends itself to and fosters the attainment of moral rectitude among its citizens.  That society, in other words, is not thoroughly civilized if it spawns a preponderance of criminals.


Work is ennobling from the subjective point of view, too.  It draws out, develops and perfects a man’s aptitudes, talents and skills.  It helps to instill in him the natural virtues (upon which the supernatural builds) and helps him to realize all his potential.  It is this that engenders the happiness and sense of fulfillment we all rightly crave.

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