From The Blog

Monthly Meditation – May 2010

“In Paradise it was in man's power to work without labor.”

St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom's biblical commentaries always cover a lot of ground. This quote is taken from his commentary on the healing story of the paralytic at the pool by the Sheep Gate (St. John 5:1-15). In it he distinguishes between work and labor in relationship to Adam in Paradise and man after Adam's fall.

After numerous conversations I find it more and more clear that most people do not actually “work” for a living but rather (at least according to St. John's definition) “labor” for a living. There is both sadness and blessing in this which I hope to briefly address as we strive to distinguish between work and labor.

The sadness I feel and see is the way so many people seem unable to find their true vocation in life, often times ending up with jobs that just chase the dollar. From what I hear this has been a philosophical point often adopted by high school and college students. Recent polls and statistics have shown that when asked what they hope to do for a living many students reply, “Whatever makes me the most money.” Sadder still, the goal of making money is often notably empty of any form of humane stewardship, focusing rather on maximizing time for disposing one's income on interests of pleasure and ease.

Man needs to work; there is no question about that. What man doesn't need is to reduce work to the purposes of paying bills, obtaining security and pleasure, and being influenced to make employment decisions on the basis of dollars. When this is the case a man has already crossed the line of enslavement to the shackles of labor, diminishing the possibility of him ever understanding the true meaning of vocation.

In our fallen state, while I believe it is not impossible for a man to “work without labor” (“for with God all things are possible”) it will be rare, like the gift of Uncreated Light given to St. Seraphim of Sarov, because it is only through laboring that a man's work can become a true vocation. St. John puts it this way, “God gave us at the beginning a life free from care and exempt from labor. We used not the gift aright, but were perverted by doing nothing, and were banished from Paradise. On which account He made our life for the future one of toil, assigning as it were His reasons for this to mankind, and saying, 'I allowed you at the beginning to lead a life of enjoyment, but you were rendered worse by liberty, wherefore I commended that henceforth labor and sweat be laid upon you.' This is why life is laborious, because not to labor is wont to be our ruin.”To me, this is so encouraging! It helps me to understand why even in my life as a priest, a life to which I believe God has called me to a true vocation and a life in which I have been given many joys; there are still many laborious days.

In the story of the Paralytic, St. John relates that the “thirty and eight” years this man waited and did not receive his desire was not due to any “carelessness” on his part; and that during this immense time of waiting his faith was never dulled. He goes on to say, “While we if we have persisted for ten days to pray for anything and have not obtained it, are too slothful afterward to employ the same zeal.” Here we are guided to see how the affliction of the Paralytic became his vocation, and how his faith and attitude, however long it took to gain this grace, defines the difference between labor and work. Undoubtedly he had laborious days but it was through his labor that his affliction became his work and ultimately his healing (salvation).

How many of us are of the mind to see our jobs as a means to a worldly end rather than a heavenly one? This is a great challenge for us in this era of business and economy. Often times it seems to me that the economic environment we have created for ourselves has virtually destroyed the notion of work as virtue and vocation, precisely the very things that we as Christians are called to pursue, bringing to our lives through work the blessed boundaries of order and discipline. The beauty of it all is that there is the possibility that a man can actually pursue work that is meaningful and as a vocation his work can express a priestly character. St. John concludes his commentary with this, “For it is possible to work and not be wearied, as do the angels.” May we learn in our lives, through our labor and our best choices to find soul-enriching vocations, to truly labor for all seasons necessary to obtain the joy that never grows old and the virtue that inspires the workman with all hope and pleasure in the grace and glory of God.

Christ is Risen!