Called to serve - how work is a part of every vocation
Having a job can be a very formative life experience. When I was sixteen, my parents insisted that I get a job. I was not very keen on the idea. It seemed to me to be a pointless exercise, since paying for gas and insurance would eat up most of the money I would be able to earn. I was right about that, but I am very grateful to my parents for the experience.
It took several applications and several months of hard looking before I finally landed a part-time job at a pizza shop. I would spend four afternoons a week cleaning the kitchen, preparing pizzas, taking orders and anything else my boss asked me to do. It taught me a lot about the food industry, and I also formed new friendships with my coworkers. Especially, I learned the value of work and the value of a dollar. This has served me well in the decades since then, though I have not had another formal work setting for pay, being more on the “volunteer side” of things.
Discovering the value of work
We should all be proud of what we do. Sometimes, this is going to come from rediscovering the value of work.
God wants us to be happy. He calls each of us to happiness. This is what we call vocation. The Second Vatican Council spoke about the “universal call to holiness” (Vatican Council II, 1964, §39).
After a basic call to goodness or flourishing that all men and women experience there is a call to a vocational state. Some are called to be married, others single while still others receive a vocation to consecrated or priestly life (Titus et al., 2019b, p. 2143). Then, there is the call to work, service, and meaningful leisure. Discovering this vocational aspect of work gives it deep importance and helps those working to discover the sense of what they are doing.
Pope John Paul II points out that “the general situation of man in the modern world, studied and analyzed in its various aspects of geography, culture, and civilization, calls for the discovery of the new meanings of human work. It likewise calls for the formulation of the new tasks that in this sector face each individual, the family, each country, the whole human race, and, finally, the Church herself” (Pope John Paul II, 1981, §2).
The Industrial Revolution called into question the value of man’s work. Further technological developments of the 20th call for a deeper probe into the meaning and continued significance of work. Is human work meaningless?
Giving meaning to what seemed meaningless
Pope John Paul II points out that “there is no doubt that human work has an ethical value of its own, which clearly and directly remain linked to the fact that the one who carries it out is a person, a conscious and free subject, that is to say a subject that decides about himself” (Pope John Paul II, 1981, §6).
Work, in and of itself, has a value. Work is always about solving problems and work is always a participation in the creative power of God.
“Personal vocation is God’s call to each person to live the unique life of good deeds that God has prepared for him or her” (Ryan, 2007, p. 11). This personal vocation plays itself out as well in the work that a person does each day. Beyond the call to married or single life, a person has a specific life’s work to carry out. As a priest, religious or consecrated, the specific mission also lends meaning to his or her special consecration.
Something I ended up learning through my work experience and counseling people in difficult work situations since then is that work always has a lot of value. It is interesting how we can be very motivated by monetary reward. Something great about working for the Kingdom of God is that we can experience intrinsic motivation. We believe so much in the mission, that we do not even worry so much about the monetary retribution, which is most often absent.
The call to service is essential to every Christian vocation and thus work forms an important part of living out the personal share of the universal call to holiness.
Pope John Paul II. (1981). Laborem exercens. [Encyclical Letter On Human Work]. http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens.html
Ryan, P. (2007). How to discern the elements of your personal vocation. Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, 30(2), 11–18.
Titus, C. S., Vitz, P. C., Nordling, W. J., & DMU Group. (2019a). Theological, philosophical, and psychological premises for a Catholic Christian meta-model of the person. In P. C. Vitz, W. J. Nordling, and C. S. Titus (Eds.) A Catholic Christian meta-model of the person: Integration with psychology & mental health practice (pp. 20–44). Sterling, VA: Divine Mercy University.
Titus, C. S., Nordling, W. J., & Vitz, P. C. (2019b). Fulfilled through vocations. In P. C. Vitz, W. J. Nordling, and C. S. Titus (Eds.) A Catholic Christian meta-model of the person: Integration with psychology & mental health practice (pp. 20–44). Sterling, VA: Divine Mercy University.
Vatican Council II. (1964). Lumen gentium [Dogmatic constitution on the Church, Light of the nations]. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html
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