Work is an essential part of our lives. We cannot avoid it, nor should we, for even before the Fall God called Adam to work – till the fields, name the animals, be fruitful and multiply.
We give our worldly work great importance– we pledge 40+ hours to it per week, we train ourselves mentally and physically for it, we wrap a lot of our feelings of self-worth into it, and we earn the money we need to survive through it.
So, what about our spiritual work? Do we dedicate time to philosophical musings or theological study? Do we train ourselves through prayer and fasting? Is our self-worth tied into our holy longing? Through our perseverance of spiritual goals, are we being made worthy of the priceless gift of eternal life?
On a recent episode of the Word on Fire podcast, Bishop Robert Baron spoke about his “Intellectual work bench,” a place akin to a carpenter’s shop, but for the knowledge worker. There he, like many Saints before him, grapple with the mind-bending process of knowing God.
How do we work spiritually?
The first step is simply showing up to work.
Many people, unfortunately, spend the majority of their awake hours trapped in the physical world of work and entertainment. They spend their daylight hours toiling for a paycheck and spend it almost immediately on pleasure and sustenance. We can’t blame them, after all, it is human nature to satisfy the our biological needs and achieve emotional highs.
But it’s never enough.
Discovering the Why
We strive for something more.
The Catholic spiritual life is the hardest work you will ever do. It humbles you, it requires intense sacrifice, it dictates the language of love to you through the reverberations of suffering. It is a slow crawl to the cross. It essentially kills you, only to replace you with Christ (Gal. 2:20).
Not many people want to show up for that kind of work.
When people approach the intellectual workbench for the first time, they wrestle with Catholic truth much like a woodworker’s apprentice. They cut improper angles by rationalizing their sin. They get blisters in their hands as God’s will rubs against their own.
But where human nature falls, Divine nature rises.
We continue to show up to the intellectual workbench because we know that nothing else satisfies– we know we are to make something more of ourselves.
Utilizing the Tools
There are drawers in the intellectual workbench, each one filled with several tools. With every project we voluntarily take on or have given to us by fate, the tools become necessary components to getting the job done.
There are your trusty “always-needed” tools like the tape measure of conscience, the rosary rope that binds you to Our Lady’s advice, the instruction manuals of the Bible and the Catechism, and the hammer and nails of the simple prayers you learned as a kid.
But then there are those “use-them-when-I-need-them” tools.
The jigsaw of retreat that cuts out of your day-to-day norms.
The crowbar of confession.
The paint brush that covers you with grace after every Mass.
The wrench of novenas that you twist so the bolts of faith are air tight.
As you get older, you add more tools to your shop. And, if you’re wise, you keep them clean and orderly, easily discoverable for the next time when the job calls for their use.
Building Your Life
Work’s effect on the soul is profound. What we do defines us with a power just short of the sacraments. God provides us with talents– some innate, some learned– then calls us to use them to serve the needs of our world. In return, we receive our daily bread, our economic stability, and if you’re lucky, peace of mind. In the end, what we do for work roughly equates who we are.
In this world, we are defined by what we do.
In the spiritual world, we are defined by who we are.
Both are necessary for the salvation of souls… especially your own.
And both require hard work.