How times have changed in half a century! Fifty or so years ago, one of the worst insults we would use against a classmate was to call him a “philistine!” The dictionary defines a “philistine” as “a person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts, or who has no understanding of them.” The term “Philistine,” when used in the context of Samson, Saul and David, means a “non-Israelite of the Promised Land.” The most famous Philistine in the Bible was the giant Goliath, whom David slew with slingshot and stone. In contrast to the derogatory insult, “philistine,” we also actually learned to cultivate the word excellence – doing the best that we can in whatever we do, and being the best that we can possibly be.
In the 5th century BC, Socrates, a philosopher from Athens, taught his pupils of the life dedicated to the pursuit of moral and intellectual excellence. Although this Greek notion of excellence precedes Christianity, it can also pertain to the vocation of all Christians. Yet, the goal of Christianity is not excellence in and of itself, but salvation; and while we don’t seek excellence for its own sake, we’re called to excellence in striving for holiness, so that we can reap the fruits of the salvation that Christ has won for us.
In his 1925 encyclical, Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King as an annual feast throughout the world, giving us a message still very instructive for us today: “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his Precious Blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls or, to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”
In other words, the Pope was saying that we must let God sanctify all aspects of our lives, by letting Him reign in our minds, our wills, our hearts and our bodies. This sanctification must extend to all areas of our lives, including our work. In this regard, the 20th century Spanish mystic, St. Josemaria Escrivá, wrote about the sanctification of work:“Sanctifying one’s work is no fantastic dream, but the mission of every Christian — yours and mine.” The sanctification of work focuses on three areas: sanctifying the work itself, sanctifying ourselves and sanctifying others.
Sanctifying the work itself means that we pay close attention to the quality of our work. We sanctify our work by doing it well. If we cut corners, thinking that we can get away with something that no one will notice, we forget that God sees and knows all that we think and say and do. We may fool others, but we can’t fool God! St. Josemaria would ask, “What use is it telling me that so and so is a good son of mine – a good Christian – but a bad shoemaker? If he doesn’t try to learn his trade well, or doesn’t give his full attention to it, he won’t be able to sanctify it or offer it to Our Lord. The sanctification of ordinary work is, as it were, the hinge of true spirituality for people who, like us, have decided to come close to God while being at the same time fully involved in temporal affairs.”
If we hope to sanctify ourselves, we recognize, that we don’t make ourselves holy by our own efforts, since only God can make us holy. But we can cooperate with God’s grace by making room for Him in our lives as we go about our work. One method of deepening our spiritual life is by having a crucifix or a picture of the Blessed Mother nearby. We can pray privately or with others, if they are so inclined, when we’re beginning an important task, and thank the Lord when it’s completed. But we must look at the motivation for what we do. Do we work primarily for calling attention to ourselves through our achievements? Do we work primarily for monetary success or for some higher form of compensation?
In the first reading this Sunday, the prophet Amos condemns those who make money at the price of cheating others. Amos scorns those who pretend to be interested in religion while, in reality, all they want to do is make money. Their real interest was to enrich themselves by shortchanging customers, boosting prices or selling inferior merchandise at higher prices. So, we might ask: do we take Sundays and holydays as a special time to worship God, or is making money more important to us? Are our hearts centered in worship, or do we use religion as a front for another purpose? In giving time to God, are our hearts in our worship or are they centered elsewhere? St. Luke tells us in today’s Gospel, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). St. Josemaria reminds us, “You must be careful: don’t let your professional success or failure — which will certainly come — make you forget, even for a moment, what the true aim of your work is: the glory of God! This is the same motto used by St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits: Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam: for the greater glory of God. This should be the real aim of all our work.
We’re also called to sanctify others through our work. Once again, St. Josemaria said it well: “We have reminded Christians of the wonderful words of Genesis which tell us that God created man so that he might work, and we have concentrated on the example of Christ, who spent most of His life on earth working as a craftsman in a village. We love human work which He chose as His state in life, which He cultivated and sanctified. We see in work, in men’s noble creative toil, not only one of the highest human values, an indispensable means to social progress and to greater justice in the relations between men, but also a sign of God’s Love for His creatures, and of men’s love for each other and for God: we see in work a means of perfection, a way to sanctity.”
The way of sanctity is the path to heaven. By striving for excellence in our everyday work, we grow in grace and reap the fruits of the salvation that Christ has won for us. The test of sanctity is how we live out the word of God that we hear in the Scriptures, and how we manifest in our daily lives His loving presence which comes to us in the Eucharist. By putting our words and good intentions into action through God’s grace, we can really reach the highest aspiration of our souls.

 

2019-09-30T08:32:59-04:00