Parochial and Plain Sermon XI: Doing Gory to God in Pursuits of the World
Excerpted by John Hulsman Scepter 80-82.
“(I)it should be recollected that the employments of this world, though not themselves heavenly, are, after all, the way to heaven—though not the fruit, are the seed of immortality—and are valuable, though not in themselves, yet for that to which they lead: but it is difficult to realize this. It is difficult to realize both truths at once, and to connect both truths together; steadily to contemplate the life to come, yet to act in this….
Now I am far from denying that a man's worldly occupation may be his cross. Again, I am far from denying that under circumstances it may be right even to retire from the world. But I am speaking of cases when it is a person's duty to remain in his worldly calling, and when he does remain in it, but when he cherishes dissatisfaction with it: whereas what he ought to feel is this,—that while in it he is to glorify God, not out of it, but init, and by means of it, according to the Apostle's direction, "not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." The Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour is best served, and with the most fervent spirit, when men are not slothful in business, but do their duty in that state of life in which it has pleased God to call them.
Now what leads such a person into this mistake is, that he sees that most men who engage cheerfully and diligently in worldly business, do so from a worldly spirit, from a low carnal love of the world; and so he thinks it ishis duty, on the contrary, not to take a cheerful part in the world's business at all. And it cannot be denied that the greater part of the world is absorbed in the world; so much so that I am almost afraid to speak of the duty of being active in our worldly business, lest I should seem to give countenance to that miserable devotion to the things of time and sense, that love of bustle and management, that desire of gain, and that aiming at influence and importance, which abound on all sides... (T)his most fearfully earthly and grovelling spirit is likely, alas! to extend itself more and more among our countrymen,—an intense, sleepless, restless, never-wearied, never-satisfied, pursuit of Mammon in one shape or other, to the exclusion of all deep, all holy, all calm, all reverent thoughts. This is the spirit in which, more or less (according to their different tempers), men do commonly engage in concerns of this world; and I repeat it, better, far better, were it to retire from the world altogether than thus to engage in it—better with Elijah to fly to the desert, than to serve Baal and Ashtoreth in Jerusalem….
But surely it is possible to "serve the Lord," yet not to be "slothful in business;" not over devoted to it, but not to retire from it. We may do all things whatever we are about to God's glory; we may do all things heartily, as to the Lord, and not to man, being both active yet meditative… Thankfulness to Almighty God, nay, and the inward life of the Spirit itself, will be additional principles causing the Christian to labour diligently in his calling. He will see God in all things. He will recollect our Saviour's life. Christ was brought up to a humble trade. When he labours in his own, he will think of his Lord and Master in His. He will recollect that Christ went down to Nazareth and was subject to His parents, that He walked long journeys, that He bore the sun's heat and the storm, and had not where to lay His head. Again, he knows that the Apostles had various employments of this world before their calling; St. Andrew and St. Peter fishers, St. Matthew a tax-gatherer, and St. Paul, even after his calling, still a tent-maker. Accordingly, in whatever comes upon him, he will endeavour to discern and gaze (as it were) on the countenance of his Saviour. He will feel that the true contemplation of that Saviour lies in his worldly business, that as Christ is seen in the poor, and in the persecuted, and in children, so is He seen in the employments which He puts upon His chosen, whatever they be; that in attending to his own calling he will be meeting Christ; that if he neglect it, he will not on that account enjoy His presence at all the more, but that while performing it, he will see Christ revealed to his soul amid the ordinary actions of the day, as by a sort of sacrament. Thus he will take his worldly business as a gift from Him, and will love it as such.
It is very easy to speak and teach this, difficult to do it; very difficult to steer between the two evils,—to use this world as not abusing it, to be active and diligent in this world's affairs, yet not for this world's sake, but for God's sake.”
I think it is possible to deepen Newman’s thought here while following its main thrust. The question one asks is: How is one out of this world while being most intensely involved in it? The answer, I believe, is in understanding the dynamic of Christian anthropology, which is at the same time, the understanding of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
The main thrust of it is to examine chapter 9 of Hebrews where St. Paul speaks of Christ entering into Holies not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with His own Blood. That is to say, “if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkled ashes of a heifer sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished unto God cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” And again, he writes in chapter 10 that “once for all at the end of the ages, he has appeared for the destruction of sin by the sacrifice of himself,” meaning that His priesthood as all mediation is not simply between “this” and “that” but between Himself and the Father for us. The priesthood of Christ is the gift of Himself. What He is offering is His very “I.”
Made in the image and likeness of the Son, Christian existence, anthropology itself and the meaning of work take their meaning from here. John Paul II says it forthrightly in the “pre-introduction” to “Laborem Exercens” asserting that “only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.”
In the Theology of the Body, John Paul, examining phenomenologically the experience of the “original solitude” after Adam’s tilling the garden and naming of the animals, explains work as the cause of this crossing the threshold of subjectivity and the consequently loneliness at being the only material subject in material creation.
In #6, John Paul writes “as a person he works, he performs various actions belonging to the work process; independently of their objective content, these actions must all serve to realize his humanity, to fulfill the calling to be a person that is his by reason of his very humanity… And so this ‘dominion’ spoken of in the biblical text being meditated upon here refers not only to the objective dimension of work but at the same time introduces us to an understanding of its subjective dimension…. This dominion… refers to the subjective dimension even more than to the objective one; this dimension conditions the very ethical nature of work. In fact, there is no doubt that human work has an ethical value of its own, which clearly and directly remains 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.”
In a word, the human person achieves his destiny to fulfill himself as image and likeness of the Son of God precisely by mastering himself (the deepest meaning of human freedom), getting possession of himself so that be able to make the gift of himself and enter into the divinized relationality of the divine Persons. Said differently, one “seeks the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs,” This has been the lived experience of St. Josemaria Escriva who grounded the entire spirit of Opus Dei on the experience of divine filiation that emerges with the enactment of the sacrament of Baptism in the exercise of ordinary secular work.