In the Workplace

The service of others

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread.” These words come from the Book of Genesis (3:19) and refer to the toil that has become a characteristic of human work since the Fall. Like prayer, work demands effort. In work, this effort is both an effort of the will and often of the physical self and the mind. It is through such efforts that we are able to direct our thoughts and activities toward God. Blessed Pope John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical, Laborem Exercens, reminds us that “in spite of this toil”, which is experienced by all people, “work is a good thing for man”.

If we are to love God and  neighbour through work, it is important, as far as practically possible, to put ourselves and our labourers at the service of others. This might, for instance, be through creating wealth which benefits the whole community; or it might be through passing on our experience and knowledge in training other people as professionals. It might be simply in serving our employers to the best of our ability, or in providing for those who are dependent on us.

Our Lord is the model of self-sacrifice

Constant self-sacrifice and the conscientious service of others provides workers with the opportunity to develop personally in the virtues; in particular, humility, the virtue under which all the others flow and flourish.

Work, therefore, offers people the potential to become more fully human, to grow in maturity and in empathetic relationships with each other; to value more the creation which they are privileged to have a role in shaping for the good of each other and to the glory of God.

The model of self-sacrifice and the service to others is Jesus Christ himself. Our Lord stressed the value of service in his teachings, telling his followers that “the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves” (Luke 22:24). He set an example by washing the feet of St Peter, and exhorted his disciples to deny themselves, to “take up their cross” and to follow him “(Matthew 16:24).

The expression of self-sacrificial love of Jesus – of God himself – is eloquently captured by St Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

(Philippians 2:3-9)

(‘A Spirituality of Work’/Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)