Fr. Patrick Troadec on Virtuism and Professional Work
Justin Haggerty | The Daily Knight
In an attempt to continue our research on the socio-economic theory and discipline of Virtuism, the following passages are an excerpt from Fr. Patrick Troadec's The Catholic Family, where he elaborates on the role of the husband, professional work, how the Bible discusses work, and the attitude that men should have toward work.
Before we get started on Fr. Troadec's work, let us consider and contemplate the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians, "he that stole, let him now steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have something to give to him that suffereth need." (Eph. 4:28)
Pope Pius XII described the role of the husband as follows:
The first origin of a man's responsibility towards his wife and children lies in the duties that fall to him with regards to their life, duties that he most often fulfills through his profession, art, or trade. Under the protection that his foresight and activity offer and give it, the family should feel happy and peaceful. A husband does not live as a man without a family; he must provide for the needs of his wife and children. (Pius XII, Le Mariage chretien, Clovis, 1998)
Work in the Bible
God Himself reveals Himself from the very beginning of Sacred Scripture under the traits of the most perfect artisan. He is the craftsman of creation. Creation is His work. Let us therefore admire God, who draws beings out of nothingness one after another, assigning each one a precise place and role. He accomplished this work in phases, which are represented as the days of creation, but each being was created by a simple movement of His will: Ipse dixit et facta sunt, "He spoke, and they were made" (Ps. 148:5). For God, it is as easy as that.
When placing Adam in the earthly paradise, God asked him to work as well. "God," says the Book of Genesis, "put man into the paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it" (Gen. 2:15). However, his work was in no way meant to diminish the charms of his existence so long as he remained faithful to God.
Man's fall did not change the law of work, but rather its conditions. Ever since original sin, work has been laborious: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread," (Gen. 3:19) and thou shalt cultivate an earth full of thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:18). But the law remains: Thou shalt labor the earth.
The Gospel universe is also a universe of workers. St. Joseph was a carpenter; the apostles were fishermen. Remember the episode in which St. Peter says, "We have labored all the night, and have taken nothing" (Lk. 5:5). We can see that he did not remain idle. This law of work is also expressed in the parables of the New Testament: the parable of the sower, of the Good Shepherd, of the faithful servant...they are all people who work.
Did not Our Lord Himself spend most of His life working in St. Joseph's workshop? Until the age of 30, and so much so that his neighbors one day said to each other, "Is not this Jesus, the son of the carpenter Joseph, whom we know?" (Jn. 6:42). At this spectacle, says Bossuet, "I am seized with astonishment: is that the only occupation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? ...Jesus, the son of a carpenter, Himself a carpenter, known for this practice, with no mention of any other occupation, any other action! Let those who live off a mechanical art be consoled and rejoice; Jesus Christ is one of them, let them learn in their work to praise God. ...God will bless their work. (Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, "Retour de Jesus a Nazareth" in Elevations sur les mysteres)
Work is therefore the object of a law from which no creature can be exempt. And in the Gospel, Our Lord condemns the servant who buries his talent instead of making it bear fruit, just as He blames those who remain idle all day doing nothing, as can be seen in the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
The Church had only to record this law as old as the hills. "If any man will not work, neither let him eat," says St. Paul (II Thess. 3:10). And he himself sets the example working by night "lest we should be chargeable to any of you" (II Thess. 3:10). He built tents with Aquila and Priscilla who were tentmakers (Acts 18:2-3). This law of work is divine.
Given the importance of work in a man's life, he should ask himself, "How should I consider my professional activity?"
First of all, he should not be surprised by the difficult nature of all work since original sin, as this burdensome aspect is a chastisement for this sin. He should accept it generously, in a spirit of reparation for his own sins.
But punishment is not the only nor even the main aspect he should see in his work. Work ennobles a man and above all places in his hands an offering of reparation and merit. While its unpleasant side is the consequence of original sin, it also has its joys and sometimes its great satisfactions, which reward the application devoted to it. And for those who know how to sanctify it, it earns Heaven.
Work is also a means for man to continue and embellish creation. God makes man a collaborator in His work. When a landscaper creates a park, when a woodworker makes a piece of furniture or a mason a house, they offer man a certain amount of well-being and at the same time decorate creation. Look at the magnificent cathedrals or even the simple churches in our countryside; they are truly a part of God's plan. In this way, a man who is faithful to his mission works with God, for God and on God's own work. Doubtless men can, alas, disfigure creation with their work and even ravage it; this is the result of a poor use of their freedom. But in itself, the talents that God has given them should serve the good of the universe. And what we have just said of the benefits of manual labor also goes for intellectual labor when it serves the cause of truth.
St. Thomas Aquinas gives four reasons that can stimulate men to always give the best of themselves in their professional activity. (Summa Theologiae, II-II)
"Man," he says, "is obliged to work first and foremost to obtain food." He has to work to earn his living and provide for his family; that is the order of things. He has received from God specific gifts for accomplishing the necessary work for his family's subsistence, in particular the primacy of bodily strength.
"Secondly, work is directed to the removal of idleness; hence it is written 'Send thy servant to work, that he be not idle, for idleness hath taught much evil'" (Sir. 33:28-29). A lack of work is sometimes a trial and a cause of much suffering, for example when a man is a victim of the plague of unemployment. He must, however, keep his chin up and do everything in his power to find work!
"Work is directed to the curbing of concupiscence." Because it teaches virtue, it teaches man to dominate the animal part of his being. A job well done requires effort, concentration, precision; it demands seriousness, regularity, and tenacity.
"Lastly, work is directed to almsgiving." It enables man to help those in need. That is the fourth reason St. Thomas gives.
Work therefore enables man to give his existence the orientation willed by God and thus to prepare for himself a crown in Heaven.
What Attitude Should We Have Toward Work?
On attitude a man can have towards work is negligence. Because work is difficult due to original sin, because it demands an effort, he tends to flee it, to do as little as possible. He would like to earn his living without any difficulty. In this perspective, work appears more as a chore than as a necessary activity for a man's balance and the reparation of his sins.
To avoid this pitfall, it is good to read Fr. Lacordaire's remarks on the nobility of work.
To work is to make. Making can cost an effort but this effort is not the essence of work. Its essence is summed up in this energetic and glorious work: make. Now you do not think that God, who made all things, would have destined man to an immortal idleness. The tiniest being upon coming into the world, brings with it a mission that answers to the end for which it was created, a mission or function accomplished by work. Even an earthworm does something; it accomplishes a task; it cooperates in a purpose; it belongs to the sacred militia of useful beings. How could man, raised to such heights by his faculties and by his position in the universe, not have received any other function that that of sterile inactivity? (Fr. Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, "Le double travail de l'homme" in Conferences de Notre-Dame de Paris, Careme, 1848)
A second natural attitude towards work is idolatry. Work becomes an end in itself. Out of greed or passion, to flee other sorts of worries and difficulties, a man can drown himself in work, which then becomes a sort of drug. One sometimes meets men and women who are the victims of their professional activity. They would like to have a more balanced life, but they are under constant pressure to produce, to be profitable. Once caught in this spiral, it is difficult to escape. It is important, therefore, to know how to set our priorities insofar as possible. We are on earth first of all to save our souls. Let us therefore not idolatrize work.
Lastly, the third possible attitude is the Christian attitude. Work is seen supernaturally as a means to expiate sin and sanctify oneself. In this perspective, the least actions take on a great value, for they enable a man to merit Heaven.
Here is an example of craftsmen who understood the meaning of work. In his book L'Argent (Money), Peguy speaks of his own mother and other people who were chair caners.
Work was their joy and the deep root of their being. There was an incredible honor in work, the most beautiful of all honors, the most Christian, perhaps the only honor that stands upright. We experienced this piety of a job well done, upheld even in its most extreme requirements. Throughout my entire childhood I saw them cane chairs with exactly the same spirit and the same heart and the same hands that had sculpted cathedrals. The bar of a chair had to be well-made. This was a given, a first premise. It did not have to be well-made for the salary, or by way of the salary, it did not have to be well-made for the employer, or even for connoisseurs, or for the employer's clients. It had to be well-made for itself, in itself, of itself, in its very being.
Even the hidden parts of the chair were as well-crafted as the visible parts. And it was unthinkable not to take good care of one's tools. They were true craftsmen! (Charles Peguy, L'Argent, Bibliotheque de La Pleiade)
And Peguy goes on to imagine the reaction of these same workers to the loss of professional conscientiousness.
These workers would have been quite surprised, and how disgusted and incredulous they would have been, how convinced they would have been it was a joke, if someone had told them that a few years later, in workshops, workers and craftsmen would officially decide to do as little as possible and that they would consider this a great victory.
We should add that when we speak of work, it is not only manual labor but also the labor of the mind, that is equally indispensable. This category includes the work of education, the liber professions, the work of engineers, lawyers, artists, orators, writers. And lastly, there is the work of those who devote themselves to relieving every form of human misery, both bodily and spiritual. And there exist many other forms as well: business, industry, etc. All have their dignity to the extent that they are accomplished according to the order willed by God.
As Fr. Monsabre put it,
Each of these types of work is great and noble because, coming from God, it is ruled by the law of God; each of these types of work makes the man who devotes himself to it with joy great and noble. (Fr. Jacques-Marie-Louis Monsabre, "Vie de Jesus-L'ouvrier" in Conferences de Notre-Dame de Paris, Careme, 1880)
St. Pius X's prayer to St. Joseph expresses the Catholic sense of work in a few short words.
O Glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my watch-word in life and in death. Amen.
In Christ Crucified and the Most Victorious Heart of Jesus.