St. Josemaría Escrivá and the essence of work
As providers of work, you’ve undoubtedly given thought to how the satisfaction, motivation and productivity of your workers might be enhanced.
As children of God and the Church, you may have considered the Catholic social teaching that the most significant aspect of work is the personal development that comes from it — rather than the output related to it. On that note, one can’t develop any more than to become a saint, which is the ultimate satisfaction, motivation and wellspring of productivity.
St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote that work is the fulcrum upon which human activity takes on divine meaning, and he highlights three aspects that operate in an organic way to mutually influence one another. The first is the sanctification of work, which is the most basic aspect and the root of the other two. The second is sanctifying oneself in work, which is a result of the first. The third is sanctifying others through work, which is a result of the preceding two aspects.
First, are we sanctifying our work? Is it done for the love of God? Do we work with the greatest possible human perfection? Is our work a gift offered to God? Do we work in union with Christ?
Our goal is to perform work well and complete it lovingly. We are to follow the example of Christ, about whom the crowds exclaimed, “He has done every little thing well” (Mark 7:37). As your presence invigorates the activity of subordinates, God’s presence should intensify ours, spurring our small sacrifices, our smiles at difficult moments, our faithfulness in little things. In work, we activate the three theological virtues, exercising faith, awakening hope and reviving love — “with deeds, not sweet words.”
The second aspect is sanctifying self in work. Are we being transformed into other Christs? We can’t become alter Christus without the Holy Spirit who identifies us ever more closely with Jesus and infuses the theological virtues in us. We cooperate with Him by developing our human virtues, which constitute the basis for the theological virtues and provide the foundation for our sanctification.
Prudence habituates one to deliberate well, judge correctly, choose wisely and, consequently, know the right course of action in concrete circumstances. The humility wrought of prudence leads one to acknowledge limitations, seek advice and heed counsel. Justice enables people to give others what they deserve, and then more, disposing oneself to outstrip the demands of justice in charity. Credit is given where it is due; reviews are fair; compensation is dispensed generously.
Fortitude enables one to act with conscience and persevere under stressful conditions and to hold up under tight deadlines and high standards. Through temperance, one acquires mastery over pleasures that beckon alluringly (for example: smart phones, hall breaks, personal email, etc.) in order to spend oneself unsparingly on work.
The final aspect is sanctifying others through work. What apostolic fruit are we producing with our work? Escrivá teaches that bringing souls closer to God through work friendships and social dealings is a good indicator of upright intention in daily work. Professional prestige helps.
Christ beckons us to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect; holiness is a universal call. Do others see us responding to it? We work in the presence of others as well as of God. Do they perceive our faithfulness as they might expect to?
We give good example in our work by manifesting professionalism, integrity, a spirit of service, loyalty, friendliness, cheerfulness and a genuine effort to overcome personal defects. These qualities are non-denominational; they are welcomed even in secular circles. We draw others to Christ by loving and serving them, using the means God gives us (for example: assignments, reviews, promotions, recommendations, instructions) and remaining open to the suggestions of spiritual advisors.
The economic benefits of Escrivá’s exhortation to intensify our work for love of God — “sooner, more, better” and of personal virtue (industriousness, diligence, care and other responsible uses of freedom) — are readily evident; others, less so. For instance, our votes may be of infinitesimal political significance, and our outcries may fail to stem the decline of culture. Yet our sanctification of work, self and others — in and through our work — is something we can achieve with God’s help. Indeed, sanctified economic activity may provide our most effective device to influence politics and culture. It may also erect our most effective defense against the encroachments of statism by depriving it of problems to “fix.”
One final word: These benefits can only be attained indirectly. They are a result, not the motive of sanctification. Satisfaction, motivation, productivity, culture and liberty are rewards for righteousness.
MAXIMILIAN B. TORRES, PH.D., J.D. is the Centesimus Annus Della Ratta Family Endowed Professor and director of the Management Area at The Tim and Steph Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America.