August 30, 2019

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Dignity of work can be experienced in the family home

Sean GallagherCan clearing off a dinner table or washing dishes lead to fulfillment in this life and becoming a saint in the next?

My boys aren’t too sure about that as they go about mealtime chores assigned to them in our house. But that’s the ultimate goal of the chore chart that we keep on our refrigerator that tells our boys what mealtime tasks they have for a particular meal on a particular day.

It’s more complicated during the summer when the boys are ordinarily home for all meals. So, while they may frown at the start of school like many kids do, it at least has one silver lining for them—chores only at supper.

The jobs rotate among the boys who are old enough to do all the tasks. Philip, for example, may have to set the table for one meal and put away clean dishes at the next. Even Colin, who turns 6 in about a week, has his own limited share of chores.

Having five boys around the house to do necessary tasks may make it seem that parents like Cindy and I can just sit back and take it easy. Not so. No, no, no.

Although the chore chart is clear for all the boys to read, it’s amazing (well, not really) how often they don’t recall what job they have to do and go off to their own pursuits. So, it’s common for Cindy or me to hunt down one or another of the boys to remind them of their duty.

And then when they actually get down to working on their assigned chore, it’s not unusual for the job to be done with various levels of adequateness—even though we’ve instructed them on numerous occasions how to do it well.

More than once, Cindy and I have remarked how it would be much easier for us to do the chores ourselves than to have to patrol the boys, deal with their complaints and do quality control.

But if we took this path of least resistance, we would fail in helping our boys take steps to accomplish the goals of fulfillment in this life and becoming a saint in the next.

God in his providence created the family as a set of relationships in which we grow in authentic, mature humanity and in grace-inspired holiness. The family home is thus the workshop where parents and children, with the help of God’s grace, labor from hour to hour and day to day (or perhaps meal to meal) to bring his eternal loving vision to concrete reality.

Labor Day, then, which we celebrate in America on Monday, is related for us Catholics to God’s vision for the family.

The dignity of labor, which we celebrate on this holiday, was engraved into our nature by God himself at the start of human history. We read in Genesis how he placed Adam in the garden of Eden “to cultivate and care for it” (Gen 2:15).

Work only became toilsome after the fall of our first parents, when God let them know the consequence of their sin, telling them that only “in toil” will they eat the yield of the ground and that “by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread” (Gen 3:18-19).

Our heavenly Father did not condemn us to the burden of work forever, though. He sent us his Son Jesus to die and rise to save us from our sin. In redeeming us, Jesus also redeemed the work we do.

Work is still a toil for us since the effects of original sin remain. But God in Christ re-created labor to be a means of human fulfillment by making it a way of growing closer to him, participating in his ongoing work of creation and serving the common good.

Our boys may not yet fully understand and embrace this transcendent reality. But with the help of God’s grace, they’ll take steps toward this goal, one chore at a time. †

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