(A reflection on the Rule of Benedict by SJU alum Paul Krump '82, written in 2001)
". . . they live by the labor of their hands . . . " RB 48.8
As I considered Saint Benedict's words and the dignity of work, some core beliefs came to mind. First, I believe every one of us is a reflection of God's handiwork, and our labor is a response to God, coworkers, family and community. Second, any task -- great or small -- performed to the best of one's ability, honors the person and is a prayer of thanks to God. Work and worship can be the same thing.
Several recent occurrences in my life help underscore these beliefs. Last year I attended the funeral Mass of a coworker. Lynne was in her mid-forties when cancer tragically took her life. She was a dynamic, driven businesswoman with many professional achievements. As I listened to her eulogy, I was moved by the beautiful, simple, ordinary experiences people recalled about her. Forgotten were the business deals, her focus on details during due diligence and the corporate-wide efforts she led. Remembered fondly were the "thank you" calls and how she would celebrate people's birthdays with plates and napkins in their favorite color. Lynne was a tough manager who demanded a lot from her employees, but she was always an appreciative, happy person who treated everyone with dignity. She is remembered for the grace with which she carried herself and passed on to others.
My wife, Anne, and I have just finished another year as sponsor catechists for nine teenagers in our parish. One of the themes stressed is serving others as a way to add glory to God's earthly kingdom. Despite some trepidation, the privileged youth in our suburb travel with us to a less affluent neighborhood outside New York City to work in a soup kitchen. We are always pleased to see how energized, yet humbled they are by the kinship felt toward those we meet there. When serving the poor we come a little closer to comprehending God's infinite love and the dignity of man, no matter the circumstances.
In my business life, I often work on large projects that take teams of engineers, lawyers, financial analysts and underwriters. While all these "bricks" are essential elements, the "mortar" comes from the clerks and typists. Truly, everyone's labor is necessary to complete the tasks and put forth a professional face. All work, no matter how complex or simple, merits respect. Earlier this year while in China, I was struck by the eagerness of the employees to pitch in, and the absolute pride they took in their work. Everywhere I traveled I met people in jobs from waiters and bellmen to firefighters and statisticians who were excited and proud of their craft and the roles they played in the community. I found their humble demeanor in serving others Christ-like.
In our hectic lives it's very easy to forget the laborers and their labor. Many of us must focus on this quarter's earnings, next week's payroll or even tomorrow's proposal letter in order to care for ourselves and our families. However, when we remember to see the face of Jesus in everyone we meet and treat them and their labor with the dignity we would afford Christ, we glorify God. With this, work and worship will coexist in perfect harmony.