To imitate Jesus means to live and work in love for, and obedience to, the Father. This is the true meaning of work.

Last summer, I was in Vienna. Our priests live in part of an old monastery, where they pray together in the side chapel of a baroque church. I am always struck when I look at the door leading to the sacristy—a very elaborate door, decorated with inlay. I am not astonished by the wonderful frescoes, painted by great artists, as much as I am by this little door that has a very daily function. Its beauty reveals a conception of work and dedication that, for me, are extraordinary.
Often in our lives we run away from work as if it were an alienating burden. We risk living almost exclusively for weekends and holidays. The artful way of working seems to be that of reducing effort to the least amount possible to reach the goal. At the core, we have a concept of work very similar to that of the pagans of antiquity, who were convinced that work, especially manual work, was degrading. They thought that only an intellectual, artistic, or political occupation could enrich the life of a man.
They made the dignity of man dependent on the type of activity that he performed, according to whether it was a blue-collar job or an intellectual job. For them, poets had a divine life, while farmers, on the other hand, lived a brutal one. The ultimate root of this idea rested in the image that the ancients had of the gods—that they were thinking beings, or persons who enjoyed themselves with parties. And men obviously wanted to imitate the lives of their gods.
But our God is completely different. The first lines of Sacred Scripture reveal to us how God created the world, working for six days and resting on the seventh. The Gospels tell us of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. During the longest period of his life, He did not have an “intellectual” métier. He worked as a carpenter. This fact does not diminish his divine dignity in any way. His dignity does not depend on the type of work that he performed, but on the fact that he worked in love of and in obedience to the Father.
An important part of the conversion of Christians has always been to discover the true meaning of work. In this adventure, Saint Benedict of Nursia had a very particular role, founding his community of monks on the motto “ora et labora”, “pray and work.” He foresaw that the rhythm of the day should be marked by prayer, by meditation on Scripture, and by work. Each of these moments had the same goal: the possibility that the monk be educated to identify himself with Jesus. It is this purpose that determines the weight of any moment of the day, at the same time indicating its boundaries. Over time, the monasteries that followed the rule of Saint Benedict became places of such beauty that all those who had the opportunity to frequent them felt attracted and changed in their hearts. In them, everything had to be beautiful: sober prayer, simple architecture, cultivated nature. Why did everything that the monks do have to be beautiful? Because this beauty was the sign of the awareness the monks had in front of God. They attended to even the humblest of tasks, the most hidden details, because they were moved by a great love. They performed works that perhaps no man will ever see—like the statues on the roofs of medieval cathedrals—with the awareness of living before God and the angels. The gardener and the cook enjoyed the same dignity as the artist, because with their work they gave glory to God, not to themselves. No one placed his signature on the objects he made.
By committing themselves to the depths of each thing, the monks not only produced wonderful objects, but they themselves grew as people. They became true men, growing in holiness. The frequent feast days in honor of God and the saints ignited the desire to reach Paradise, recalling the ultimate meaning of life. At the same time, the feast days promised a powerful help. The monk was never alone in his labor, but constantly aided by his brothers, by the saints, by the angels, and by God. All of this comes to mind when I look at the door of the chapel in Vienna, and it reawakens in me the desire to find a new way of working, a truly Christian way, a way that leads to beauty.

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