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Work as Service to God and Others

by Jim McGinnis


In his encyclical ON HUMAN WORK, Pope John Paul II describes the incredible dignity and privilege of human work.  Human beings, “created in the image of God, share by their work in the activity of the Creator” (#25).  “In carrying out his mandate [to work], every human being reflects the very action of the creator of the universe” (#4).


But many of us are dissatisfied with the work we do.  Many times we dread Mondays because it means going back to work.  Perhaps if we cultivated a greater awareness of our work as participating in God’s unfolding creation of the universe, we would be more creative and productive.  Perhaps if we embraced the “little way” of St. Therese and saw the ordinary tasks of our day as opportunities to do them with extraordinary love, we would bring more energy to our work.  Perhaps if we sensed our role in the universe as Mother Theresa, Mariane Williamson, Nelson Mandela, and Brian Swimme do, we would put more creativity and love into each task of our day.


“There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work.  This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in – that we do it to God, to Christ, and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.”  Mother Teresa.


“Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Mariane Williamson, A RETURN TO LOVE, quoted often by Nelson Mandela). 


“This is the only time you have to show yourself.  You can’t hold back or hide in a cave.  You can’t waste away in a meaningless job, cramming your life with trivia… What we bestow on the world allows others to live in joy… What persons will follow us, entering life and the great mystery of love precisely because of our work? … We ignite life in others… We become beauty to ignite the beauty of others… We work to enchant others, to ignite life, to enhance the unfolding of being…” (Brian Swimme, UNIVERSE IS A GREEN DRAGON, pp. 117-8, 57).



Reflecting on how to enhance our work

  • How does the work for which I get paid contribute to the well-being and development of God’s creation

  • My house is more than shelter.  How does the work I do around the house contribute to the well-being of those who live there?  To visitors and guests?  How have I helped to beautify the yard/garden?  How does this beauty enrich those who live here, those who visit, and our neighbors?

  • How does the care I do for children or elders contribute to their well-being and to the unfolding of God’s creation?

  • How does the work I do as a volunteer in my community contribute?

  • How could I be more generous and/or creative in any of these tasks to further enrich the lives of others?

  • How else could I channel my creativity in the service of God’s unfolding creation?

  • Is the creativity and love that God has invested in me being used in the best ways?  Are there any changes I need to make to enhance my creativity and love?

  • What can I do at those times when I dread doing any of the work that is part of my life?

(excerpted with permission from a forthcoming pamphlet by Jim McGinnis on the “Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers” from Liguori Publications, 1-800-325-9521)