Edward Zablocki
Co-Chair, Work Commission

Let them esteem work both as a gift and as a sharing in the creation, redemption, and service of the human community. (Art. 16)

Why "work"? No, not why do we have to work but rather why is work even included as part of the 1978 Secular Franciscan Rule? Is it because work was part of the Third Order's previous Rules? Not really. Search for any mention of "work" in the previous rules of 1221, 1289 or 1883 and the absence of any direct reference to work and its value to our spiritual growth is striking. Where work is mentioned it is only in relation to the obligation to fast. The Memoriale Propositi of 1221 relieved the burden of fasting on members of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance who worked doing strenuous labor stating that:

III.3. It is lawful for those who perform hard work to eat three times a day from Easter to the feast of St. Michael.
Exceptions were also made for those who received meals as part of their working conditions:

III.4. It shall be lawful for those who work for others to eat of all things set before them except on Fridays and fast days generally appointed by the Church.

In the Rule of 1289, the freedom from fasting of those who performed fatiguing work was extended from Easter until the feast of St. Francis. The 1883 Rule of Pope Leo XIII, which greatly decreased obligations to fast is, not surprisingly, correspondingly silent with regards to work.

This silence about the role of work as a path to God was not peculiar to the rules for lay Franciscans but was true of the Catholic Church for almost two millennia. Greek thought heavily influenced early Christianity. Contemplation was prized as the zenith of human experience and everyday work was despised, being left to slaves and peasants and receiving scant attention from the early church fathers. The ancient Greeks esteemed the intellectual life but believed that manual labor made a man indistinguishable from the animals. In the Middle Ages, theology was restricted to reflection on Scripture and tradition, becoming very abstract and removed from the concrete concerns of daily life. Theological reflection on lived experience like work was non-existent. "Theological reflection on the subject of work is virtually unknown in both formal theology and in pastoral practice" writes John C. Haughey, S.J. in Converting 9 to 5 - A Spirituality of Daily Work.

St. Francis and the early Franciscans played an immense role in beginning to change this situation, helping to "redeem" work. The human and humble dimension of Jesus that St. Francis emphasized through constant meditation on the Lord's birth and death included work. Entire chapters were devoted to the importance of working in the friars' early rules. The humble life of the friars at work would echo the hidden life of Jesus plying his trade as a carpenter in Nazareth. While the Franciscan influence brought Christ's humanity more in balance with his divinity in the life of the medieval Church, the Church continued to neglect , for the most part, the spiritual or "divine" aspects of the way most men and women spent much of their human existence - working.

Why, then, is "work " now a part of the Secular Franciscan way of life when it was neglected for the preceding 750 years? The answer will have to wait until the next reflecton where we will "go behind the scenes" to learn about the ten year long effort to develop a new Rule for Secular Franciscans.

Dialogue Starters

  1. Is work "beneath" man? In a perfect world (in heaven) would there (will there) be work?
  2. Does "work" belong in our new Rule if it was absent in previous versions of the way of life for secular Franciscans?