The Sanctification of Work

We are all called to be saints. For most of us, that means living an ordinary life with family and friends and also working. Maybe work means raising kids or maybe it means going to a job. Given all the directions the modern world pulls us, is becoming a saint realistic? 

We know the answer has to be yes, but how can that be? Certainly, most of us  can’t remove ourselves from the world to spend days on end in contemplation  or give everything we have to the poor and beg for alms. I think two models that bring this possibility to light are the thirty “hidden” years Jesus lived prior to his public life, and the exemplary lives of Christians in the early Church. 

There is much less written in the bible about the first thirty years of Jesus’s life, however, the lack of information points to Jesus’ life being ordinary. In fact, when he starts his public life, his critics  say “Aren’t you the son of a Carpenter?” That is how they knew him. A man  living with his family, working with his hands to make ends meet. We know from the bible that after Mary and  Joseph found Jesus in the temple, Jesus went back to his home with Mary and  Joseph and was subject to them. “And  Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men,” Luke 2:52.  Jesus chooses to be formed this way. He  chooses to be formed through ordinary  means, just like we have in our lives. He could have left the temple and started a mystical journey, preaching and con verting the world. Instead, he chooses to be formed though living a life much  like ours. 

The second image I think we need to spend time with is looking at the lives of the early Christians. They can be our inspiration. Clearly, they lived in  times much rougher than ours. The debauchery of early Rome is infamous, and its rulers totalitarian, having many  people killed for the fun of it. But after years of the Christians living ordinary lives well, Rome was converted. One of the earliest known texts which describes the early Christians is in the Epistle to Diognetus: 

“Christians are indistinguishable  from other men either by nationali ty, language or customs. They do not  inhabit separate cities of their own, or  speak a strange dialect, or follow some  outlandish way of life…They live in  the flesh, but they are not governed by  the desires of the flesh. They pass their  days upon earth, but they are citizens  of heaven. (From a letter to Diognetus  Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401). 

So how can we imitate Jesus in his hidden life and the early Christians in their heroic sanctity? By staying right where we are, in the middle of the world, but sanctifying our ordinary work. That’s right where God wants us to be.


Written by: Ed Scherr