Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
Those of you who know me know that I was a TV fan. Yes, I know I should have made better use of my time growing up, but my wasted youth gave rise to TV memories. From 1959-1963, a TV series entitled “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” starred Dwayne Hickman, who played Dobie, a teenager sharing his struggles through the last year of high school and beyond. Dobie’s sidekick and close friend was named Maynard G. Krebs, a person symbolic of the beatnik generation. The character was played by Bob Denver, later the star of “Gilligan’s Island.” The “beatniks” were a movement, a type of lost generation, who were committed to spontaneity and creativity of the “beat” generation. They rejected routine and day-to-day labor. When Maynard was confronted about his lack of initiative, someone would suggest that he get a job, and his response was, “WORK?! Me, WORK?!”
I never thought that I would encounter someone saying, “I really miss my job.” There is, of course, retirement, but that comes with a type of closure – looking to embrace a new moment or transition. However, with this prolonged stay at home order, I recently have heard from several people who claim they miss their job. They miss the so-called day-to-day routine, the encounter of fellow workers and a sense of accomplishment.
I was fortunate to be in Rome when Pope John Paul II, now Saint John Paul II, issued his encyclical, Laborem Exercens (1981). It was a tribute and further explication of the teachings of Pope Leo XIII and the great social encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891). Pope John Paul II was a great thinker, and during his pontificate, he examined every aspect of social ethics. He was a laborer and merged his personal experience with his philosophical and theological understanding of the nature of work. He writes, “Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus, works bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And, this mark decides its interior characteristics: in a sense, it constitutes its very nature.” (Laborem Exercens, 1)
Often, we view work as a necessary evil. However, it is good. “Work is a good thing for man … a good thing for his humanity … because through work, man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and, indeed, in a sense becomes ‘more a human being.’” (Laborem Exercens, 9)
I often joke that I don’t work. There is a statement, “If you find something you love to do as an occupation, then you’ll never work a day in your life.” My vocation as a priest has been a constant reward. I am not saying that it has been easy, but instead, that I am priest 24/7. It’s who I am. During this lockdown, I miss exercising my priesthood, the personal encounters, the celebration of the sacraments, as well as discussing my favorite subjects – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – and everything and anything that has to do with the Church.
I am sympathetic to the statement, “I miss work.” “Let the Christian who listens to the word of the living God, uniting work with prayer, know that the place that his work has not only in earthly progress, but also in the development of the Kingdom of God, to which we are all called through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the word of the Gospel.” (Laborem Exercens, 27)
At the heart of our spiritual work, let us LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the April 28, 2020, "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.