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“Spirituality of Work: A Salesian-Oblate Perspective” 30 January 2012

Ministering diligently to the Visitandines and the people in the highly industrialized city of Troyes, France, Fr. Louis Brisson (1817-1908) was acutely aware of the plight of the working class, especially the young women working in the textile factories. He sought to give them some relief from their burdensome jobs by providing clubs or shelters were they could socialize with other young women, learn about the truths of their Catholic faith, especially their human dignity, and avoid the moral pitfalls that surrounded their daily lives.

To assure that these clubs or shelters were staffed with dedicated women of faith, he founded the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales. They not only administered these organizations, but also established a number of schools. At the urging of the Superior of the Troyes Visitation, Fr. Brisson also founded the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales primarily to enter, as he said, “society as it is.” Both congregations were imbued with the spirit of St. Francis de Sales.

It is fitting during the month of February to very briefly recall the work of Fr. Brisson, who passed away on 2 February 1908, and who is scheduled to be beatified in September.

The Oblates Sisters have just recently published an English translation of Françoise Bouchard’s biography of Fr. Brisson, A Heart That Beats in Rhythm With God’s. This very readable and well-researched work appears at a very propitious time.

Fr. Brisson had a great appreciation for the dignity of human work, especially those who work with their hands since he often mentioned to his religious that Jesus himself was a carpenter. In our day, when so many people look upon work primarily as a curse or merely a job to put food on the table and pay the bills, his view of work stresses it not as a curse but as a blessing.

In many ways, his view of work is very forward-looking and accords well with a number of aspects stressed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical on work, Laborem exercens. For this reason, we cite it extensively here:

Instruction given by Father Brisson, Founder of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, August, 1888

            This morning I wish to say a word to you about work.  I have no weighty considerations to make to you on work; I am not going to delve into history nor Sacred Scripture for good and excellent thoughts in regard to work.  I shall limit myself to a few excerpts from the Gospel, St. Francis de Sales and the Good Mother Mary de Sales Chappuis.

            “My Father works until now, and I work,” said our Lord Jesus Christ (John 5,17).  My Father works: He works even until now – He makes light, He makes worlds, He kneads clay and fashions man out of it. And I work; I am with you; I speak to you in parables; I teach you. I do, as it seems, nothing else but evangelize the Jewish people, and yet at this moment, I am one with My Father in work – in material as well as supernatural work.  It is I who operate the world.

            We profess for work – which is specifically attributed to God the Father – an especially religious bent. We have learned that what God does merits our respect, our gratitude. When we work, when we set our hands to these material  things that God has created, we return praise and honor to God, we cause creatures to render this homage the Creator, in their own secret and wonderful language.  We look upon creatures as the property of God, and as the ladder to mount to Him. We treat them with respect as holy and divine.  Work makes us sharers in the divine action, and consequently in the holiness and grace that emanates from God the Father and that communicates itself not only through the ordinary means of the Redemption, but by the special channel of work–by contact with material things that are for our use.  With us work is a thing of awe, of blessedness.  By work we co-operate with God, and with the Word. Now cooperation in the action of God is sanctifying. . . . Work with our hands is our way of honoring God the Father.

            In God there are three Persons, three co-equal Persons.  No one of the three is inferior to the others.  God forbid that I should belittle the work of Redemption, without which all men would be eternally miserable and reprobate. In this sense the work of Redemption infinitely surpasses the work of Creation.  If in God there is no differentiation, there is for us an immense difference between these two acts.  But in that it comes from God, all work is excellent, and St. Francis de Sales and the Good Mother Mary de Sales desire that all that emanates from God be received with very great respect, with deep gratitude and love. By steeping ourselves in this doctrine, it will come to pass that our work of each day, whatever it may be–whether manual or intellectual–will take on a character so elevated, so complete in its union with God that we will treat all things as holy and sacred.  And in their turn, these things will bring us grace, the grace of God the Father. Let us make use of these material things for the honor of God the Father. . .with thanksgiving. Let us use them, and turn them to our service as blessed things. . . .

            God’s creations carry within them their graces.  As a matter of practice then, preserve a deep respect for the material things . . . .  In the use that we make of these things, there is a thanksgiving and praise that leap towards God, and which God hears, although our bodily ears hear them not.  May the beating of our hearts, and the prayer that bursts from these hearts, be in union with that prayer of all creation that we hear not.  We shall offer then to God not only the sacrifice of the morning and the evening, but a perpetual sacrifice, the complete holocaust of our entire life, and all our works.

This sacramental view of the world and of material things emphasizes not only to the blessings of work, but also the positive and grateful attitude that we must have toward our environment and human ecology.

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