Do friars work? This is not a rhetorical question. Neither is it self-deprecating humor to make fun of my Franciscan fraternity. I came late to Franciscan life, after what I may rightfully call a career with successes that I will puff up spectacularly at the slightest provocation. Yet, throughout this career, I asked myself—is this work what I am doing, or am I just keeping up appearances? I concluded that it was the latter and joined the friars.
A friend recently reached out to me for help on the topic of Franciscans and work, which he hoped might inspire his own writing on post-pandemic changes in the workplace and their understanding by Christian faith. This got me thinking as well. When we talk of work and how we do it, we miss the bigger question.
Do you work to live, or do you live to work? “Neither of these,” is the correct answer. You live, and one way of speaking of your life is work. You could say that it is work when someone values what you do to support you while you do it. It is work when your neighbor considers it in this way and values it in this way. Anything else is either selfish obsession with one’s own importance or despair hidden under busyness. There is plenty of both found in the modern workplace, and a lot of money can be made in this way.
Note that I used the singular above: Your neighbor, not your neighbors, and certainly not society. Work is personal. It is not abstract, not being consumed as a workforce. Especially in the 20th century, there was a lot of ideological thinking like this. I noticed it for the first time when I walked into Rockefeller Center, many years ago when I visited New York for the first time. I saw the murals on the wall. Man glorified as worker for the betterment of humanity during the American New Deal. 20th century political ideologies were obsessed with work.
To answer my own question: Yes, friars work, but we are not consumed by it. We use it to reach out, to be present among the people, to learn from them, to have them learn from us, and to share our faith. Sometimes we work for money, and sometimes not. Some work in our houses, some in the parishes of the local church, or in schools and other institutions. By work, we share our life, and by sharing our live, we share the life of Christ.