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« The Sacred and the Profane | Main | On the Importance of Not Working »

July 16, 2008



"They are crosses to bear. But when we take them up in a spirit of loving obedience to God, and even thankfulness, they become a path to holiness and joy."

I've been experiencing a small spinter from the Cross since October. I've been feeling down and angry about it all day. Thanks for the reminder, Tim.


Should be "small *splinter* from the Cross"

Sleeping Beastly

This is something my parish priest loves to say: When we are given a cross to bear, and we accept it, it becomes a blessing. I've found this to be very, very true.

I was actually using the same story in Genesis to explain "all those rules" of the Catholic Church to my wife. (For some reason, it seems that I have a better intellectual understanding of Scripture, while she is better able to live God's love and know his love in her heart.) I told her that God gave us rules and commands to draw us back to him, so that we could learn to recover the love that is our true calling and was our birthright before we threw it away. It's not punishment; it's medicine.

By forcing us to undergo labor (in both senses: birth pains and work) he helps us learn the true nature of love: giving of ourselves for others. (When we weren't getting the picture, Jesus came down and gave us the lesson all over again, along with the accompanying supernatural graces.)


I echo bill912's sentiments. Thank you, Tim. (Btw, I am a woman, and I think your comments were spot-on.)

While in labor with my son (my 3rd pregnancy, but 2nd birth), I used "Divine Mercy breathing" as a way to deal with the contractions. (Breathe in -- "For the sake of his sorrowful passion": breathe out -- "have mercy on us and on the whole world.") It really, really helped focusing on the pain in labor as a gift to others through prayer instead of how much it hurt me.

The Masked Chicken

Dear Tim J.,

I have thought about this issue a great deal. It is a complex topic because it involves what evil is about.

Evil involves a lack. Penance may be thought of as the putty that fills in the holes created by evil.

Work, however, is not a penance, properly speaking. Work is a co-operation in God's creative act. Work existed both before and after the Fall. One could work at something with all their heart both before and after the Fall. The difference is that the pure creativity that existed before the Fall has been hampered in man after the Fall.

What causes this weakening of nature and the weakening of man? The reading from Sunday's Mass gives a partial answer:

Rom 8: 18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
[19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;
[20] for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; [italic, mine]
[21] because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
[22] We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now;
[23] and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
[24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
[25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

[35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
[36] As it is written, "For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
[37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
[38] For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
[39] nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Work has now been subjected to futility because another variable has had to enter the equation after the Fall: hope. Hope did not exist before the Fall. Now, hope exists only in those situations where the end is difficult to reach. Thus, both giving birth and tilling the soil had to become difficult after the Fall so that hope might be born.

What you feel when you resist your passions and do what has to be done is the swelling of hope in your heart. It is a foretaste of the restoration that is to made at the end of time when all work will be realized and man will be restored to his complete relationship with God.

Punishment is not penance. Punishment is a one-sided thing: the injured retaliates. Penance is a two-sided thing. The sinner restores, the injured accepts. Punishment becomes penance when the sinner turns from destroying to restoring. Now, restoring involves an act of creation, whereas punishment only makes reference to an act of destruction by the sinner. Thus, penance is an act of restitution that attempts to recreate the situation before the sin. In that sense, we can never do penance to restore creation before the Fall.

When we unite our penance with Christ's penance on the Cross, his grace competes our penance and makes it fruitful, even as the original creation was fruitful.

Can a penance be denied? Yes, if the penance is not accompanied by a love that accepts the grace of Christ. We can never do penance on our own, just as we can never do work on our own. All work done by man alone will yield thorns. The work is separated from Christ. When the work is united to Christ, hope becomes realized and the futility of the world of isolated man is re-united in foretaste to the new world of heaven.

In order for this hope to be realized we must not be separated from the love of Christ. The last part of the quote assures us that none of the futility created after the Fall can separate us from the love of Christ. Only sin can do that, but sinning reproduces the conditions of the Fall in some sense and causes the same futility.

I'm tired, but these are some of my thoughts, for now. I may have more to say, later.

The Chicken

bklyn catholic

Normally, I agree with you, but I found the following statement rather naive, dated, and a bit offensive.

---"As I said, not everyone is called to live the same way, and there should be as much freedom and as little compulsion as possible in one's choice of work. So, I'm all for a lot of the gains women have made in recent decades. But many of you probably know by now that looking after your boss and keeping a nice, tidy cubicle is no more rewarding than looking after your kids and keeping a nice, tidy house."---

Looking after your boss and keeping a nice, tidy cubicle...? Keeping a nice, tidy house... Could you sound more condescending?

As a man in an industry in which my 3 immediate supervisors are all women, I know they find being the boss of their respective groups rather rewarding, possibly as much as they do raising their families (which each of them do). They are not regulated to cubicles but have rather large offices with beautiful views of Manhattan. And they love and care for their children.

Your remark that women may keep their cubicles tidy reflects a poor thinking that women in the workplace are but subserviants (or submissives to use your language) of men in but another capacity.

Success in the workplace and at home are not mutually exclusive pursuits (for men or for women, lest you think men succeeding in the workplace are failures at home), and each of my supervisors happens to excel at both. I have no idea why you set them is such contrast.

Men also should realize that keeping our cubicles tidy and looking after our bosses is no more rewarding than looking after our children and keeping our houses tidy. (or does "keeping our cubicles tidy" sound too feminine to you...)If more men were active in their children's lives and less concerned with professional advancement...

I have found personal fulfillment outside the home as much as I do within it. Just as finding it at home does not deter someone (male or female) from finding it outside the home.

I agree with you that the trials of life, however small, are worth every effort and the challenges and limitations we face in society should not vanquish our spirit. But I find you remarks toward women incompatible with my experiences. Perhaps it is because I am in an urban area (to say the least), but the world you describe has little resemblance to my own.

Work, however, is not a penance, properly speaking. Work is a co-operation in God's creative act.

Why can't it be both?


Thanks again, Tim, and JoAnna, and The Chicken.

Sleeping Beastly

bklyn catholic,
You may be misinterpreting Tim's post. Maybe it deserves a second read with the quoted sentences taken in context? I didn't get the sense that he was condescending to women; rather it seemed he was noting the fact that working outside the home is not inherently more fulfilling than working in the home.

you wrote:
Can a penance be denied? Yes, if the penance is not accompanied by a love that accepts the grace of Christ.

I'd like to add, though, something that I've been thinking about lately: the value of faking it 'til you make it. Love isn't just about a feeling you have inside; it's an act of will, and often the feelings follow the actions. In other words, just because you don't feel love for God, devotion of time and prayers and penance to him is still an act of love, which may actually result in feelings of love. Similarly with charitable acts for your fellow man. Sometimes I wonder whether most divorces could be prevented if only people realized that their waning feelings of love could be corrected with loving acts.


bklyn catholic,

FWIW, I also live in an urban area and work for a female boss with an office in a building with a beautiful view of Manhattan. I can't imagine my boss (who is Catholic, and has two kids) saying that she finds work as rewarding or fulfilling as raising her family. Nor could I as a man imagine saying so myself, and I have a hard time putting myself in the mindset of one who would. Work is making a living. Family is life. (Didn't Denzel Washington say that on this month's Reader's Digest quotes page?)

I think I detect in Tim J's comments about "a nice, tidy home" vs. "a nice, tidy cubicle" a gently oblique poke at a certain kind of feminist resentment of domesticity. If his language is "dated," this may be by way of deliberate critique of a particular gender politics agenda. But don't think he's really being "naive"; he probably knows perfectly well some would find his choice of words "offensive." After all, he calls himself an "Old World Swine." :‑)

Masked Chicken: Work, however, is not a penance, properly speaking. Work is a co-operation in God's creative act.
Mary: Why can't it be both?

Work per se is not penance because it predates the Fall. Within a fallen world, work may be both cooperation with the Creator and (insofar as it has become difficult and burdensome) a form of penance.

bklyn catholic

SDG and Sleeping Beastly,

Your points are well-taken and I usually agree with Tim J., so I give him the benefit of the doubt this morning - as I clearly did not last night.

As with my bosses, and basically anyone who is human, family should be, and almost always is, the most rewarding element in anyone's life (outside some considerations for abusive households) and thus in aggregrate a far superior and more rewarding enterprise than anyone's profession.

Living where I do, I run into the feminist agenda daily, and I share your sentiments regading their intents.

I also, clearly from my previous post, have strong feelings about many people's constricted views of what women can accomplish in the workplace. I'm apologize if I inappropriately tossed Tim J. and his comments into that group without due cause.


"Nice tidy home"? "Nice tidy cubicle"? [Scratch head] How about they clean up after themselves in the ladies room?!?!

Working in corporate America, I can tell you women can, at times, be absolute slobs...with a capital S!

And don't get me started on the ones who don't wash their hands!

End of rant.

Tim J.

Let me say first that, as a male worker, I have also looked after my boss (as those I supervised probably looked after me) and tried to keep a nice, tidy cubicle.

Why speaking of keeping a nice, tidy home (or a nice tidy anything) would be seen as condescending or offensive is worth exploring.

One thing my wife and I have discovered, at least for ourselves, is that homemaking - literally making a home - is a pursuit certainly worthy of full-time work, or more. It is an art often neglected nowadays, because so many are out in the "work force".

By seeming necessity, and partly as a result of decisions we made in ignorance decades ago, my wife and I now both work for other people most of the time. That means that most of the time, nobody is going about the task of making a home out of our house. We do try, and we do succeed here and there, but our energies are largely spent elsewhere.

There came a time when the word "homemaker" was turned into a term of derision... "Susie Homemaker", and all that, as if making a home were a job beneath the dignity of anyone with two brain cells to rub together. What rot. I can't imagine a more challenging or worthwhile job. But such work has been painted for a long time as nothing but dull drudgery or a kind of slavery. That would depend a great deal, I think, on how one went about things.

Chesterton said - "Our society is so abnormal that the normal man never dreams of having the normal occupation of looking after his own property. When he chooses a trade, he chooses one of the ten thousand trades that involve looking after other people's property."

That is the core of my complaint, not that women have too much freedom, but that very few men or women now have the freedom to stay home, even if they wanted. The system is set up to discourage it.

Again, I have been trying to speak in very general terms. In individual cases, I have no interest in judging anyone.

"Success in the workplace and at home are not mutually exclusive pursuits (for men or for women, lest you think men succeeding in the workplace are failures at home)"

True enough, and I know a number of highly motivated, organized people who manage things at work and at home that I can't even imagine. I don't know when they sleep. It does help that most of these people chose professions, or found opportunities that allowed them to make a good deal of money. Money certainly does expand the possibilities and the chances for success in any number of things. But for many who don't make it to the upper income brackets, who muddle from paycheck to paycheck, something has to give.

I think the idea that "you can have it all" has been very pernicious in its overall effects. It does seem like some people can have it all, but for most, giving time and energy in one area means shortchanging another area, to some extent. I know that when I made the decision to stay home with our babies, and later when I home-schooled them, that my career suffered, and in ways that really can't be undone. I found it worth the sacrifice.

"As a man in an industry in which my 3 immediate supervisors are all women, I know they find being the boss of their respective groups rather rewarding, possibly as much as they do raising their families (which each of them do)".

I can't imagine finding any job as rewarding as raising a family, but that's just me. Can we at least agree that when one is in a Manhattan office that someone else - at least for the moment - must be "raising their family"?


First time poster:

Regarding the feminist issue, you might check this month's The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/working-moms

Interesting and amusing book review of both sides of the work vs stay-at-home mother issue.

Sleeping Beastly

Thanks for your posts, guys. You've just inspired me to go finish washing the dishes!


Just in case anyone wants to (re)read some thoughts on Human Work by a well-known 'professional theologian'.
Laborem Exercens

The effort is small compared to the benefit :)

The Masked Chicken

This has been an interesting discussion, so far.

I sometimes wonder why it is that a husband and wife both working with a combined salary of $200,000 a year are sometimes less happy than a husband working while the wife stays at home (or the reverse, but more rarely) making an income of $35,000.

St. Paul was very clear that all we really need is food and clothing (shelter). No, today,we just need that large screen plasma tv; we just need that incredibly fast home computer (hey, I use a computer for computing - I can use all of the speed I can get); we just need that incredibly thick fur-lined coat.

Jesus said to avoid greed in all of its forms. Greed can be so hidden. I sometimes wonder if the woman's rights movement were really successful. If it really were successful, it seems to me that it would have earned women the right to stay at home and be as equally respected as their working husband or female counterpart in the workforce. The woman's rights movement did not gain equal status for women - it gained equal rights for women doing the same work as men, but that is not the same thing as status at all. Equal rights and equal status are two different things. A woman can not gain the right to sue her husband because it is unfair that she has to bear the baby, which is a status (state of existence in life) issue. It seems to me that true equality would be equality of status which goes with equality of differences. The woman's rights movement wanted to obliterate differences.

This is a form of greed. No wonder there is so much unhappiness in society.

Gas goes up to $4.00/gallon, but do we start car pooling as we did in the 1970's? So far, I haven't heard much mention of it. Perhaps, if we were less intent on satisfying our own cravings, we would be better able to satisfy other people's needs. I wish the word,"share," weren't treated like a four-letter word.

Consider this: God did not command Adam to do any work in the Garden until after he created Eve. No one truly works only for himself.

The Chicken

Tim J.

Masked Chicken, I think you are correct in saying that work in itself is neither a punishment nor a penance, but a part of our nature. It is a reflection of our being made in the image of God.

The fact is, though, that since the Fall of Man work has become a trial and a burden, because, as you say, it is subject to frustration. Not only that, but it becomes necessary to work hard just to keep up with things. As C.S. Lewis noted, the only thing you need to do to a white fence post to turn it into a black fence post is to leave it alone. It needs constant repainting even to keep it white.

So, since work has become a trial, it can become a penance. At least, I like to think of my work as a penance, at times, an offering in reparation for my sins. Not that it can't be a pleasure, as well. When my priest gives me penance it is usually in the form of prayer, and prayer is a great privilege.

The Masked Chicken

Dear Tim J.,

You wrote:

So, since work has become a trial, it can become a penance.


The Chicken

bklyn catholic

Tim J.

Your point about the difficulty of raising a family (with the attention I presume one would want to devote to it) and also advance a career outside the home (again with due attention) is worth noting.

In my original post, I referenced three women in executive positions who also nurture their families with great care. It should be noted that in each of these cases the women take advantage of company arrangements for flexible working hours, open policy on working from home for periods of the week, and two of them have husbands who also have flexible working hours so they can share in the support of their children during weekday hours.

A couple points come to mind. 1) flex-time, working from home, etc are all options that should be available in any company that can sustain the economic impact of it. It has many benefits including keeping your intellectual capital in place (i.e. they worker doesn't quit), it supports the family (too few companies think of their workers' lives once they leave the office), and it builds a trusting relationship between the employee and the company that can only lead to greater productivity.

That said, I have noticed that most of these options are often offered only to those (or taken advantage of only by those) men and women that have reached higher-level or at least comfortable positions within the company. Lower-level, or new, employees that take advantage of these policies are often viewed as unmotivated and uncommitted to the work while executives or managers have already earned their reputations and therefore see no loss in taking advantage of these policies.

This is unfortunate and I imagine a difficult choice all-around, particularly if one feels (however accurate) that they need the dual incomes to sustain their lives wherever they happen to live. And moving is not often an easy choice as it can take people away from their extended family, often a very appreciated aid when raising children.

In any case, with the increased costs of child care, I know a number of parents that weigh the financial expense of child care and come to realize that the costs of child care outweigh the benefits of the wife's job, especially when added to the non-monetary benefits of raising their children themselves. Perhaps this will be an external benefit to the rise in health care costs.

Sorry for the long post, everyone. I hope all is well with each of you.


Tim - GREAT post!


As C.S. Lewis noted, the only thing you need to do to a white fence post to turn it into a black fence post is to leave it alone. It needs constant repainting even to keep it white.

G. K. Chesterton.

"If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. "

Tim J.

Oops! How embarrassing!

It reminds me of how I will often remember "something from the New Testament" and attribute it to Paul just by default. Poor Peter and John do get short shrift that way.

No wonder I couldn't find the quote.

Many thanks, Mary. I'll make the change.


Of course, Chesterton said lots of things that Lewis said too, afterwards. :-) However, in this case I can't find any evidence that Lewis picked this one up from Chesterton.

Sleeping Beastly

I get them mixed up too, actually. It was awhile before I even realized that Lewis was an Anglican, rather than a Catholic! Perhaps if he'd been born a few decades later...

The Masked Chicken

This is a little confusing to me. If you need to constantly repaint a white fence post to keep it white, what do you constantly need to do to a black fence post to keep it black? Nothing.

"Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. " This does not seem to be the case starting with a black post. There does not seem to be any effort needed to maintain the black post.

Does this mean that we do not need any effort to sin?

On another note: I apologize to readers of this blog. I apparently accidentally messed up the combox on Jimmy's Gnosticism post( I am not sure how it happened - I might have accidentally deleted a closing link) while trying to be cute.

I also think I was both prideful with regards to myself and unnecessarily hard on Sophia Sadek when I replied to her in the same combox for the same post. My apologies to her, if she is still reading, and to the rest of the readers of this blog.

The Chicken


Of course, the simplest way to deal with bugs is to leave the spiders alone. Nature's own pest control !
For some women, being SAHMs can be downright destructive to them, and to anyone unfortunate enough to get in their way. I'm thinking of an elderly female relative, (R.I.P.) . She was a housewife with the personality of a corporate raider. Since she couldn't do hostile takeovers of companies, she tried to do hostile takeovers...of her kids' marriages.


Oh, oh!! I've got one..........this just makes me furious!! Y'know.......when men......use Women's Liberation as an excuse not to kill bugs for you........oh, I just hate that!!! I don't care what anybody says, I think the man should have to kill the bug!!
--Suzanne Sugarbaker, Designing Women, 1987
[AMEN, Sister!]

Tim J.

"There does not seem to be any effort needed to maintain the black post.

Does this mean that we do not need any effort to sin?"

I would say that every sin is a decision, so there is some kind of act there, though maybe not "effort", not work.

Original sin is like being born on a "down" escalator... it keeps constant effort to stay even, let alone make progress.

"The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."

If you imagine that God came to you on the escalator and said, "Keep walking, keep moving, whatever you do. I'll sustain you, even if you feel like you can't go on. Only don't stop, because this escalator goes all the way to the basement, and once you get there, you can't ever leave. Don't give up."

There might be any number of ways people could respond. Some might find it all too much trouble and quit on that account, finding the downward trip much more agreeable (sloth).

Some might become discouraged because they can't see any progress. Going up or down seems to make no difference and they can't imagine ever reaching the top, so they quit (despair).

Some might be genuinely put out at the whole situation... they didn't ASK to be put on this stinking escalator, and who is this God person to tell them what to do, anyway? Down might be as good as up, for all He knows. He has no right to put them through this without their consent (pride).

It looks like some of the deadly sins involve just quitting for one reason or another... giving up on the moral life. There are those, I guess, who actually *sprint* all the way down, grabbing as much as they can on the way, but I think they would be rare exceptions.

The Masked Chicken

After baptism, we are white fence posts. There is a lot of dirt in the area, so we tend to get dirty, if we are not careful. Sometimes, we can even become black. At that point, anything but a good cleaning will still make us look black. We do not need any effort to remain black once we have reached blackness (mortal sin), but we do need to make an effort to sin to get to blackness (the will has to be involved).

P. S. Thanks to whomever fixed the Gnosticism post.

The Chicken

The Masked Chicken

That should be, "whoever fixed the Gnosticism post."

The Chicken

Mary Kay

Tim, I looked at this entry since today as beginning of work week seemed appropriate, but will have to re-read later.

Bill912, sending prayer your way for your splinter time.

Mary Kay

I really need to do a virus scan today, just a note to myself

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