Saturday, July 6, 2013

Four Hands

Photo courtesy L'Osservatore Romano
Recently I got slightly irritated by the way an article of mine was edited before being published in the local diocesan newspaper.  Some of the more theological language had been watered down, and the snipping of just a couple of sentences seemed to me to destroy the continuity and flow I'd worked so hard to achieve.

(I know...just a few short weeks ago I was all kinds of excited about my freelance work, and now I'm already griping about editors.  That must mean I'm a Real Journalist now!)

On Friday, Pope Francis released his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei.  The Pope has called it a "work of four hands," acknowledging that much of the work was completed by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict.

As I started reading it this morning, I was struck by the fact that Benedict, who is known for his rich, dense, beautifully crafted theological writing, allowed someone else to take over his almost-completed work, rewrite it with complete freedom, and then sign his name to it.  The amount of humility this must have taken is beyond my current spiritual maturity to comprehend.

There is nothing wrong with taking joy in our achievements, or even with the desire to be recognized for the good work we do.  But it's so easy for this desire to go a step too far and become possessiveness, a sense that if our work can't be on our own terms, we'll just sit on our hands.

Here in the 21st century West, we're culturally conditioned to believe that our work belongs to us and even defines us.  And this doesn't just apply to copyright laws and patents.  We're trained to think in terms of whether our work "fulfills" and "actualizes" us and if it doesn't, we deserve a change.

Obviously there is some truth in that, like in a lot of things that can be misleading.  We should use our gifts, and happiness found in our work is one way that God communicates with us that we've found a good way to do that.

However, if we're only asking how our work fulfills us or makes us feel, we might be forgetting the more important questions, like whether our daily work is fulfilling the duties of our primary vocation and is oriented toward the good of others.

Pope Emeritus Benedict has a vastly different set of obligations than us in terms of the scope of his work, but the principle is the same.  None of our work, even the work we are most proud of, is ultimately our own.

Like Niggle's tree, our work can only reach completion and fulfill its true purpose when surrendered to God for the service of His people.

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