The Double Miracle of Bread

The Voices of the Days/11 - Daily work is the leaven of any career or vocation

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 22/05/2016

Pane ridIndeed, the tension of existence and the spur that moves us from the deep to live it reside in the fact that every stage of life is new, and had never happened before, and is unique, and then goes for ever”. As soon as you no longer feel the spur to live life, a feeling of monotony comes that can even grow to despair "

Romano Guardini, Stages of Life

The spiritual dimension of life is real and concrete as much as the organic and psychic ones. We would never have started looking at the stars in amazement, writing a poem, honouring our dead, if in our flesh and bones we were not inhabited by an invisible breath that escapes us and loves us. Honour, sincerity, beauty and meekness and all the beatitudes are spiritual matters, since neither the blood nor the flesh can reveal them to us.

The stages of life are also those of the spirit that grows, evolves and changes every morning and you wake up being different from the person that had lain down the night before. One of the great forms of poverty of our time is the negation of spiritual life or its reduction to biology or psychic activity. And not seeing the spirit in the flesh and the emotions, there are no more masters capable of distinguishing spiritual depression from psychological. We cannot see the diseases of the spirit and we confuse them with others that look similar. We do not treat them, and so there is too much spiritual suffering in the world that is not understood or loved.

The life of the spirit also has its stages that are different for each person, just as and more than the stages of bodily ageing. In the spiritual evolution of people there are some very important and crucial events. One of these is the so-called vocation, a not too rare fact that occurs when a voice breaks in to the spirit of a person one day and calls him by name. This is an event that is not announced, unexpected and always amazing, one that changes life forever. Sometimes these vocations take the forms and language of religion, sometimes they are expressed through other languages. We do not understand many things in life because we think that spiritual life is only a religious matter and not primarily and fundamentally an anthropological reality. There are a lot of people who feel being called inside by a voice and do not know if it is or do not want to call it God. The voice is there and calls even when we do not know where it comes from - biblical humanism is the following of a voice that is not seen and has an unpronounceable name. Only the idols have obvious names and faces, and they are mute.

Therefore, when a person goes through an authentic spiritual encounter, their journey through the stages of life is enriched and complicated. First of all, at whatever age this meeting occurs, it always generates an extraordinary experience of youth. Nothing like an adult vocation makes you young again. It is the only elixir of youth available under the sun, much more powerful and radical than falling in love or becoming grandparents. It is really feeding from the tree of life. This youthful spirit has immediate effects in the psychological dimension and sometimes in the body, too. We no longer feel the limits, melancholy and cynicism disappear, the world becomes a place to change and improve. Above all, the eyes start to shine with a typical and unmistakable light, which perhaps is the most obvious beauty of every youth, and which becomes wonderful in the young days of the spirit. In this sense, every vocation is a baptism, it is death and resurrection, it is rebirth, it is returning to the womb of another mother.

Vocation, with its typical youth is, however, particularly sensitive when it concerns people who are young also by birth. The youthfulness of the body combined with that of the spirit unleashes a powerful energy, which is capable of the biggest and craziest actions, which only a young man touched in the spirit can do. It produces unlimited generosity, infinite docility. You can and want to do everything. This combination of several types of youth, however, generates another effect, too: it stretches the historical time of youth. Those who receive a vocation in young age also receive the gift of a longer youth. The bright spell of the eyes lasts for a long time, and its brings many years in which you stay really young, evangelical children - and, in a sense, you remain a bit like children for life. It is a youth that is as much longer as the great call was stronger and the greater the natural and moral talents of the person are. This long and good natural-spiritual youth is almost always the harbinger of a long and beautiful adult life and a postponed and good old age. It is the deposit of a great future gift. It delays the arrival of adulthood, but when it comes, it can be very beautiful and very fruitful.

In fact, the ability of the future to keep the promises of a long and splendid vocational youth depends a lot on the use that those responsible for communities, organizations, movements or charismatic ideals make of the infinite generosity of the time of youth. Whoever finds themselves having responsibility and authority in respect of a person in this age of life, has a difficult and delicate role. They should absolutely cherish the charm, because unrealistic, enchanted, idealistic and inexperienced youth is a rare and precious common good. But they have to be very careful, because if spiritual childhood blocks human and psychological development, it may happen that after a long youth one day you wake up old, without ever having been adults.

And it is in this typical "educational risk" that the discourse about work fits in. The generosity and the heroism typical of these young people, often lead them to neglect or not to give value to the their previous or future studies or profession, so strong is the desire to devote themselves entirely to the new reality. And so their vocation, rather than serving and strengthening their human and work talent, often turns into a kind of profession of their own selves over time, which absorbs everything else.

It was not by chance that ora et labora was in the DNA of the first monastic experiences. Even the early Franciscans lived of their work in general. Many reforms of monastic life have been especially reforms of labour, because the ora tended to devour the labora with time. Ora helps labora, but also work helps spiritual life, because it is a spiritual and charismatic activity in itself. And those who manage to save and develop a job while living within a charismatic community knows this very well. They know if they have saved a real job, because it is very difficult to really work when a vocation develops within ideal-driven communities. They do many "little jobs" to keep themselves busy, but they rarely do actual work, with a schedule, responsibility, discipline and all the toil of work.

At the root of this error, which is serious and common in the formation of young vocations, there is an aristocratic and gnostic vision which considers "spiritual" activities greater than those of work, as if a liturgy or Mass were always and by nature more moral activities and more worthy of an hour of simply working - a thesis sometimes supported by "creative" exegeses of the Gospel story of Martha and Mary. And so it is not surprising that one of the most common, although much undervalued, crises of adult religious life depends on the failure of the development of the work dimension in youth. Because you see work as a necessary evil that takes valuable time from to the only good "work" of the mission. And even when a trade (for example, teaching or curing) is inherent and intrinsic in the mission, it is even more important that the work dimension should be distinct, looked after and cared for, and never used instrumentally for the purpose of the mission, and therefore in a misrepresented way. Only a loved and respected job can be left one day, when life itself calls us elsewhere. We always get "attached" to work which is done poorly, when it becomes a "servant" or "master." However, if work is seen and recognized for what it really is, you leave it with the same painful dignity with which you leave your free child to follow the path that you had not thought of for him.  

Therefore, to work is true laity, in other words, it is an expression of being simply men and women. Work is the ability to feel and hear the heartbeat of your city, your time, your real people.

It is not always possible to really work in life. But we must live this non-work as poverty, not as a privilege or election. Suffering for not having become workers, and sometimes finding ourselves healed inside thanks to this suffering. A community leader who has really worked or suffered for not having been able to work will ensure that young people who arrive in the communities following a vocation can receive the gift of doing a real job well. Maybe for a few years, for a short time, but a real job, not "little jobs".

One day as I was leaving from Mass, I saw a worker who repaired a fault of the sewers. While thanking him for his work, in that beautiful gratitude I felt the same taste of the Eucharist (eu-charis) again. When we separate the altar bread from the work that generated it, we break the bridge between the temple and the city, and our religions do not save anyone. The bread and wine may become the sacrament of death and resurrection because they were already dead and resurrected when they became food and drink thanks to our work. But when the Eucharist loses contact with gratitude for real work, we do not understand it anymore, bread is not multiplied, the crowds are not feed. A society that no longer sees work does not have the anthropological and spiritual categories to see and understand the mystery of the Eucharist, either. Those who know the hard work and the beauty of the work that transforms the grapes and flour into wine and bread can understand the value of donating them on the altar. The Eucharist is an authentically human and social event as long as it remains the fruit of the earth, the vines and the work of man. And if passing between the stages of life we have lost our sense of the Eucharist, we can find it again by re-learning to work. Our daily work is the leaven of every bread.

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