Ora et Labora.
If you’re from a certain secondary school in Singapore (and even if you’re not actually), then this phrase might sound familiar to you! It is Latin for “pray and labor”. In actual fact, it is more than just a simple school motto. It was first written in the Rule of St Benedict for instructions to monks. It’s been a saying that has always spoken powerfully to me (more than simply because of nostalgia though I admit a part of it comes from that!). And even more so in this musing that I’ve had. But to understand where I’m coming from, we need to rewind a bit!
This week (as well as last) has been quite an interesting week, a week where I was challenged, both mentally and spiritually. A week where I had to ponder a question that I think many Catholics, especially those in ministries, often had to ask themselves: how much is too much? How much am I, as a ministry member/leader/facilitator/what-other-names-we-call-ourselves, expected to give before it’s too much? Before it becomes detrimental to ourselves and to our ministry and the people around us? Is this truly expected of me or is this something that I’m stupidly putting on myself; burdens that I take up upon myself because I’m a misguided soul, seeking to please myself that I’m doing what God wants me to? Does God really wish this of me? Then why do I feel so tired, so lost and so very burdened? Is this truly God’s Will?
A little preview into how this topic kept resonating and presenting itself to me this past 2 weeks. It started when a very close brother in Christ of mine and I were going out to have dinner at an amazing place (with AMAZING food but I digress hehe) and this topic came about. How can we reconcile these two statements in our lives: that “in giving, we receive” but that “we cannot give what we do not have”? Where’s the middle ground and how can we then identify it? The week went by and Sunday came. Being the second week of Advent, it was, once again, a hectic and busy Sunday. But nevertheless, I had a wonderfully Spirit-led discussion which dealt with a similar problem: Why are Church ministries, especially the leaders, not evangelising as much as we hoped it to? Why are the ministers not on fire? And again today, I experienced the ripple effects of ministers and ministries focusing too much on the doing that it becomes the primary focus; that the actions then become the aim instead of being simply stepping stones to reach the aim. It all links very nicely to a single sentence a sister in Christ of mine told me: that doing God’s Will and doing God’s work is so very different.
So, the question is this: how then are we able to differentiate when what we’re doing ceases to be a part of God’s Will and instead, becomes simply one of the works of God? When do we say “alright, that’s enough giving. It’s time to start receiving some.” This links back to my first words on this post. Ora at Labora. To pray and work. Notice the quote isn’t Labora et Ora but Ora et Labora. This quote subtly and yet clearly emphasises the importance of praying and working; that is to say, pray first and then from prayer, work. In this case, one is able to quiet our often cluttered minds and hearts and spend time really asking God not just questions on doing but the correct question: What is thy Will? How can we go about working and doing God’s Work if we haven’t first asked ourselves, what is it that He WANTS us to do?
A simple analogy would be if a man were to go out and redecorate everyone’s houses (of course with consent). A nice gesture. Sure. However, he leaves his own door and walkway incredibly unmaintained and littered, which is not an uncommon sight in HDBs, (despite the constant complaints from the neighbours about the dirt). Which option would make the neighbours happier? The same applies for God’s Will and His Work. If we do not begin to first, look to God to guide us and instead, ignore what He’s trying to tell us and say “we know better” then does that not imply that we are then putting ourselves above God? To everything, there is a season. To discern that season is the purpose of prayer.
Another sister of mine posted this quote on her own wordpress blog:
Let us labor for an inward stillness-
An inward stillness and an inward healing.
That perfect silence where the lips and heart
Are still, and we no longer entertain
Our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions,
But God alone speaks to us and we wait
In singleness of heart that we may know
His will, and in the silence of our spirits,
That we may do His will and do that only
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It speaks strongly to me that at the end of the day, when someone does only the works of God and not God’s Will, it is ultimately because we have for so long, immersed ourselves into this culture of busyness that we forget to whom all these works ultimately belong to: God. That we have created and placed ourselves up as idols and as Creator when in fact, we are creature. The line from the Gospel of John below sums up the entire debate nicely and for me, resolves the issue of the dichotomy of doing God’s Will and doing God’s Work:
He was not the Light, but came to testify to the Light — John 1:8
We are not gods. The works that we do should glorify God and not ourselves. We work to testify to the Light and not be the Light. We cannot determine for ourselves whether doing something is truly His Will or if it’s just another of His work. At the end of the day, we must come back to the foundation, that is to pray first and work later.
© 2017 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan