Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Work and Worship

Economic Powers

The past century witnessed the rise and fall of communism in the Soviet Union. The mass appeal of communism is the idea of leveling the playing field for those at the bottom of the labour chain. The Bolsheviks inspired by Karl Marx's ideas of the class struggle rebelled and took over the government of Russia, overthrowing the czar and owning and controlloing all industry and workforce.

The West on the other hand has favoured (and still does) private ownership and free trade. Individuals and private and public organizations run businesses, and are granted autonomous management with little interference from the Government. This also has proven to have it's pitfalls. Lots of public money has been lost in the present exchanges. Unreal prices raised by artificial demand caused a sharp rise in land prices in the United States leading to a nationwide sub-prime crisis.

Economic forces and trends have proved to be key factors in our present world. The promise of Barack Obama to bring America out of the economic crisis, played a crucial factor in drawing popular support to vote the Harvard Ph.d and author of a book to victory in American Presidential election. Today, Greece's financial crunch is a major issue governing foreign policy of members of the European union.

In India, the control of businesses is mixed between state and public. Communist ruled states are few but significant. Left parties have had the states of West Bengal and Kerala as traditional strongholds. These states are famous for their trade and labour unions, which wield much power and dictate terms. It is debatable whether the balance of power is skewed too much in favour of trade unions.

Workers Day: just another holiday?

This past Saturday was May 1st: Workers Day. With free trade has risen the concentration of power in the hands of corporate management. There have been inspirational individuals with vision who have led progress. Many people have as their role model, Mr N.R Narayana Murthy, founder and CEO of Infosys. Large companies especially attract much skilled labour. Free market economy makes large scale business possible, but the flip side is well known. Ramalinga Raju of Satyam fell from power when company management questioned his buying of large scale stake in Maytas (btw, did you observe that Maytas is Satyam spelled backwards).

The immense power and authority of top management in corporations may have different implications for the workers at the grassroots level. Organizations vary in their policies for the workers. Excessive power with top management may give rise to the possiblity of abuse of workers, the extreme examples of which happen in sweat shops.

The other extreme is powerful labour unions. The reality of employees duties and responsibilities can be offset by excessively powerful labour unions, with the result that the organiazation suffers, and in cases where vital public services are controlled by such unions, the general public suffers from strikes, etc. Therefore, we have the different aspects of duty, responsibility and just payment, which need to be balanced and fair from both employers and employees side.

So where is the individual worker in all of this? Is he given his due? Is he given ample opportunity to build his society, his country and realize his own capacity as a contributor to the good of the nation and community? Is there a proper balance between his rights and duties? Or is his deserved payment stolen by others? Is his used as a pawn in the power games of trade unions or management? These are questions which are wide and cut across the spectrum of different organizations and industries. They are both general to society as a whole and specific to individuals and organizations.

For Catholics, Workers day is also celebrated as the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, who was the head of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and a carpenter by profession. The Catholic Church presents St Joseph as the patron of all workers and by honouring St Joseph, the Church recognizes the honour of his profession or carpentry, with which he produced useful works for his community and fed his family. By having a special feast in honour of St Joseph the Worker, the Church also recognizes workers of all professions and the dignity of all labour. It is reality and tragedy that often work, which was meant to provide us what we need has become a status symbol with distinctions in qualities of work and division of people based on the kind of work they do.

Rights, Responsibilities, Work and Worship

For me, employment provides an opportunity to serve organizations and therefore individuals by providing them useful works. The work of our hands can alleviate excessive hardship and solve problems of organizations and individuals. It is no doubt an aspiration of job seekers and workers to find a job where their work is recognized and valuable. It is therefore imperative of us to find skills that we have and areas where we are good and useful. It is of utmost value and satisfaction to find a genuine area of resourcefulness and provide value to customers and/or people.

It is a misconception that work is a punishment sent by God. As a Christian, one cannot deny evils in our professional life that can be due to different reasons. There are hardships and individual struggles, which can make or mar our professional lives. However, work is certainly not a meaningless punishment. Work is something that can be greatly valuable not only directly, but also indirectly. The times of struggle and hardship may not bring you recognition or stars, but that is only temporal and from a human perspective. The believer-God relationship is that of a Father-child, and goes beyond the employer-employee relationship, though these two relationships do not conflict.

Further, as a Catholic and a daily Mass goer, my work is an offering to God. In the earlier days, farmers brought the produce of their fields, fishermen brought fish, bakers brought bread, etc. If you wonder why the priest washes his hands with water, it was quite necessary in the earlier days (imagine the potatoes taken out of the ground). Nowadays, it is a symbolic washing.

As a believer, work for me is either creative or redemptive. Being a software engineer, I write applications through which I share in the creative work of God. Software generally has bugs. By fixing the bugs, I participate in redemptive work of God, where He transforms ordinary things into something better and more beautiful. This applies to any kind of work. When a cook prepares a vegetable, she redeems the ordinary vegetable and makes something special out of it. When a sweeper sweeps the floor, she redeems the dirty place into something better and more beautiful.

Holy Mass – on earth as it is in heaven

For those with faith, the Mass is a Divine liturgy in the presence of angels and saints. If we are attentive to the prayers of the Mass, we will at least notice (though unfortunately many dream or are distracted) that an exchange is happening between God and man. As with the ancient Mayans, or the Vedic priests, a Catholic priest basic duty is to offer sacrifice to God.

The Catholic faith teaches that there is a real sacrifice happening during the Mass. Catholics believe that the Sacrifice that is being made is not bread or wine, but Jesus Christ himself. We believe that the Mass is not symbolic, but genuinely the original Sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the eternal Father on Calvary. I'm not surprised that many find it too much to believe, even many Jews left Jesus when he taught them about this.

The part called offertory, is the time when the wine and water are mixed. This symbolizes Christ's divinity mixing with our humanity and thus transforming it. Imagine if our own works were taken to the altar and offered literally at the Mass. This happens in reality though not physically and I recall my own works at this time of the Mass. Then, at the consecration, Christ becomes present in the bread and wine as it gets transformed into His Body and Blood.

The actual sacrifice of the Mass happens during what is called the doxology:

Through Him, with Him, in Him,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
All glory and honour is Your, Almighty Father,
Forever and ever. Amen.

This is the point at which everything is offered to the Father, including the offerings and work of all those present. Those who have offered physically and those who have brought to mind their works and offered to God in their hearts, the work of their hands.

Therefore to summarize, work is a major aspect in todays world. There are many questions about the dignity workers and their responsibility. But all kinds of work and all workers have a great dignity, irrespective of what they do. Most importantly, my Catholic faith is not separate from my work. Rather, I offer my work to God along with my struggles and hardships believing that Jesus joins his own sacrifice to it and offers it to the Father on the Cross, thus transforming my life and my work. This gives me strength to go into the world and continue with my labours each day.

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