One of the aspects of our Catholic faith that I most appreciate is the "earthiness" of our understanding of human life. On the one hand, we are created to share in God's own life, capable of spiritual communion even in this world; on the other hand we are bound to the rhythms of the earth, the material world setting the boundaries for our life.
To live well is to unite within our very nature both the spiritual and the material worlds. Unfortunately, the balance of those two truths is often lost, and one or the other becomes emphasized at the expense of the other.
Many speak of the physical nature of our human life without acknowledging the depth of the spiritual reality of human existence. The result is a cheapening of life, viewing humanity as different only in degree from the rest of creation, rather than different in essence.
As Christians we are not likely to fall prey to that error, but there is a risk that those who believe in God over-spiritualize our human life.
This error is at least as deceptive as the first. While disregarding our spiritual nature reduces our value and dignity, discounting the context of God's plan of creation removes us from the way in which we can most easily discover the truth of who we are and attain the relationship with God for which we were created.
It's as though we were to sit in the school hallway, thinking that we can absorb everything we need from the fact that we are in a school, while ignoring the lessons being taught in the classroom.
Paul addresses the tendency to spiritualize our lives in the letter to the Thessalonians. The community is so convinced that Jesus is about to return that some of them have stopped working and are just putting in time until the end of the world, relying on the labour of others to provide for their needs.
The problem is not just a matter of justice, nor is it only that a bad example is set for others that discredits the Christians as a whole. Of equal concern is that they have distanced themselves from the means by which God intended us to grow in maturity, in wisdom, in love and in holiness.
There are lessons written within the seasons of the year and the seasons of life. They are imbedded in the structure and necessities of everyday human life, as God designed it. Work connects us more closely with those rhythms and opens the way for us to participate in God's action in creation.
Through this earthy experience of work and rest, play and struggle, birth and death, we learn humility, faith and love, and thus discover more clearly the purpose of our life.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)