Yesterday I took a 7 mile hike into Alaska Backcountry yesterday with 16 people from our parish. 6 of those people were under the age of 10. It wasn’t as gruesome or difficult as it sounds. In fact, it will probably be one of those memorable moments that at least one of our group will remember for the rest of their lives. For some of us thought, it will be just one of many of such trips that we take together. The trip was successful, wasn’t too stressful, and lead to some amazing views together. Most of all though it allowed for us to learn an important lesson, no matter how indirect, about the importance of physical labor.

The phrase: Ora et Labora, comes from the Rule of St. Benedict. It means: Pray(er) and Work. Now the phrase was not part of St. Benedict’s original rule, but has come to be the motto of the Benedictines through time. Though, St. Benedict did famously say: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul…” And this is where we come in.

You see, when dealing with Spiritual Warfare we must entrust our souls to the tried and true paths of tradition. In today’s modern culture things come so easily. We want food, we throw a 3 course meal in a micro-wave and, voila, 4:45 later we have it! Does it taste good? Of course not. What we have done is compromised and made a deal. We often do the same thing with our leisure time. Should we “go outside and play” or sit here online or in front of a TV screen? We usually choose the latter because it is “easier.”

Therein lies the problem. We don’t work enough in our culture to fend off the attacks of the Devil. You see, while we were out hiking yesterday, we didn’t see any racy advertisements, we didn’t hear any inappropriate music, and the only revealing clothing was when the little ones stripped down to their diapers and splashed around in a moutain-side lake. Yet, in the amount of time that we took taking our hike, a child would have been inundated with corruption in front of a TV or screen.

Was there a little complaining in the form of, “are we there yet?” “how far are we going?”, but to be honest it wasn’t too bad. (As to the practical side of hiking/camping with your kids, I recommend a decent e-Book on the subject by a Catholic, Katie from Kitchen Stewardship. She wrote an e-Book last year where she explained that kids should be able to walk 1 mile for each year they are old.)But the thing about the trip was that there was a lesson learned by these kids, as well as the adults. It was hard, we are sore today, and it was hot (even though we are in Alaska), but in the end the views and time together greatly outweighed the negatives. There is something about physical labor and fellowship that we long for.

We are made to labor. There is a simplicity in this statement. Now we didn’t pray along the way, although we could have prayed a Rosary but the nature of the hike and size of the group made that tough, but there was still something spiritual about the journey. Why is labor good? Blessed John Paul II wrote about “work” in his encyclical: Laborem exercens. Although he was discussing work in the more industrious meaning, it is still applicable to the spiritual sense of the word. He wrote:

Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being”.

There is an accomplishment to hikes and other physical activity. A start and a finish. Once you start, you have to finish, there is no other choice. Even if the hike is a 100 yards, once you start you have to finish. That accomplishment is what Bl. John Paul II explains as becoming more human. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and so when we utilize our bodies in work, we are actualizing our creative purpose. Similarly, when we pray, we are actualizing our spiritual purpose. The two seemingly go hand in hand, and so it is no wonder that monks and nuns have learned to combine the two into their rhythmic and systematic way of life. We too, should find a way to do the same.

As people, our spiritual life is always a work in progress. We constantly search for new ways to fulfill our spiritual purpose. Likewise, we must constantly refine the way we actualize our physical purpose. For many of us, we view leisure time as relaxation time and for many it is a necessary component of our lives. But there are also times when we fake labor, and allow ourselves to be idle. Instead, we need to actualize our humanity and do some sort of physical labor. In doing so, we are really working the soil of our soul and preparing it for the seeds of spirituality. Only in well worked soil, can seeds grow.


Joe writes daily at: Defend Us In Battle. His featured column here appears every Tuesday in the Battle Ready section. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.

NB: Sorry my feature was “absent” last week. We were house-sitting, and things got a little hectic. I hope you can forgive the missed column.

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