He was a realist. As cardinal archbishop of Milan before becoming pope, St. Paul VI visited often with workers in their workplaces. Getting to know them personally is one reason his thinking and writings were so practical.
His realism comes through in his apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete in Domino,” on Christian joy, as well as his down-to-earth appraisal of joylessness in today’s life.
The “difficulty in attaining joy,” he wrote, “seems to us particularly acute today. … Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy.
“For joy comes from another source. It is spiritual. Money, comfort, hygiene and material security are often not lacking; and yet boredom, depression and sadness unhappily remain the lot of many. These feelings sometimes go as far as anguish and despair, which apparent carefreeness, the frenzies of present good fortune and artificial paradises cannot assuage.”
This straightforward appraisal focuses on one of the primary causes of life’s emptiness despite its awesome amenities.
St. Paul VI doesn’t leave us with pessimistic gloom but gives us one essential means for achieving true joy by pointing us to work and its “sometimes austere joy (when) well done” and “the joy and satisfaction of duty (when) performed.”
American psychiatrist and author Theodore Isaac Rubin echoes these sentiments in stating, “Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.”
I have often felt this satisfaction when working in my garden during a long, hot, humid day and stepping back to admire it. The elation of approval and gratification this produces is joy par excellence.
Retired Brazilian soccer player Pele adds another element of joy-producing work in telling us, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
In including work as an indispensable source of joy, St. Paul VI points us to a reality in life many tend to overlook. Work possesses a precious source of joy when we love it and do it to the best of our ability.
Father Hemrick is the director of the National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood.