The Church has some definite teachings on work and what it means. For example, in the Catechism, the following statements can be found:
2427 Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.” Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him. It can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish. Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ. (307, 378, 531)
2428 In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work. (2834, 2185) Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.
Yikes! Work is given us by God; we are to be creators in the image of God a duty. Work is a “primordial value.” It honors God. If all that is true, then why am I leaving a perfectly good job? Is it wrong to retire?
Well, here’s a case where monastic practice, as outlined in the Rule of St. Benedict, can help people understand what is going on here and what the Church means by “work.”.
First, notice that the Catechism doesn’t discuss having a job or earning a wage, it refers to work. Next, remember that Benedictine monks live by the motto ora et labora ¸ prayer and work. But obviously, a monk isn’t out there in the job market earning a wage. What’s going on?
St Benedict was quite definite in his requirement that his monks should work, that they needed to work in order to be good monks. He was wise enough to see that no one could spend all day, every day, doing nothing but praying. Things would fall apart in the monastery in very short order. Therefore, Benedictines spend their day with certain well-defined times for prayer interspersed with periods of “work,” they have an horarium, or daily schedule. A monk “works” by going to the kitchen to make fruitcakes for sale at Christmas. Or he may write books, like Thomas Merton, or study or do hard manual labor on the monastery farm or spend time doing janitorial duties around the monastery. He might also cook meals for the other monks or tend the monastery gift shop, or he might be a professor in the college run by his monastery. He might even be engaged in making a very good beer.
My wife and I’ve given this a lot of thought to this to apply it to the routine we’ll follow after retirement. We’ll develop an horarium that fits our needs. We’ll set the alarm and rise at the same time every day, schedule times for doing house work, cooking meals, working around the yard, much as would be done in a monastery (we won’t bake fruitcakes, though). During work times I might spend time doing volunteer activities or even working some part-time. I also hope to use “work” times to study, to write for this blog, and to do more outdoor photography. It all fits and all qualifies as “work;” the creative use of the talents God has given me.
And, our schedule will include specified times for praying the Divine Office and doing lectio. Ora et labora.
In case this sounds like we might become enslaved to our plan, fear not, we’re not setting up a hard and fast rule. True to St. Benedict’s intent, we fully intend to adapt this schedule as circumstances dictate. If something comes up that causes us to have to move things around during the day, so be it. If we feel like taking a day trip up to the mountains, we’ll do it. Moderation in all things.
I’m constantly amazed that a monk who lived in the 6th century was so wise and could develop a way of life that can be of great benefit to people today. Many retirees would find greater joy and fulfillment in doing something like this because it would prevent them falling into the trap of just sitting on the couch all day watching Oprah, or whatever. They might come to see that retirement isn’t really about quitting work or about never again doing something that is productive and useful. Retirement is really about finding different ways “work”, while having the luxury of doing it to their own schedule.
So, it’s not wrong to retire; I may be ending one type of work, but I’ll be doing another. I look on it as just changing jobs.