"Work is a good thing for us - a good thing for all humanity - because through work, we not only tranform nature, adapting it to our own needs, but we also achieve fulfillment as human beings and indeed, we become "even more human."
- Pope John Paul II, 1981
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is the story of an honorable working man. In this movie, many people don't give Paul (Kevin James) much of a chance. They look down on him because of his roles as a security guard in a local shopping mall. But no matter what anyone thinks of him, Paul keeps on going.
More often than not today, we look down on ourselves and upon others with certain careers. For others, they might look at their current line of work as a “transition” job - hoping something better might come along. While ambition isn’t a bad thing, our mind is rarely on where we are, constantly looking beyond and ahead of ourselves to the grass which looks greener on the other side.
Paul Blart could have thought like that. Mall security seemed to be passing the time as he dreamed of being a New Jersey state police officer. But instead of treating his mall job as a time of transition, he treated it as his current vocation, in other words: a calling at this point in his life. In looking at it this way, his understood it as a career of service and protection, and because of that outlook, he was able to save innocent lives and foil the bad guys in the movie. Had he seen mall security as beneath him or as just a paycheck, the outcome might have been much different and definitely much worse.
It wasn’t easy for Paul Blart to live with this sense of vocation, as it's not easy for any of us to view our jobs this way. In the film, the other characters around him discouraged his spirit and his drive. And even as Paul resisted his negativity, those around him mistreated and humiliated him even more. In addition, he struggled with his health and with his relationships, further adding to the frustration of keeping his mind on his call to serve and protect.
But when someone is this confident that God is calling them to be right where they are, nothing can get in the way. Nothing can get in the way of a mall cop becoming a superhero, as Paul Blart turned out to be in this enjoyable movie comedy.
For centuries, Christians have held up the dignity of work and the rights of workers. What separates us from the animal kingdom is the fact that we spend our lives working with a sense of purpose and vocation. Because of that, all work must be respected and all those who labor should be treated with dignity and honor. In 1981, Pope John Paul II released one of many documents and speeches on the subject of labor and work. In one such work, he said: "Work is a good thing for us - a good thing for all humanity - because through work, we not only tranform nature, adapting it to our own needs, but we also achieve fulfillment as human beings and indeed, we become "even more human." (Laborem Exercens, no. 9).
What the Pope was saying was that our work gives our lives real purpose when we treat it as a calling from God to serve His people.
Whether we realize it or not, God has called each of us to our jobs right now. At this moment in time, there is no one better to do our jobs than you and me and everyone else. No job is beneath us. No career is less than admirable. No work is without meaning, especially if we view our employment as a vocation to the world and to one another.
And when we encounter others in service to us, from the cashier at the Wal-Mart down the street to the stock broker on the commute from the city to the suburbs, how do we treat them? Do we give them honor for what they do, or do we add to their own struggle with vocation by making them feel less than their worth?
We need to appreciate the people around us, and by helping honor them, we remind them that their job is truly a vocation. We can thank them for what they do. We can make their encounter with us an enjoyable one. We can forgive them if they make a mistake. We can do our part to make their jobs easier.
We are asked to treat ourselves and other workers this way because not everyone has the resiliency as Paul Blart did in Mall Cop - as someone who took the persecution and humiliation and still honored his calling.
I have a friend who has a similar job to Paul Blart. He works for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at a nearby airport (you know: those people who put your carry-on luggage through the scanner and who ask you to go through the metal detectors on your way to your gate).
I realize it’s not fun to go through security checks these days, but my friend tells me that a number of people treat him and his fellow TSA agents very poorly. That’s unfortunate because these people are simply doing their jobs, namely protecting and serving the people and the security of the country. They are called to serve those of us who travel, but can be spat upon by the very same people. Even with all of the abuse and frustration, what inspires me is how well my friend continues to treat his job as a vocation.
Is his a perfect job? No. But at this moment in time, he is the perfect person for that job - just as you and I are the perfect people at this moment in our jobs.
I think we need more Paul Blarts in our country today. No matter what job we’ve been given, we need to treat it with respect and honor. We need to ask ourselves: How can we serve others through our work? How can we give our best selves to this job we have now? How can we honor others who give their lives to their work?
If more people worked like Paul Blart, imagine the world we'd live in. For me, I imagine that might inch us ever closer to the Reign of God that Jesus spoke about in the gospels. And that's something worth shooting for. Let us pray for more Paul Blarts.