Work is a good thing for man

Originally Appeared in : 9825-12/6/18

Spanish version

Some years ago Pope Francis stated that one of the greatest problems in the world today is the unemployment of youth. He was likely considering the sky-high unemployment rates of youth in Europe — just a few years ago Spain had a 50 percent youth unemployment rate. I remember countless dismayed and scandalized parishioners say to me, “how can the pope say that this is one of the greatest problems when there is abortion! When there is euthanasia!” I do not believe Pope Francis was ignoring or diminishing the presence of other pressing concerns, but was making a legitimate point. 


Time and again the Church has taught that work is important to human flourishing first and foremost because it is through work that we participate in the creative work of God. Work is unique to us as human beings made in the image and likeness of God. Work allows us to be co-creators with God as we give form to what God has provided to us in creation. Work elevates the human person to the divine: We work and create as God works and creates. We work as Jesus worked in a carpentry shop during his hidden life in Nazareth. To work is to imitate God.


Work is also important to human flourishing because work affirms the dignity of the human person. Pope John Paul II notes in his encyclical "Laborem Exercens" that despite the toil that work entails, “work is a good thing for man.” He observes how work allows a person to sustain a family, to educate those dependent on him/her, purchase land which provides sustenance, and contribute to the greater good of society. Work that is done freely and well provides a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment to the worker. A worker not only benefits from remuneration, but also through the deep sense of personal accomplishment that comes from it. 


I recently read an article titled "The World’s Broken Workplace" by CEO Jim Clifton where he reported an alarming statistic: 70 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged in their work. There is a general lack of interest among workers, which indicates that most workers are not finding fulfilment in their work. The Church has much to contribute to alleviate this problem. The Christian understanding of work as an exalted and dignified reality through which a person imitates Jesus Christ and participates in the creative power of the Father is an encouraging and meaningful perspective for workers. Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, who fervently preached on the dignity of work, wrote, “We love human work which [Jesus] chose as his state in life, which he cultivated and sanctified. We see in work, in men’s noble creative toil not only one of the highest human values, an indispensable means to social progress and to greater justice in the relations between men, but also a sign of God’s Love for his creatures, and of men’s love for each other and for God: We see in work a means of perfection, a way to sanctity.”


In the closing paragraphs of "Laborem Exercens," Saint John Paul II identifies Jesus’ “work of salvation” which required great suffering and death. He teaches that by enduring the toil of work in union with Christ, we collaborate with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. Each of us, through our work, collaborate in the salvific work of Christ. Work is not accidental or something to be endured: It is through work that we imitate God and respond to his instruction in the Book of Genesis to: “fill the earth and subdue it.” As human beIngs we need to work, and it is by working that we achieve our fulfillment.


Father Pablo Migone is chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah and resides in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah.

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