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work

By Diogenes (articles) | Sep 03, 2006

From Pope John Paul II's 1981 encyclical Laborem exercens:

The ancient world introduced its own typical differentiation of people into classes according to the type of work done. Work which demanded from the worker the exercise of physical strength, the work of muscles and hands, was considered unworthy of free men, and was therefore given to slaves. By broadening certain aspects that already belonged to the Old Testament, Christianity brought about a fundamental change of ideas in this field, taking the whole content of the Gospel message as its point of departure, especially the fact that the one who, while being God, became like us in all things devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter's bench. This circumstance constitutes in itself the most eloquent "Gospel of work", showing that the basis for determining the value of human work is not primarily the kind of work being done but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person.

Many homilies offered with on eye on Labor Day (tomorrow, in the U.S.) will focus on wretched working conditions or immigration problems, in order to excite pity. That's commendable, but it risks obscuring a simple but important point: work has a dignity in and of itself. Workers deserve respect qua workers.

Pity can sometimes be patronizing, to the extent it suggests the most interesting thing about a person is his misery. The guy who's doing a humble and unexciting job -- scraping rust or mopping floors -- has positive worth in Christian eyes, irrespective of his well-being. Says the Pope in the same encyclical: "The primary basis of the value of work is man himself, who is its subject."

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Nov. 09, 2010 10:31 AM ET USA

    Having supervised wayward employees in the past, one of their favorite ploys when being written up is to announce that they will be "moving on in six months." Translation: Ease up on supervising me.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Nov. 08, 2010 4:23 PM ET USA

    Just to be clear, the alleged bishop announced that he will "step down in January 2013," at which time he will be 65. That's how the 7-years-shy-of-72 math works out. Of course, among the many more fertile grounds for taking pot-shots at the bish is the question of why he's announcing it now. After all, who would care if any of us announced today that we plan to retire 2 years and 2 months from now? And for anyone who does care, I'm planning to retire in May 2028.