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Human Work

Catholic Way

Whistle While We Work?

© Third Millennium, LLC

By Deacon Keith A. Fournier


Why is it that, next to sleeping, we spend most of our time at work?



"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.[209] Hence work is a duty: "If any one will not work, let him not eat."[210] Work honors the Creator's gifts and the talents received from him.

It can also be redemptive.

By enduring the hardship of work[211] 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.[212] Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ. 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.[213]

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.

2460 The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and beneficiary. By means of his labor man participates in the work of creation. Work united to Christ can be redemptive."


It was a morning ritual.

"C'mon ... six o'clock", they would shout as they entered the dank and dingy storefront.

It was the summer of 1969 and I was working part time at a television repair shop with my father. The workers would laugh whenever they heard the chant, hiding near despair at having to put up with the "grind" of the workday. I remember one morning singing the song "Whistle While We Work" in response to the cry. I will not repeat the expletives that came as a response.

The attitude is not uncommon.

Think about it—we all know the acronym "T.G.I.F." and talk radio is filled with new names for the days of the week based upon their proximity to the weekend. After all we have been led to believe that when the weekend comes we can begin to really live … right?

Many Christians are no different in this predominant attitude concerning work. Oh, they may hide it with religious sounding language or cover it over with a forced piety that makes the tedium seem bearable.

Some Christians have developed (or inherited) such a poor theology that they have lumped "work" as a part of the penalty for sin! This has added to the already crippling worldview that divides everything into categories such as "secular" and "religious" thereby minimizing the very meaning of salvation to a personal experience of being "saved" from the world.

Is this really what work is all about?


A Catholic understanding positions work in the broader context of two key Christian truths concerning the nature and mission of Jesus and those who now live "In Him." It brings meaning and value to all work.

The first is the foundational Christian doctrine of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: God became a human person!

The dignity of this God become man gives dignity to all work. In fact, the end (in the philosophical sense of goal) of all work is the elevation and transformation of the human person.

The early Church Father Irenaeus, reflecting on the profound implications of the Incarnation, expressed it well: "Whatever was not assumed was not healed!" The entirety of our human experience was assumed by Jesus—yet without sin (see Hebrews 4:15).

The Son of God worked. Even as a child he learned from Joseph, the carpenter, and worked with His hands. Certainly he sweated, got dirty, and even experienced tedium at times, but He was in a relationship with His Heavenly Father that helped Him to go deeper. That is the same relationship that He brings us into through the waters of our Baptism.

Certainly, He who knew no sin was not suffering its punishment!

Though there is biblical support that the toil and drudgery or "sweat" of work is connected to the fracture in the order of the universe which was occasioned by sin (see Gen 3:19) work is not the punishment for sin. In fact, for the disciple, work can be redemptive.

Jesus viewed his entire life and mission as work. He was always doing the "work" of the One who sent Him (John 9:3-4). So should we.

The second key Christian truth that ...

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