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The Gospel of Work

5/5/2004 - 8:13 AM PST

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By Deacon Keith A. Fournier

Pope John Paul II recently addressed an assembly of the leaders of the “Catholic Action” movement in Italy on the “gospel of work”. He proclaimed a theme that is one of the many profound contributions of his extraordinary pontificate, the true meaning and redemptive value of all human work.

In 1981 he authored an encyclical letter titled “On Human Work” that has received little emphasis. We live in an age that has lost its understanding of the Christian meaning of work, that is that work, redeemed by and joined to the work of the Lord is filled with redemptive value! The detachment of work from its true value and the separation of its place as an intricate part of the purpose of our lives is not a new problem. It is a part of a larger social and individual malady. It is one of the bad fruits of the rupture of human integrity and solidarity wrought by sin.

In the “industrial age”, men and women were often reduced to mere instruments in a society that had lost its soul, emphasizing a misguided notion of “productivity” over purpose and not understanding the right relationship between work and the goods of the person, the family and the common good. Now, in this “technological age”, one that promised more “time” for leisure and other pursuits, “man the machine”, seems to be hopelessly “working” slavishly once again, as though work were a necessary evil rather than a means for the transformation of world - both within and without him.

It will take what St Paul rightly called a “renewal of the mind” to grasp the deeper truth concerning human work. This is the kind of renewal that Pope John Paul II champions and demonstrates, calling the entire world to embrace the fullness of the implications of the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the entirety of human experience.

He told those assembled on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker that because work "has been profaned by sin and contaminated by egoism," it is an activity that "needs to be redeemed." This worker Pope once again broke open the true meaning and dignity of all human work and called us all to understand what he has consistently called the “gospel (good news) of work.” He reminded us that "Jesus was a man of work and that work enabled him to develop his humanity,” He emphasized that "the work of Nazareth constituted for Jesus a way to dedicate himself to the 'affairs of the Father,'" witnessing that "the work of the Creator is prolonged" through work and that therefore “…according to God's providential plan, man, by working, realizes his own humanity and that of others: In fact, work 'forms man and, in a certain sense, creates him….” Finally he proclaimed that “work -- Christ teaches us -- is a value that has been profaned by sin and contaminated by egoism and because of this, as is true of all human reality, it needs to be redeemed"

The Pope emphasized the need for all work to be rescued "from the logic of profit, from the lack of solidarity, from the fever of earning ever more, from the desire to accumulate and consume." When the focus of work becomes subjected to "inhuman wealth" John Paul noted, it becomes a "seductive and merciless idol." That rescue occurs when we "return to the austere words of the Divine Master: 'For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'" Finally, the “servant of the servants of God” proclaimed that Jesus, The "divine Worker of Nazareth" also "reminds us that 'life is more than food' and that work is for man, not man for work. What makes a life great is not the entity of gain, nor the type of profession, or the level of the career. Man is worth infinitely more than the goods he produces or possesses.”

This “gospel of work” now needs to be proclaimed anew in our day. The heart of the Popes timely message is found throughout the Sacred Scriptures, in the Tradition and in the living witness of millions, who throughout Christian history have worked “for the Lord.” Yet, we who are numbered among the “moderns” in this contemporary age that has divorced work from the purpose of life need to examine our own approach to work. Why is it that, next to sleeping, we spend most of our time at work?

The Catholic Catechism provides a good starting place for renewing our minds concerning the meaning of human work

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CATHOLIC CATECHISM

"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 ...

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