The Word of God Worked: Understanding the Dignity of All Human Work
All work is noble because of the worker. For the Christian, it has been elevated through the Sacred Humanity of Christ
The workshop of Nazareth
Indeed, in the Scriptural view, work is a sort of imitation of God, the entire creation being seen as a workweek in which God brings forth the world out of nothing and gifts it to man so that he may exercise dominion over it and cultivate and care for it. (Gen. 1:28; 2:15; cf. Ps. 8:5-7)
In Christ, work is even more ennobled, as we see God in his human nature working in the silent, hidden obscurity of Nazareth, setting for us an example of how work, even the most menial, can be the source of sanctification. In Christ, "human work becomes a service raised to the grandeur of God." (Compendium, No. 262)
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church begins its section on work with a reflection of the Biblical view of work and man's relationship to work. The message that one may take from the Compendium's understanding of the Biblical view of work is that it is a great, but relative good, especially as redeemed in Christ.
"Work is part of the original state of man and precedes his fall; it is therefore not a punishment or curse. "Work becomes toilsome only after the sin of Adam and Eve, after the fall. (Gen. 3:6-8; 17-19) The soil begrudges its gifts: it "becomes miserly, unrewarding, sordidly hostile." Only "by the sweat of one's brow" will man "get bread to eat." (Gen. 3:19)
When Christ teaches us to pray, "Give us this day, our daily bread," he is not teaching us to ask for some sort of divine welfare, a life of leisure while bread comes down from heaven as if it were manna. He is enjoining us also to shoulder the duty of work as a predicate for the gift of its fruit. "Through work," John Paul II said in his encyclical on human labor, "man must earn his daily bread." The post lapsarian (after-the-Fall or human lapse) suffering toil, frustration, and burden do not change our essential duty to exercise dominion over, to "cultivate and care for" creation.
Simply put, work was a part of paradise. After the Fall, work is part of the world which is no longer a paradise.
Work has a place of honor because it is the key to the conditions of a decent life, and hence a necessary key to flourishing, to fulfillment, to happiness. It is a tool against poverty and hunger. In this world--unless one lives off of the labor of another or off one's inherited or saved capital--work is what will keep body and soul together. "If any man will not work, neither let him eat." (2 Thess. 3:10)
For all its value, however, work and the wealth and money it may bring are not to be idolized. There is such a thing as idols of work, of the marketplace, and of wealth: idola laboris, idola fori, idola pecuniae. The Compendium warns us that one "must not succumb to the temptation of making an idol of work, for the ultimate and definitive meaning of life is not to be found in work." "Work is essential," it recognizes, "but it is God--and not work--who is the origin of life and the final goal of man." (Compendium, No. 257)
Therefore, the work week culminates in the Sabbath rest. "The memory and the experience of the Sabbath constitute a barrier against becoming slaves to work, whether voluntarily or by force, and against every kind of exploitation, hidden or evident." (Compendium, No. 258)
Indeed, the wealth that work may yield--while unquestionably a great good--may also be inordinately loved. "Man," our Lord says, "does not live by bread alone." (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4) There are things greater than wealth--justice, righteousness, and charity among them. "Better is a little with the fear of the Lord," Proverbs 15:16 says, "than great treasure and trouble with it."
The same message is repeated: "Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice." (Prov. 16:8) We are therefore not to be anxious for earthly goods, like the Pagans. (Matt. 6:25, 31, 34) "But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides." (Matt. 6:33)
In the Scriptural view, there are few things more dangerous than a disordered approach to wealth. We know what God has in store for the hoarder who had only his riches in mind, even if these riches were legally and justly acquired: "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you." (Luke 12:20)
In the parable of Lazarus and Dives, the ...
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