The Divinity of Work

Each day, much of the world’s adult population sets out to labour whether for others or themselves. A great number set out with the hope of finding work, and others will unfortunately have no hope of finding any work.

Work, I will argue, is the bedrock of families and the foundation on which successful societies are built.

In his encyclical, Laborem Excercens – On Human Work (LE), the Holy Father, John Paul ll writes:

“The Church finds in the very first pages of the book of Genesis the source of her conviction that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth…When man, who had been created ‘in the image of God…male and female,’ hears the words: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it,’ even though these words do not refer directly and explicitly to work, beyond any doubt they indirectly indicate it is an activity for man to carry out in the world.”

The Holy Father, based on Social Catholic Teaching Principles (CSTR), argues that work is a foundational concept for the Church based on a dictate directly from God. Let us look at work from this perspective.

If work is a foundation to society, and the purpose of work is to subdue the earth through human work for the good of society, then we can argue that work is divine – an activity that we can all indulge in while doing the work of God.

Man finds meaning through work, but man is not defined by work. If man were defined by work then it is man that is being subdued and not the earth. This would be in direct contradiction of God’s will. Unfortunately, this is how society generally looks at work and how much of mankind has lived with work. Is it any wonder that work is viewed as a yoke rather than as way to meaning in one’s life and to fulfil the will of God?

From the perspective of modern society, fully immersed in a materialistic, socially ambiguous, relativistic, and self-centred free-fall, work has simply become a means to ‘attain’ the outward desires of man, rather than a route to Godliness.

Man, by allowing itself to be dominated and subdued by this contrary purpose of work, has become a slave to itself, in a perpetual spiral of work and attainment. Rather through work, one must develop, build and support the family unit, and thus society in the image of God.

The Holy Father, in his encyclical (LE) writes,

“Work constitutes a foundation for the formation of family life, which is a natural right and something that man is called to. These two spheres of values – one linked to work and the other consequent on the family nature of human life – must be properly united and must properly permeate each other.”

In other words, it is through work that one builds the family unit.

The struggle for man is that in current society, work is used not to found families, but for the purpose of economic gain and political interest – goals in themselves.

I do not argue that economic interests are not a valid part of the purpose of work; they are. Rather these outcomes should be subordinate to the true purpose of work – the divinity of work.

By defining work strictly for economic gain, man finds itself subdued by the economic interests of society rather than the spiritual interests of the faith. The ultimate result is the destruction of the foundation on which families are founded on and a result, eventually society.

Economic and political interests make decisions not in support of families through the concept of work, but on the ultimate effect on the bottom-line, shareholder interests, or political power.

If economic and political interests were to factor in the ‘family’ into its economic and political framework, I believe that these interests would still be able to generate a profit, meet shareholder interest and introduce successful policy, but in a creative, collaborative and mutually agreeable manner.

To be clear, the onus should not simply rest with economic or politically motivated organizations. Employee representatives also have to ensure that family interest find their way into collective agreements and political policy.

Strictly focusing on economic gains made at the negotiation table is not in support of family interests if the rest of the collective agreement fails to support the family unit. This extends to organizations as well. ‘Family friendly’ policies are simply an appeasement of and not in support of the family unit. Employee polices should fundamentally reflect CSTP as they relate to work in order that labourers can fully support their families through their work.

A redefinition of work, based on CSTP can only be accomplished if all interested parties – corporations, politicians, worker representatives, educational institutions and other organizations representing community interests – work from a common foundation on the meaning of work reflecting its divinity and respecting the dignity of workers and their fulfillment of the Lord’s commandment to subdue the earth.

Copyright © 2012, Luciano Corbo

Luciano Corbo

Luciano Corbo

Luciano Corbo holds a Master of Arts - Integrated Studies from Athabasca University. His major interests are Culture, Work, Organizations and Leadership, within a context of Catholic Social Teaching Principles. He writes from Canada.

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