John Paul II’s Laborem exercens (On Human Work; September 14, 1981), celebrates 30 years next week. Itself was a document written on the 90th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s landmark work Rerum Novarum. I think we ought to give more attention to the meaning of work and its connection with the work of the Creator. Too often we disparage work and its place in the daily experience of men and women. This morning at Lauds, by Providence, I read from the Apostle’s work that a person who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat. I could help thinking about the implication of this teaching. THence, today, is an appropriate to think about work and it’s meaning. 

Some paragraphs from LE:

workers in the field.jpeg

Through work man
must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science
and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral
level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong
to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or
intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity
that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many
activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very
nature, by virtue of humanity itself.
Man is made to be in the visible universe
an image and likeness of God himself
, and he is placed in it in order to subdue
the earth. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of
the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose
activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable
of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence
on earth. Thus
work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of
a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its
interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.

The truth that by means of work man participates in the activity of God himself, his Creator, was given particular prominence by Jesus Christ-the Jesus at whom many of his first listeners in Nazareth “were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him?. Is not this the carpenter?.'” For Jesus not only proclaimed but first and foremost fulfilled by his deeds the “gospel,” the word of eternal Wisdom, that had been entrusted to him. Therefore this was also “the gospel of work,” because he who proclaimed it was himself a man of work, a craftsman like Joseph of Nazareth. And if we do not find in his words a special command to work-but rather on one occasion a prohibition against too much anxiety about work and life at the same time the eloquence of the life of Christ is unequivocal: he belongs to the “working world,” he has appreciation and respect for human work. It can indeed be said that he looks with love upon human work and the different forms that it takes, seeing in each one of these forms a particular facet of man’s likeness with God, the Creator and Father. Is it not he who says: “My Father is the vinedresser,” and in various ways puts into his teaching the fundamental truth about work which is already expressed in the whole tradition of the Old Testament, beginning with the Book of Genesis?

The books of the Old Testament contain many references to human work and to the individual professions exercised by man: for example, the doctor, the pharmacist, the craftsman or artist, the blacksmith we could apply these words to today’s foundry-workers-the potter, the farmer, the scholar, the sailor, the builder, the musician, the shepherd, and the fisherman. The words of praise for the work of women are well known. In his parables on the Kingdom of God Jesus Christ constantly refers to human work: that of the shepherd, the farmer, the doctor, the sower, the householder, the servant, the steward, the fisherman, the merchant, the laborer. He also speaks of the various form of women’s work. He compares the apostolate to the manual work of harvesters, or fishermen. He refers to the work of scholars too.

This teaching of Christ on work, based on the example of his life during his years in Nazareth, finds a particularly lively echo in the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Paul boasts of working at his trade (he was probably a tent-maker), and thanks to that work he was able even as an Apostle to earn his own bread, “With toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you.” Hence his instructions, in the form of exhortation and command, on the subject of work: “Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living,” he writes to the Thessalonians. In fact, noting that some “are living in idleness … not doing any work,” the Apostle does not hesitate to say in the same context: “If any one will not worklet him not eat.” In another passage he encourages his readers: “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”

The teachings of the Apostle of the Gentiles obviously have key importance for the morality and spirituality of human work. They are an important complement to the great though discreet gospel of work that we find in the life and parables of Christ, in what Jesus “did and taught.”

On the basis of these illuminations emanating from the Source himself, the Church has always proclaimed what we find expressed in modern terms in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: “Just as human activity proceeds from man, so it is ordered towards man. For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood, this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered … Hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the divine plan and will, it should harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and allow people as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it.”