A friend recently asked me, “Isn”t human work the result of the fall? How should Catholics view the subject of work?” Here”s how I responded: [more]
In the beginning, God fashioned man in His image and likeness and called him to “cultivate and care for” (Gen. 1:15) the land that was given him. Therefore, work was part of human life before the fall, and thus it is not in itself a punishment or curse. Since the fall, work has become burdensome (see Gen. 3:17-19), but it has also been redeemed by Christ.
The life and preaching of Christ is instructive. For example, we know that He spent most of His years tending to the carpentry trade that St. Joseph taught Him. Once His public ministry began, He described His mission as involving work: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn. 5:17), and He often likened His disciples to laborers for His harvest (e.g., Mt. 9:37-38).
He taught us to be diligent in our work, but also not to be enslaved by it. We must not let work or other worldly concerns consume us with anxiety, but rather we must see our work as a way of honoring the Father.
Work is a duty. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (no. 264) teaches: “No Christian, in light of the fact that he belongs to a united and fraternal community, should feel that he has the right not to work and to live at the expense of others (cf. 2 Thes 3:6-12).” Work enables us to participate in the ongoing work of creation as collaborators with God. In doing so, we become who we were created to be, we honor God through our use of the gifts and talents He gave us, we provide support for ourselves and our family, and we help build up the human community.
Work also enables us to participate in the ongoing work of redemption (cf. Col. 1:24). Work is a means of joyfully carrying our daily cross (Lk. 9:23) and being leaven to the world, both for our own sanctification and for the salvation of souls (see Catechism, no. 2427).
Because work is a God-given duty, it”s also a fundamental right. Its dignity is not based on what is done or made, but because it is done by man for the good of man. For that reason, the Church champions the rights of workers, including access to work without unjust discrimination of any kind, just wages, the ability to organize in unions and even, when it can”t be avoided and when necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit, strike (see Catechism, nos. 2433-36).
Lastly, the most important aspect of work is rest! The Sabbath rest was an integral part of God”s creation of the world (Gen. 2:2-3). Time away from work to worship God was what Moses tried to obtain from Pharaoh for the Israelite slaves in Egypt (see Ex. 5:1-3). And the observance of the Lord”s Day is an essential aspect of the Christian life in every generation.
On Sundays and other Holy Days of Obligation, believers must refrain from “engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’2012-04-24 18:36:14′s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body” (Catechism, no. 2185; see generally, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, nos. 258, 284-86).
Jesus stressed that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27), and the worship and rest that”s part of our Sunday celebration corresponds to the deepest needs and yearnings of the human heart.
For further reading, check out Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II”s 1981 encyclical on human work.