Pope St. John Paul II on the Importance of Work

In 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This day corresponds with the day of labor that is commemorated in many countries across the world. In the Sacred Scriptures, Jesus Christ is often referred to as “the son of a carpenter.” Sacred Tradition holds that Jesus was trained as a carpenter under his foster-father, Joseph. Human work, no matter how extraordinary or ordinary the labor is, can be made holy. Sanctified work can assist us increase in holiness and increase the work of Jesus’ passion and redemption, which in turn increases good work and holiness among the Body of Christ. Carrying our own crosses takes hard work.

The video below is the scene – “Tall Table, Tall Chairs” from the film, The Passion of the Christ. Although this scene is not revealed in the Scriptures to us, it is still a good scene (artistic license) showing our Lord at work as a carpenter. It’s a scene that brings joy to my heart since it’s a scene with Mary. Hope you enjoy it.

Since today is the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker, I give you the encyclical letter, Laborem Exercens, the letter to the Church on Human Work on the ninetieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It was promulgated on the Triumph of the Cross – September 14, 1981. Rerum Novarum is the encyclical written by Pope Leo XII on Capital and Labor.

Pope St. John Paul II said…

Work in General: “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.” (Introduction)

A Threat to Values: “…the danger of treating work as a special kind of “merchandise”, or as an impersonal “force” needed for production (the expression “workforce” is in fact in common use) always exists, especially when the whole way of looking at the question of economics is marked by the premises of materialistic economism.” (Section II, Paragraph 7)

Dignity of Work: “And yet, in spite of all this toil-perhaps, in a sense, because of it-work is a good thing for man. Even though it bears the mark of a bonum arduum, in the terminology of Saint Thomas this does not take away the fact that, as such, it is a good thing for man. It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man’s dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being.” (Section II, Paragraph 9)

Young Karol Wojtya as a young factory worker

(A young Karol Wojtyla as a factory worker)

Work and the Family: “Work constitutes a foundation for the formation of family life, which is a natural right and something that man is called to…In a way, work is a condition for making it possible to found a family, since the family requires the means of subsistence which man normally gains through work. Work and industriousness also influence the whole process of education in the family, for the very reason that everyone “becomes a human being” through, among other things, work, and becoming a human being is precisely the main purpose of the whole process of education.” (Section II; Paragraph 10)

Work and the Church: “Since work in its subjective aspect is always a personal action, an actus personae, it follows that the whole person, body and spirit, participates in it, whether it is manual or intellectual work. It is also to the whole person that the word of the living God is directed, the evangelical message of salvation, in which we find many points which concern human work and which throw particular light on it.” (Section V; Paragraph 24)

Work in Light of the Cross of Christ: “The Christian finds in human work a small part of the Cross of Christ and accepts it in the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted his Cross for us. In work, thanks to the light that penetrates us from the Resurrection of Christ, we always find a glimmer of new life, of the new good, as if it were an announcement of “the new heavens and the new earth” in which man and the world participate precisely through the toil that goes with work. Through toil-and never without it.” (Section V, Paragraph 27)

Let us pray that we have the ability to work well and not feel the need to be victimized and not work. We pray that we have passion and zeal for the work we do and that we offer up our work to God, no matter if it’s working for the Church, teaching in the classroom, financial advisement, painting houses, healing the sick, landscaping, or running a major corporation. Lord Jesus Christ, make our work holy and us holy in return. 

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