Back To Work

Jesus With Carpenter - artist Bandu Dudhat
After two months of being unemployed, I'm finally back to work! It's a good feeling. Not being at work made me rather lazy, I'm afraid.

We are made to be creative and productive. It's imperative for us to feel valued and part of something. That "something" might be volunteer work, it might be caring for young children at home, it might be rocket science.

In 1981, St. John Paul II wrote the encyclical Laborem Exercens. There is a section on work and human dignity.

God's fundamental and original intention with regard to man, whom he created in his image and after his likeness15, was not withdrawn or cancelled out even when man, having broken the original covenant with God, heard the words: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread"16. These words refer to the sometimes heavy toil that from then onwards has accompanied human work; but they do not alter the fact that work is the means whereby man achieves that "dominion" which is proper to him over the visible world, by "subjecting" the earth. Toil is something that is universally known, for it is universally experienced. It is familiar to those doing physical work under sometimes exceptionally laborious conditions. It is familiar not only to agricultural workers, who spend long days working the land, which sometimes "bears thorns and thistles"17, but also to those who work in mines and quarries, to steel-workers at their blast-furnaces, to those who work in builders' yards and in construction work, often in danger of injury or death. It is likewise familiar to those at an intellectual workbench; to scientists; to those who bear the burden of grave responsibility for decisions that will have a vast impact on society. It is familiar to doctors and nurses, who spend days and nights at their patients' bedside. It is familiar to women, who, sometimes without proper recognition on the part of society and even of their own families, bear the daily burden and responsibility for their homes and the upbringing of their children. It is familiar to all workers and, since work is a universal calling, it is familiar to everyone.

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 Thomas18, 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".

He reminds us that - from the Fall - man was doomed to toil. (And St. John Paul was no stranger to toil. He worked in the mines in Poland during WWII, walking miles and miles to and from this dangerous and dirty job.) However, he says, work is good. If work is dignified, if work is ethical, it is not only good, it elevates us. We move from simply being a cog in a machine to a fuller expression of our human nature.

I'm happy to be sitting at a desk, absorbing new information, feeling like a part of a team. Work is good.

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