At the start of this month, the Catholic Church celebrated the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, reminding the faithful and the world about the dignity inherent in human work. Human work enables us to emulate our Creator. We use His gifts to provide sustenance and comfort to ourselves and our families and to craft things new and beautiful from the gifts of the earth.
St. Pope John Paul II, in Laborem Exercens, reminds us that “Work is one of the characteristics that distinguishes man from the rest of creatures”, and adds “work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons.”
When we work, we enter a community of people, and our labour, joined with the labour of our co-workers, creates great things. The essential element which makes work special is not the material object created or the service provided, but rather the change which occurs in the person. Work gives purpose and dignity to the worker and allows them to co-operate with others to achieve some task. Work builds communion among mankind and allows the worker to continue participating in God’s act of creation.
That sense of community has been affected by the recent pandemic. For those working at home, there may still be a sense of striving towards a common goal, though in many cases the bond may have been weakened by lack of propinquity. For those who have been furloughed or who have lost their jobs, those bonds are severed, and their dignity is wounded by the fact they were made redundant.As the pandemic comes under control and countries begin to reopen their economies and try to regain some sense of normality, the world’s governments have and will continue to provide vast amounts of financial aid to support their economies. It is important that those crafting these aid packages make provisions to ensure people who have lost their jobs are given the opportunity for gainful employment, whether with their old employer or with someone new. The money being spent should not weaken incentives or the normal economic processes that encourage employment. It should go towards strengthening the social good of work and be earmarked to help the workers most impacted to ensure the economy moves back to a state in which employment is available for all who are able to work and whose family situation is such that work outside the home is appropriate.There is more to life than work and work need not be only labour for wages. It must be recognised that any work, whether in the marketplace or in the home, is important for both body and soul. The Catholic Church recognises this and reminds us that the economy was made to serve man, not the other way around. As John Paul II wrote in Laborem Exercens, work is “judged above all by the measure of the dignity of the subject of work, that is to say the person, the individual who carries it out.”The importance of the goods of work – economically, socially and for man’s personal fulfillment and development – have come into focus during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This must be remembered as over the next few months the world begins to rebuild its economic structures. The centre and purpose of the economy must be humanity, and the importance of work to humanity must be recognised as we carry out the task ahead of us.
About the author: Steve Nakrsosis
Stephen Nakrosis is currently working toward his D Phil in Theology at St. Mary’s University. He works as a reporter for a financial newswire in New York City.