For Catholic Social Teaching, work means participation in the divine call to subdue the earth. “Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called up to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another (CCC, n. 2427). “The earth, by reason of its fruitfulness and its capacity to satisfy human needs, is God’s first gift for the sustenance of human life. But the earth does not yield his fruits without a particular response to God’s gift, that is to say, without work.. It is through work that man [or woman] using his [or her] intelligence and exercising his [or her] freedom, succeeds in dominating the earth and making it a fitting home” (CA, n. 31).
Human work is not only a response to God’s call to subdue the earth but also a participation in the salvific work of Christ. “By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man [or woman] collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish” (CCC, n 2427). In this sense, human work is redemptive. If done with deep sense of humility and awareness of the suffering of Christ, work can lead to sanctification. Thus, the Church speaks of spirituality of work—to show that any work can be a means of holiness towards God.
Moreover, human work enables man or woman to acquire private ownership to fulfill his economic needs. It is only through work that he or she “makes part of the earth his [or her] own, precisely the part which he [or she] has acquired through work” (CA, n. 31). Work allows him or her to acquire the fruits of the earth or material goods to sustain his or her own personal and family needs. Without work, man or woman cannot fulfill his or her divine calling and demeans himself or herself in the process.
Lastly, human work is an obligation, a duty on the part of man [or woman]. Thus, the Bible says: “If any one will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thes 3:10). “Man [or woman] must work, both because the creator has commanded it and because of his [or her] humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man [or woman] must work out of regard for others, especially his family, but also for the society he [or she] belongs….” (Laborem Exercens, n. 73).
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