The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
February 28, 2020
Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.
~USCCB, Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions,1998
This month, our Catholic social teaching theme is The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers. The Church teaches that work is a way we honor our Creator and the gifts and talents we have from him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.” It is imperative that we work to ensure all have access to work and fair compensation for that work.
Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Laborem Exorcens, On Human Work, wrote about the wonderful things that our work produces which can enhance human life. Through our ability to work, we share in the creative nature of God which creates honor and dignity. But we diminish the dignity of work when we treat workers as mere tools to serve a monetary purpose; in doing so, we dehumanize our workers. All who can work should be given the opportunity to do so, and that work should yield fair and just wages.
For Saint Benedict, founder of Western monasticism, the purpose of work was not to make money or to be boastful about our abilities; the purpose of work is to serve the community and grow closer to God. Within St. Benedict’s Rule, even the sick and infirm were encouraged to do work within their capabilities to keep them busy and to give them dignity.
There are times in society when people who can work do not have the opportunity to do so, or when given the opportunity to work, people are not given fair wages for their work. The Catholic Church calls us to work toward creating a more just economy which can honor the dignity of work, and there are several things we can do with great love to help make that happen. When making purchases, consider if the price is a fair representation of the work that went into that item. Knowing that we live in a global economy, we should ask ourselves if the lowest price is the best price. Research the working conditions and wages for workers within the companies whose brands you purchase. As St. Benedict said, if you can work, you should. Even if you don’t have a job outside of your home, consider what work you can do to serve your family, your neighbors, or your parish community. How can you put the gifts and talents that God has given you to work to serve those around you? Unload the dishwasher, do a load of laundry, shovel your neighbor’s driveway. Do this work without being asked, and do it with great love.