Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Introduction to the Compendium of
My caller was taking me to task for publishing an article that he felt involved the Church in politics. "Your newspaper should stay out of politics. Stick to evangelization."
Of course, the WCR publishes articles every week that assume the Church has something to contribute to political discussion. This whole series of articles is about the relationship between the Church and social and political issues.
It is usually only when people don't like what the Church is saying on some particular issue that they are moved to say the Church should stay out of politics. When they do like what the Church is saying, they often tell me that they think we should publish more about what the Church is saying on that issue.
Nevertheless, my caller's attitude is one I suspect that is still common in our Catholic community. Some people feel that faith is something to be lived during the Sunday Eucharist and through personal prayer and then to be stuck in the closet.
In his 1988 letter on the role of the laity, Pope John Paul II called this attitude "the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel's acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world" (n. 2).
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is the Church's attempt to apply the Gospel to all aspects of life - the family, work, the economy, politics, world order, peace and the environment. It is a truncated understanding of the faith that would see the faith as restricted to prayer and the sacraments and having no implications for all these other areas of life.
After discussing Church teaching on the family in the past five issues of the WCR, this series of articles now moves on to examine the Compendium's treatment of human work.
The Compendium says that if we want to understand the meaning of work, we should first understand the Sabbath - the day of no work.
The Sabbath is living testimony that man should not be enslaved by work. It is a day that testifies, "The treasures of the earth are, in fact, consumed, while those in heaven are imperishable" (n. 260). The earthly Sabbath points to the eternal Sabbath and encourages us not to be anxious about worldly things.
Part of celebrating the Sabbath is for workers to have time away from work with their families and for worship. It is a liberation from unrelenting toil. "The Sabbath rest, besides making it possible for people to participate in the worship of God, was instituted in defence of the poor" (n. 258).
The Sabbath is a sign that the noblest meaning of work is "freeing people from evil, practising brotherhood and sharing" (n. 261).
We can be tempted to see work as unrelenting toil, as punishment, as something cut off from our life in Christ. But even the most monotonous or menial jobs share in God's creativity.
God entrusted to humanity "the task of subduing the earth and exercising dominion over every living creature" (n. 255). Our work - not just our jobs, but all our efforts on behalf of the family and community - is a godly mission. Every worker is the hand of Christ, according to St. Ambrose. Through work, we participate in both creation and redemption.
Work is a sign of man's grandeur. It has a place of honour because through it we can create a decent life for ourselves and defend against poverty. We should "be dependent on nobody" (1 Thessalonians 4:12) and share the fruits of our labour with "those in need" (Ephesians 4:28).
The Compendium briefly traces the history of the Church's teaching on work. As agricultural societies declined in the face of the Industrial Revolution, the Church began to address the exploitation that grew out of social change. It defended the dignity of workers, announced their right to own property and said they had a right to form unions.
Pope John Paul explored the subjective dimension of what it means to be a worker and gave strong and concrete defence to the rights of workers in Poland and elsewhere.
Work and the issues associated with it are a profoundly Christian concern. Faith cannot be stuck in the closet after Sunday Mass only to be brought out and cleaned up the following Sunday. True faith flows through everything we do - from family life, to work, to politics.
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