How Does Your Work Reflect Your Dignity as a Human Person?

My priest, Fr. Roy Regaspi, has granted me permission to post this article that he wrote for our church bulletin.

Pope John XXIII in his 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher): Human work is “an expression of the human person.” Pope Paul VI in his several encyclicals began emphasizing the theme that work is both co-creation (as man cooperates with God) and a share in the redemption (as workers try to repair the consequences of the Fall).

Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Laborem Excercens (On Human Work) asks every Christian to examine “the place that his work has not only in the earthly progress but also in the development of the kingdom of God” (LE, 27).

People often view work as a chore, a necessary but not enjoyable reality of life. In this view, work is a toil – it is difficult, challenging, wearing and slavery. This view legitimately reflects part of the reality of work. In the Book of Genesis, the toil of work is portrayed as one of the consequences of humankind’s separation from God.

But Christian justice has a different view on work, one that says work still has the potential to be very good. Before I returned to the seminary formation, I worked for the Philippine government, ventured in business, taught at universities and seminary. Those works gave me money to eat, travel, pay my bills… They were “jobs” for me but they were my unpretentious service fulfilling the needs of my family and community, promoting the common good and participating in God’s creation. My personal encounters with my co-workers would always be priceless learning experiences and growth.

My mother was a seamstress. She did all my vestments before my ordination to the priesthood. She would make sure that my vestments will be done perfectly. I know that it is not so much about the vestments that she cares about; it is about the prayers and labors of her love for God that she embedded into those vestments. It is her son who will use those vestments. It is about the people who will be drawn to Jesus in prayer every time I wear them during liturgical celebrations. Work is a way for us to provide something good and useful to others.

Although the narrative found in Genesis uses phrases “subdue the earth” and “have dominion,” the role assigned to humans is not really domineering. Humans are given creation to “cultivate and care for it” (Genesis 2:15).

St. Paul instructs us that “if anyone who is not willing to work, he should not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Because work is necessary to maintain life-giving relationships, all people have the responsibility to work. But justice says that whenever people have the responsibility to do something, they also have corresponding right to do it.

We should not treat workers like machines. At the root of unjust working conditions is an attitude that regards workers as nothing more than a means of production – a way of producing goods and services. This kind of treatment signals dehumanizing of workforce. Workers are seen as tools, not as persons, and their treatment is determined solely by economic considerations.

Unemployment and underemployment not only harm the worker financially but also harm him spiritually as a person. The consequences of unemployment can be devastating. It could also mean loss of a sense of personal dignity. Long-term unemployment has the potential to cause great harm to families. In addition to causing financial hardship, it can lead to alcohol abuse, domestic violence and divorce.

The land owner asked the laborers, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They answered, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-7). Even Jesus worked for thirty years in Joseph’s carpenter shop; many of his disciples are drawn from the ranks of fishermen and agricultural workers. Christ’s parables sometimes refer to these workmen and their obligations toward one another and to the stewardship of creation. Yet Christ also warns us about being too anxious and preoccupied about the merely earthly goods and even forget coming to the Church on Sundays. He reminds us, his disciples that the more important labor is to store up treasures in heaven especially by frequently doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Remember to always bring Jesus Christ not only in your heart and mind but also in your workplaces.

Love,

Fr. Roy Regaspi