The Need to Work
by Jeff Montgomery
On my way back to work from lunch the other day, I passed a man standing on the corner of the freeway exit ramp and the street. He didn't look like a street person - his clothes were clean and he seemed fairly well groomed. As I passed him (the light was green and I couldn't stop) I managed to catch a glimpse of the sign he was holding.
At the top of the sign were the words 'Need Work'. Below that was an appeal for money.
Many people carry a good deal of cynicism about these folks that stand on the street corner, figuring that the person is just there looking for a handout, and not really interested in doing work. While that's probably true in some cases, I think most of the time these people are looking to fill a legitimate and eternal human need - the need to work.
God created us to be productive. He created us to work. It's intrinsic in our nature, and for most of us a lack of work is a major problem not only financially but spiritually. The Catholic Church has long taught that work is a vital part of our existence.
Pope John Paul II talks about this intrinsic need to work in his 1981 Encyclical On Human Work, (Laborum Exercens). In this passage, the Pope notes that from the very beginning God infused us with the need to work:
"When man, who had been created "in the image of God.... male and female", hears the words: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it", even though these words do not refer directly and explicitly to work, beyond any doubt they indirectly indicate it as an activity for man to carry out in the world. Indeed, they show its very deepest essence. Man is the image of God partly through the mandate received from his Creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth. In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe" (Section II, Part 4).
In other words, through the act of working, we are reflecting some of the creative actions of God. In a sense, we share in the creative process by exercising our ability to work. Of course, we can't create something from nothing like God can, but we can use the things of the earth that God has provided us in our work to create or produce useful things.
So from the very beginning, from our very creation, God has powered us up with a desire for work. When we lack work, we're filled with an emptiness. This emptiness comes from the spiritual hunger that results when we aren't fulfilling God's will in our lives.
Think about other ways in which we have spiritual hungers. We all know people who pursue pleasure over anything else. Parties, entertainment, promiscuity - all things that some people seek. But ultimately this leaves you feeling empty, because that's not why God put us here. The inner spiritual hunger is never filled by these pleasures but only by seeking out the pleasure of God.
It's a similar thing with work. Work is built into our skin and bones. God didn't create us in His image to just hang around until we die. So when we find ourselves out of work, we have a certain kind of emptiness that most of us need to have filled, even to the point of taking lesser-paying jobs, or jobs that may not be as challenging. Some of our brothers and sisters are just happy to have ANY work.
Satisfying this spiritual hunger is almost an unconscious drive. We don't question it, or even intellectualize it. It just 'is'. If we don't have work, we feel a need to find it.
Even Jesus had this same desire. If we think about His life, we see that most of it was spent living out a life similar to most other Jewish men. The lack of details about His early adult years can only lead us to conclude that He was probably learning the carpentry trade from Joseph, His earthly Father.
One of my favorite scenes from The Passion of the Christ shows Jesus building a table. Here's our Lord and Savior engaging in manual labor to produce a rich man's table. He didn't have to do it that way. After all He could have just willed the table into existence, but He chose to go with His human nature and build it like any of us would (well, not me - I couldn't build a table if my life depended on it).
God himself, in the person of Jesus, valued work so highly that He deemed it worthwhile to work - to build a table using His own two hands - not to mention the humility of the Son of God carrying out this task of labor for a wealthy man. He was, in all things, obedient to His Father's purpose for His life.
Because God willed it into us, the desire to work is intrinsically good in more than just a financial sense. When we're doing productive things and living out our mandate to 'subdue the earth', we're fulfilling a deep hunger to exercise one of the most basic desires that God built into us
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