Friday, January 28, 2011

Duty to Work - What Does the Church Teach?

Recently, our family was discussing conditions in third world countries such as Haiti. Our guest discussed that it seemed that the people in Haiti didn't understand the common good. That they failed to understand what they do upstream affects those down the river. They failed to understand that washing and using the bathroom upstream wasn't good for the common good of the people downstream. I get that, I really do. I added that another reason many people are not able to thrive is because they lack the freedom to build and thrive, that we had once experimented with building a society based on "the common good", and it wasn't until Captain John Smith quoted the Bible and said, "He who shall not work, shall not eat." At that point, our guest interjected with, "That is the Protestant work ethic." It was news to all of us.

We'd never heard of it, so after our friend left, we looked up the scripture in 2 Thessalonians 3:10. St. Paul says, "In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat." I told my boys that this scripture was in all Bibles-- Catholic and Protestant. We then looked up what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about this same scripture. The Catechism says:

"2427 Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence
work is a duty: "If any one will not work, let him not eat." Work honors the Creator's gifts and the talents received from him. It can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man 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. Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ"

The Church clearly teaches that work is a duty and that work can be a means of sanctification. The Church uses 2 Thessalonians 3:10 as a reference for that teaching.

I looked up the Protestant work ethic and found that the Protestant work ethic isn't even something accepted in all scholarly circles and some sources say it is a capitalist work ethic and later, it gets linked to Marxism, etc. Liberation theology was condemned by the Church because of the many references to Marxism. Is it a stretch to say that a belief in the Protestant work ethic is part of Liberation theology? I don't know, but I find the link interesting. I'm not a theologian nor am I a scholar. After our discussion, I just wanted to know what the Church taught about this scripture.

My answer? I believe what the Bible says and I believe what the Church teaches. Work is a duty and it can be a means of sanctification. This scripture is not linked to the Protestant work ethic (the sites I searched didn't even mention 2 Thessalonians 3:10 - one site mentioned Matthew 6:33). It is curious that this Protestant work ethic is linked to Luther and Weber. Luther believed in sola scriptura and I find it odd that a man who was against the Church because of its teaching on works would then turn around and develop a theory that working hard and aquiring worldly goods showed you had favor with God or was somehow linked to one's salvation.

Our founding fathers knew that men needed freedom to thrive. They knew that work was a duty. Charles Carroll, a Catholic signer of the Declaration, obviously realized this, as well. Captain John Smith had been captured for over a month before returning to the colony. His friends had been killed and he wasn't aure if he would suffer the same fate at the hands of the Indians. When he returned to the colony, it was in chaos. They had already lost too many colonists; the colony was failing after a winter of illness and famine. The colonists all had been working for the "common good". It failed. Not everyone able to work was working. Once Captain John Smith quoted this verse of the Bible, the colony turned around. They paid their debt to England and prospered.

Was Paul saying this scripture applied to those who were lame, sick or unable to work? Nope. He was speaking of those unwilling to work. He was not speaking of those unable to work. The Church tells us it is our duty to work, just as it also calls us to care for the sick, lame and poor. This scripture doesn't take away our obligation to help those in need.

Opus Dei (work of God) is a wonderful prelature of the Catholic Church. I am a cooperator in Opus Dei and have enjoyed the spirituality of Opus Dei for over 13 years now. Finding God in ordinary life. Finding God in our work-- no matter what station in life you are in, your work can be a means of sanctification. I wrote an article once on Scrubbing Toilets for God, where I go into a little bit of how we can make he ordinary life extraordinary by offering our work up to God.

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