Work has always been important, but in the past 100-200 years, that importance has taken on new tones. In this blog, we will do a quick survey of key developments in the area of work and careers as they pertain to Christian living.
IN THE BEGINNING …
Work is primal. It has been with us from “in the beginning.” (Gen 1:1).
While the Book of Genesis is largely figurative and was likely never intended by God to serve as a science textbook, it is, nevertheless, inspired. In particular, the order in which events occurred is important.
Mankind was assigned the role of stewardship over God’s creation. Scripture makes clear that man, made in the image and likeness of God, has the means to support and maintain His creation and our society (Gen 1:26). It is particularly true in the form of arts and crafts. This perspective was already present in the Garden even before it was introduced in sacred writings some time later. (A Spirituality of Work: The World of Work Committee; Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. 2001.)
A key for us to understand is that the spiritual nature of work has been part of the human experience from the beginning. Though it is recorded later in Scripture, the spirituality of work was a factor in humanity even before there was inspired Scripture.
Man was actually invited by God to be an important part of His continuing work of creation through stewardship (Gen 1:28-30).
SPIRITUALITY OF WORK …
For nearly 200 years, the Catholic Church has served as the leading “thinker” on the topic of work, spirituality, and humanity. In May 1891, in response to the changing situations taking place in the world of work as a result of the Industrial Revolution, Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum, an encyclical on “the rights and duties of capital and labor.” This pivotal work was foundational to Christian thinking on matters of working-class conflicts and the rights of workers (and the workforce) ever since. It has also helped codify thinking on the human person and human dignity.
Some 90 years later, in September 1981, Pope John Paul II released another hallmark encyclical on the spirituality of work in Laborem Exercens (“Through Work”). This document introduces the idea that work is more than an economic commodity and is not merely an essential activity for survival. Based on a scriptural argument, this important document validates that work is a key part of our human nature.
Of course, a lot of other magazine articles, books, and blogs have been written on the spirituality of work since these two papal encyclicals were introduced to the world, but they remain the cornerstones for the enduring thought that follows about the spiritual nature of our careers and the work we do.
THEOLOGY OF WORK …
In addition to the commentaries on the spirituality of work, a related approach to the workplace has arisen outside the Catholic Church, primarily in this new century. It can be described as a “theology of work” movement which focuses on the satisfying nature of work and the importance of using the workplace (marketplace) as a stage for evangelization. Indeed, much of the current discussions among those pursuing the path of the theology of work is about forming and shaping culture and society starting at work (in the marketplace).
Two ideas seem to drive the theology of work. First, nearly everyone works somewhere, and they do it almost everyday. Even when they’re not in their workplace, most people find themselves in someone else’s workplace daily. Thus the marketplace is important to culture and society.
And second, work and the marketplace were important to Jesus (the carpenter). They were important to the disciples He chose. And they were vital to the transmission of the Good News in the early period following the death of Christ on a cross. In fact, leaders in theology of work movement often cite the large numbers of Scripture verses in the Gospel and elsewhere in the New Testament indicating the importance of the marketplace to the salvific work of Christ and His followers.
SPIRITUALITY AND CAREER …
Outside of the church, we have the academic world with its growing number of theories and theorists attempting to explain what a career is and how people find (discern) their careers (vocations).
These theories are too numerous to list in this article, but classically, they include such ideas as life as career (everything we do is part of our career, often leading to related discussions about balancing the different priorities in life); competing roles; trait-and-skills (we have certain aptitudes and interests which draw us into our life’s work), happenstance and circumstance (“stuff” happens, and career and life is what we experience as a result); and much, much more!
The point here is, while academia does not attempt to connect career in any obvious way to spirituality or Scripture, it does point rather clearly to the existence of something outside the human person — and perhaps beyond our control — that helps influence a person’s career pathways and decisions.
GOING FORWARD …
In this blog, we will examine the spirituality of work. We will consider the nature of career and the impact of vocation (God’s call) on the work we do and the lives we live. We will keep it simple and straightforward.
We believe it’s impossible to have a serious talk about the spirituality or theology of work without delving into the nature of career and vocation. That’s what we will do here.
We won’t have all the answers. Our efforts will incline towards the ordinary, everyday man or woman who faces work and the workplace each day. Together we can hope to make some spiritual sense of what’s going on in the world connected to the Church but beyond the church walls.
With any amount of “blessed luck,” we should have something to say, from time to time, for young people considering a college and life afterwards too.
Pray for us. We’ll pray for you. And let’s start praying together for our careers, our work, our workplaces, and the many workplaces all around us wherever we go.