Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience on 19 August in Paul VI Hall:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
After reflecting on the value of celebrations in family life, today we pause on a complementary element, which is that of work. Both celebration and work are part of the creative design of God.
Work, it is commonly said, is necessary to maintain the family, for the children to grow, to ensure a dignified life to one’s dear ones. The best thing that can be said about a serious and honest person is: “He is a worker,” in fact, he is really one who works, he is one that doesn’t live off the backs of others. There are so many Argentines today, I have seen, and I will say as we say: “no vive de arriba” (who don’t live supported by others). You understand?
And, in fact, work, in its many forms, beginning with household work, also cares for the common good. And where does one learn this hard-working lifestyle? It is learned first of all in the family. The family educates how to work with the example of the parents: the father and mother that work for the good of the family and of society.
In the Gospel, the Holy Family of Nazareth appears as a family of workers, and Jesus himself is called “son of the carpenter” (Matthew 13:55) or actually “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3). And Saint Paul does not fail to admonish Christians: “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). This is a good recipe for losing weight: don’t work, don’t eat!
The Apostle is referring explicitly to the false spiritualism of some that, in fact, live on the backs of their brothers and sisters “without doing anything,” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). In the Christian concept, the commitment of work and the life of the spirit are not at all opposed to one another. It is important to understand this well! Prayer and work can and must be together in harmony, as Saint Benedict teaches. Lack of work also harms the spirit, as lack of prayer also harms practical activity.
To work – I repeat, in a thousand ways – is proper to the human person. It expresses his dignity of being created in the image of God. Therefore, it is said that work is sacred. And, consequently, the management of employment is a great human and social responsibility, which cannot be left in the hands of a few or discharged on a divinized “market.” Causing the loss of jobs means creating serious social damage. I am saddened when I see that there are people without work, who don’t find work, and don’t have the dignity of bringing the bread home. And I rejoice so much when I see that some [political] leaders make many efforts to find jobs and see that all have work. Work is sacred. Work gives dignity to a family. We must pray that work is not lacking in a family.
Therefore, like celebration, work is also part of the design of God the Creator. In the Book of Genesis, the subject of the earth as home-garden, entrusted to the care and work of man (23:8.15), is anticipated with a very touching passage: “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground” (2:4b-6a). It’s not romanticism, it is a revelation of God; and we have the responsibility to understand and assimilate it in depth. The Encyclical Laudato Si’, which proposes an integral ecology, also contains this message: the beauty of the earth and the dignity of work are made to be combined; both go together: the earth becomes good when it is worked by man. When work is detached from God’s covenant with man and woman, when it is separated from its spiritual qualities, when it is hostage to the sole logic of profit and scorns the affections of life, the humiliation of the soul contaminates everything: even the air, the water, the grass, the food … Civil life is corrupted and the habitat is damaged. And the consequences strike, above all, the poorest and the poorest families. The modern organization of work sometimes shows a dangerous tendency to consider the family a burden, a weight, a passive [element] for the productivity of work. But we ask ourselves: what productivity? And for whom? The so-called “smart city” is, without a doubt, rich in services and organization; however, it is often hostile, for instance, to children and the elderly.
Sometimes one who plans is interested in the management of the individual workforce, in assembling and using or discarding according to the economic convenience. The family is a great test bench. When the organization of work holds it hostage or, in fact, places obstacles in its way, then we are certain that the human society has begun to work against itself!
Christian families receive from this circumstance a great challenge and a great mission. They bring to the field the fundamentals of God’s creation: the identity and bond of man and woman, the generation of children, the work that renders the earth domestic and the world habitable. The loss of these fundamentals is a very serious affair, and in the common home there are already too many cracks! The task isn’t easy. At times, it might seem to family associations, that they are like David before Goliath … but we know how that challenge ended! Faith and shrewdness are needed. In this difficult moment of our history, may God grant us to receive his call to work with joy and hope, to give dignity to oneself and to one’s family.