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Summary: What is "decent" work, and how do we provide it?

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Monday in Easter Week 2010

Caritas in Veritate

In the bright light of the post-Resurrection moment, Peter stood up and told the Jews about “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst.” There were two unavoidable testimonies to Christ in the early days of the Church: First, the works of this unjustly executed Galilean carpenter were fresh in the memories of anyone who saw Him work. Second, His disciples were ready to go to their own deaths rather than deny the fact–the historical fact–of His rising from the dead. And, too, the works they did, including resuscitating the dead, witnessed to the truth of what they said.

The Holy Father talks about work, and quotes his predecessor John Paul II in an appeal for a global coalition in favor of decent work. Moreover, Benedict tells us what decent work is. It expresses the “essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labour; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one's roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living.” (Par 63)

Having been in management, I can see that this is a moral requirement that devolves upon those who structure job descriptions. Men are not machines, no matter what LeMettrie thought in the 18th century. Humans need growth beyond their professional or craftsman skills, growth in love, faith and hope. So one’s work, at the minimum, must at least be structured not to impede growth in love, faith and hope. I stopped selling investments back in the year 2000, rather abruptly, because my long-term analysis of demographics told me that what I was selling was wrong for the demographic implosion that struck us in 2008. There was something systemically wrong with my industry. I shouldn’t have had to leave it in order to respond to the demands of charity and justice, but I did.

I’ve been thinking recently of why it is that the Holy Father–and the Church in general–have been coming under such savage, and utterly undeserved, attack. Yes, the Church stands as a moral rampart against evils like abortion, contraception, and so-called homosexual marriage. But we stand against every social evil. I think people on the left and right are both realizing that this encyclical is truly prophetic, like Humanae Vitae. They realize that government-imposed economic “solutions” usually make things worse. But they also realize that a return to unregulated, free-for-all markets just gives more power to the corrupt and irresponsible. Dare we hope that leaders of business, industry and government might actually read his words? Well, if God could raise Jesus from the dead, He can work that minor miracle, too.


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