Throughout my collegiate business classes it was common to hear the terms “value added” and “return on investment” when discussing organizational performance. Businesses charge people for value added services and put metrics in place to measure the efficiency of resources, whether people or money. While these models may not be objectionable in themselves, the pursuit of higher profits and maximum productivity of capital (human and monetary) can leave you questioning the dignity of work and “what it’s all for.”
In recent times, my view on work has shifted from being purely a money-making venture to one where nourishment for mind and heart take precedent. Working provides opportunities to continue educating and strengthening ourselves and we would do well to value it for providing those opportunities. While at the Center for FaithJustice office, I grow through fellowship with co-workers, as we tackle new challenges, such as bringing our WorX programs to more participants. I’ve come to see (perhaps despite my business background) that the necessity and quality of a program is determined not by its net profit but by its benefit to society. The work we do each day doesn’t just put a paycheck in our bank account — it allows us to participate in the world beyond our immediate reality.
When I read through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Themes of Social Teaching, I was immediately drawn to the section on the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers, in particular the idea that “[w]ork is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.” Indeed, we can expand the concept of work here to include those activities outside of a job that help keep a household functioning. At home with my family, opportunities abound to help my mom weed the garden or learn how to sheetrock a room with my dad. Working on these projects is time spent participating in God’s creation. Various forms of work offer the opportunity to strengthen the bond between mother and son, care for the poor and sick, and participate in community.
Sister Joan Chittister, OSB has put forth seven characteristics for a spirituality of work and I can’t help but notice the call to community that underlies these characteristics. While many of her components include phrases like “personal stamp of approval,” “our own creativity,” and “creating our private world anew,” the end game is something bigger than personal gain. Each of us relies on our communities for safety and support and we, in turn, bring our individual abilities to work for a common good. Through the steady, everyday work of many people trying to effect positive change, the community enjoys the fruits of labor.
I’ve witnessed this mutuality between individual and community again this summer through our LeaderworX volunteers. The hours are long and filled with many challenges, so it can be hard to understand why they would spend an entire summer immersed in this program. Yet when I talk to them I realize that they see LeaderworX as an important expression of their faith, need for fellowship, and desire to participate in the creation of something good. It’s about seeing God in the actions of a sixth grader who struggles her first day visiting a nursing home but later in the week opens her heart to the experience. It’s about raising awareness of issues of social justice each day as WorX participants decide what kinds of foods to eat, how to treat forgotten members of our society, and how to live faithfully in the world.
Work, whether on the job, at the volunteer site, or within the household offers us countless ways to enrich our souls, engage in fellowship, and take part in God’s creation. Work is an act of self-expression that connects us with society’s pursuit of the common good. And that is what it’s all for.