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Theology of Work

By Mark Carmino,
Catholics in the Workplace

Contrary to what we may sometimes think, work itself is not punishment for the sin of Adam and Eve. But rather, because of the Fall, God cursed the Earth and we work by the sweat of our brows (Gen 3).

Pope St John Paul II, in his encyclical, Laborem Exercens (1981), argues that human labour is not in itself a punishment for sin. Work is our participation in God’s creating, governing, and redeeming ‘labour’.

He states “By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ by carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform.”

Genesis teaches us that God created man in His image and likeness to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”. He put man in the garden to till it and in doing so continue His work of creation. God created the world out of nothing (ex-nihilo), and we add value to God’s creation by our daily work.

The incarnate Son of God continued the work of His Father and said, “My Father is working until now and I am working” (Jn 5:17) and “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (Jn 4:34).

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul commanded them to keep away from idle and disruptive people and follow his example as he worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that he would not be a burden to them. He even went as far as to say, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Work comes in all shapes and sizes (white-collar workers, students, teachers, homemakers) and does not just involve manual labour nor always attract monetary payment.

Ken Costa in his God at Work video series ( lists the various ways God describes himself: gardener (Jn 15:1), artist (Gen 1:1), potter (Isa 64:8), shepherd (Jn 10:11), homemaker (Heb 3:1-6), builder (Psalm 127:1). We should see our work as a calling from God, a vocation to be carried out as ministry to God and humanity. The example we set by the excellence in our daily toils, whatever they may be, provides opportunities for evangelisation as it helps to spread the gospel to co-workers, family members, and others.

The Hebrew word avodah means both work and worship. We worship God by being the best we could be in our work. Whatever work we conduct, we should do it with all our heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters (Col 3:23). When done for the honour of God, all work is good.


God first in all things—For employers and employees

While employees should always strive for excellence, employers must treat them with respect and dignity with a fair wage and appropriate working conditions. This was made clear by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum which addressed the harsh working conditions labourers endured during the industrial revolution in that era.

The Catholic Church is not a building but a communion of the faithful wherever they may be: at home, school, or the workplace. Where God’s people are found, there the mission of the Church lives.

As Catholics we must put God first in all areas of our lives and this includes the workplace where we spend so much of our time. We must be courageous enough to consistently put God ahead of the ‘Boss’ and decline requests that are contrary to our Catholic teaching and beliefs.

Our co-workers should know we are Christians by our love, patience, forgiveness, and respect.

The following statement concerning the laity from The Second Vatican Council sums it up for us: “For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.