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Human work involves sharing in Christ's mission

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 20 April 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Among the lay faithful, workers deserve special mention. The Church is aware of the importance of work in human life and recognizes it as an essential component of society at the socio-economic, political and religious level. She considers this latter aspect a primary expression of the "secular character" of the laity (cf. LG 31), most of whom are workers and can find in work the path to holiness. Because of this conviction, the Second Vatican Council considers work from the perspective of the task of salvation, and calls workers to collaborate in the apostolate (cf. LG 41).

2. I dedicated the Encyclical Laborem Exercens and other documents and addresses to this topic, thus seeking to shed light on the value, dignity and dimensions of work in all its exceptional greatness. Here I will only recall that the first reason for this greatness and dignity is that work is a cooperation in God's creative activity. The biblical account of creation teaches us this when it says: "The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it" (Gen 2:15), thus referring to the preceding order to subdue the earth (cf. Gen 1:28). As I wrote in Laborem Exercens: "Man is the image of God partly through the mandate received from his Creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth. In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe" (LE 4).

3. According to the Second Vatican Council (cf. LG 41), work is a path to holiness, because it provides the opportunity:
a) to perfect oneself. Work actually develops man's personality, cultivating his qualities and abilities. We understand this better in our era, with the drama of so many unemployed people who feel their dignity as human persons is diminished. The greatest attention must be paid to this personalist dimension for the sake of all workers. The attempt must be made in every case to ensure working conditions worthy of man.
b) to help one's fellow citizens. Here is the social dimension of work, which is a service for the good of all. This orientation should always be stressed. Work is not a selfish but an altruistic activity; one does not work exclusively for oneself, but also for others.
c) to promote the progress of all society and creation. Work thus attains a historical-eschatological and, one could say, cosmic dimension. Its purpose is to help improve the material conditions of life and the world, aiding humanity in this way to reach the higher goals to which God is calling it. The orientation of work to universal betterment is made more obvious by today's progress. However, much remains to be done in adapting work to these ends desired by the Creator himself.
d) to imitate Christ with active love. We will return to this point.

4. In the light of Genesis, according to which God established and enjoined work in addressing the first human couple (cf. Gen 1:27-28), the intention of so many men and women who work for the good of their families finds its meaning. The love of spouse and children, which inspires and motivates the majority of human beings to work, confers greater dignity on this work and makes it easier and more pleasant to perform, even when it is very toilsome.

In contemporary society too, where the principle of the right of men and women to paid labor holds sway, recognition and appreciation must always be given to the value of the not directly profitable work of many women who devote themselves to the needs of home and family. This work today also has a basic importance for family life and the good of society.

5. Here let it suffice to note this aspect of the issue, in order to move on to a point discussed by the Council which mentions the often toilsome labors (cf. LG 41) that are involved in work, which even today verifies the biblical words: "By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat" (Gen 3:19). As I wrote in Laborem Exercens: "Toil is something that is universally known, for it is universally experienced. It is familiar to those doing physical work under sometimes exceptionally laborious conditions.... It is likewise familiar to those at an intellectual workbench.... It is familiar to women, who, sometimes without proper recognition on the part of society and even of their own families, bear the daily burden and responsibility for their homes and the upbringing of their children" (n. 9).

Here we find not only the ethical but the ascetical dimension, which the Church teaches us to recognize in work. Precisely due to the effort it imposes, work requires the virtues of courage and patience, and thus can become a path to holiness.

6. Precisely because of the toil it implies, work appears more clearly as a task of cooperation with Christ in his redemptive work. Its value, already established by sharing in God's creative work, receives new light when considered as a sharing in Christ's life and mission. We cannot forget that in the Incarnation, God's Son, who became man for our salvation, did not fail to work hard at common labor. Jesus Christ learned the carpenter's trade from Joseph and practiced it until the beginning of his public mission. At Nazareth Jesus was known as "the carpenter's son" (Mt 13:55) or as "the carpenter" himself (Mk 6:3). For this reason too it seems so natural for him to refer in his parables to men's professional work or to women's domestic work, as I noted in Laborem Exercens (n. 26), and to show his esteem for the humblest tasks. It is an important aspect of the mystery of his life. As the Son of God, Jesus could and did confer a supreme dignity on human work. With human hands and human abilities the Son of God worked like us and with us, men of need and daily toil!

7. In the light and by the example of Christ, work takes on for believers its highest purpose, one connected with the paschal mystery. After giving the example of work similar to that of so many other workers, Jesus accomplished the highest work for which he was sent--redemption, culminating in the saving sacrifice of the cross. On Calvary, Jesus offered himself for the salvation of all in obedience to the Father.

Well then, workers are invited to unite themselves with the Savior's work. As the Council says: "They should imitate by their lively charity, in their joyous hope and by their voluntary sharing of each others' burdens, the very Christ who plied his hands with carpenter's tools and who in union with his Father, is continually working for the salvation of all men" (LG 41). Thus the salvific value of work, in some way perceived also in recent centuries by philosophy and sociology, is revealed at a very high level as sharing in the sublime work of redemption.

8. For this reason the Council states that all can, "by their daily work...climb to the heights of holiness and apostolic activity" (LG 41). Here lies the high mission of workers, called to cooperate not only in building a better material world, but also in the spiritual transformation of human and cosmic reality, made possible by the paschal mystery.

Hardship and suffering, stemming from both the toil of work itself and from the social conditions in which it is performed, thus acquire, because of their sharing in Christ's redeeming sacrifice, a supernatural fruitfulness for the entire human race. The words of St. Paul apply to this case too: "Yes, we know that all creation groans and is in agony even until now. Not only that, but we ourselves, although we have the Spirit as first fruits, groan inwardly while we await the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:22-23). This certainty of faith, in the Apostle's historical and eschatological vision, is the basis of his hope-filled assertion: "I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us" (Rom 8:18)."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

J’accueille avec joie les membres de l’Enseignement catholique du diocèse de Fréjus-Toulon, avec leur Evêque, Monseigneur Madec.

J’encourage les enseignants et les parents à poursuivre patiemment leur mission éducative, en faisant de l’école une communauté humaine et chrétienne où chacun peut épanouir sa personnalité, apprendre les valeurs morales qui conduisent au bonheur et développer ses différentes capacités. J’adresse un salut particulier aux jeunes; je souhaite qu’ils découvrent l’amour et le pardon du Christ qui leur fait confiance. A tous les pèlerins, j’accorde de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique!

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome the student officers from the Britannia Royal Naval College in Devon. My greeting likewise goes to the pilgrim groups from Malaysia and Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand. May your visit to Rome deepen your love for Christ’s holy Church. Upon all English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Wales, Sweden, Indonesia, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.

Ad alcuni fedeli nipponici

Rendiamo grazie a Dio! Dilettissimi pellegrini giapponesi, sono lieto di salutarvi.

Come sapete, questo anno è l’“Anno Internazionale della Famiglia”. Amiamo e rispettiamo la vita umana in ogni condizione. Così vuole Dio. Con questo sentimento benedico voi e ogni vostra famiglia.

Nel nome del Padre, del Figlio e dello Spirito Santo. Amen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung heibe ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder aus den deutschsprachigen Ländern, sehr herzlich willkommen. Mein Grub richtet sich an die zahlreichen anwesenden Gruppen, an die Familien und Einzelpilger. Ein besonderer Grub gilt heute der Gruppe ehemaliger Seminaristen im Kriegsgefangenenlager Colchester unter Leitung von Herrn Erzbischof Alois Wagner.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie all jenen, die uns am heutigen Vormittag über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España. En particular, a los fieles de la parroquia María Auxiliadora de San Salvador y a la peregrinación procedente de México.

En este tiempo de Pascua, y en el gozo de Jesús Resucitado, imparto a todos con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Amados peregrinos brasileiros vindos de Campinas, e quantos de língua portuguesa aqui se encontram: pensai que o Filho de Deus trabalhou, como nós e connosco, homens e mulheres sujeitos às necessidades e à fadiga quotidiana. À luz do exemplo que Ele nos deixou - a sua vida consumada até ao fim pela salvação da humanidade -, procurai, na vossa ocupação diária, as metas da santidade, mediante a oferta ao Pai Celeste do vosso trabalho e de vós próprios pela salvação e felicidade daqueles que aos vossos cuidados Ele deixou. Para vós e para os vossos, uma particular Bênção Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Nel rivolgere ora un cordiale pensiero ai numerosi pellegrini di lingua italiana, desidero ricordare il gruppo di fedeli della parrocchia di Santa Maria Assunta, in Montalto di Castro, che celebra il centenario della “Madonna della Vittoria”, Patrona del loro Paese.

Saluto, inoltre, i membri del gruppo sportivo “Amore e Vita - Fanini Team”, venuti a farmi visita in preparazione al “Giro d’Italia” e tutti i militari presenti a questa udienza, in particolare gli Ufficiali, Sottufficiali, Cavalieri e Dipendenti della Scuola di Cavalleria di Montelibretti, come pure i membri dell’Aeronautica di Prato.

Saluto, poi, le Religiose partecipanti al Convegno promosso dalla Federazione Italiana Religiose Operatrici Sanitarie e l’Associazione ex allievi di don Orione di Napoli, che ricorda il 50o di fondazione.

Carissimi, assicuro di cuore a ciascuno la mia costante preghiera perché il Signore accompagni e sostenga il cammino di ogni gruppo e comunità qui presenti.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Prego soprattutto per voi, giovani, malati e sposi novelli.

In questo periodo pasquale, che ci invita a meditare sul mistero della Risurrezione di Cristo, possa la gloria del Signore essere sorgente per ognuno di nuove energie nel cammino verso la salvezza. Aiuti voi, giovani, nel seguire fedelmente il Vangelo; sostenga voi, ammalati, ad accettare il peso quotidiano della croce e della sofferenza vissuta per amore; e guidi voi, sposi novelli, a fondare solide famiglie nel segno della verità evangelica.

Con tali auspici, imparto a tutti la mia Apostolica Benedizione.

Accorato appello affinché tacciano le armi nella martoriata città di Gorazde: un naufragio dell’umanità

La nostra festosa assemblea post-pasquale è rattristata dalle notizie che giungono dalla città di Gorazde, vittima da tanti mesi di un disumano assedio.

Colpisce il fatto che l’assalto alla martoriata città è continuato nonostante l’accordo sul cessate-il-fuoco raggiunto e la tregua promessa dagli assedianti.

Desidero levare con insistenza il mio accorato appello alle parti affinché si attengano agli impegni assunti ed evitino a quelle popolazioni ulteriori inutili sofferenze.

Prego Iddio perché tutti i responsabili, compresi quelli della Comunità internazionale, si adoperino perché tacciano le armi, riprendano le trattative e si giunga presto alla tanto attesa pace in Bosnia ed Erzegovina. Nessuno può rimanere non coinvolto da un tale naufragio della civile convivenza e, oso dire, della stessa umanità.

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