Aleteia

Why working (and resting) is an essential part of being human

CHINESE, WOMAN WORKING CONSTRUCTION
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Happy Labor Day. But don’t forget that when it’s time to get back to the grind, we’re reaching down to our pre-Original Sin roots.

We all long for Fridays. Our days of rest are the chance to be really ourselves — do what we like, go where we want, wear what we please. Work is restrictive and while we’re doing it, we can’t be who we really are, deep down.

Or so it’s said.

But in fact, this common mentality is not true. Human beings are made for rest, yes, but we’re also made for work. In that dynamic of work followed by rest, we imitate our Creator, and show forth that we’re made in His image.

John Paul II explained this succinctly in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens.

He says:

The Church finds in the very first pages of the Book of Genesis the source of her conviction that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth. An analysis of these texts makes us aware that they express … the fundamental truths about man, in the context of the mystery of creation itself.

… [T]hey trace out the main lines of his earthly existence, both in the state of original justice and also after the breaking, caused by sin, of the Creator’s original covenant with creation in man.

When man, who had been created “in the image of God…. male and female,” hears the words: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it,” even though these words do not refer directly and explicitly to work, beyond any doubt they indirectly indicate it as an activity for man to carry out in the world. Indeed, they show its very deepest essence.

Man is the image of God partly through the mandate received from his Creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth.

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.

… The expression “subdue the earth” has an immense range. It means all the resources that the earth (and indirectly the visible world) contains and which, through the conscious activity of man, can be discovered and used for his ends. And so these words, placed at the beginning of the Bible, never cease to be relevant. They embrace equally the past ages of civilization and economy, as also the whole of modern reality and future phases of development …

… As man, through his work, becomes more and more the master of the earth, and as he confirms his dominion over the visible world, again through his work, he nevertheless remains in every case and at every phase of this process within the Creator’s original ordering. And this ordering remains necessarily and indissolubly linked with the fact that man was created, as male and female, “in the image of God.” This process is, at the same time, universal: it embraces all human beings, every generation, every phase of economic and cultural development, and at the same time it is a process that takes place within each human being, in each conscious human subject. …

And so these words, placed at the beginning of the Bible, never cease to be relevant.

At the same time, rest is also important, and also a way to imitate the Creator.

As Pope Francis explained in his reflection on the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day, true rest is not about “evasion,” which is too often the modern idea of relaxation.

Instead, he said:

Thus, the day of rest is about “God’s joy for what He has created. It is the day of contemplation and blessing,” the pope said.

Rest, as God commands it for us, is the “moment of contemplation, it is the moment of praise, not escape. It is the time for looking at reality and saying: How beautiful life is! In contrast to rest as flight from reality, the Decalogue places rest as the blessing of reality.”