The Deeper Meaning of Work and Play

Interview with Economist Antonio Argandona

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BARCELONA, Spain, FEB. 17, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Is it good to work a lot? And for a Christian, what is the meaning of work?

“To work too much can be damaging when it is done simply for reasons of economic gain, or personal egoism, but it can be very good when done with the intention to serve society,” says economist Antonio Argandona.

Professor Argandona holds the chair of Ethics and Economics at the IESE Business School, an entity of the University of Navarre located in Barcelona, and one of the most prestigious schools in Europe.

Q: What is the spirituality of work?

Argandona: The spirituality of work consists in basing an intensely lived Christian religious life, assumed with all its consequences, which penetrates the whole of life, on the knowledge that God calls man to a vocation of communion with him and of service to others in and through work, through daily realities.

Q: Excess of work is praised in our society. Do you think this is healthy?

Argandona: If it is an excess, it cannot be healthy, of course. At times our society approves the culture of leisure, at others the culture of work, but it does not always offer sufficient reason for either.

To work a lot may be damaging when it is done for the simple reason of economic gain, or personal egoism, but it can be very good when it is done with the knowledge of service to society in which there are many needs that merit attention — and not only through remunerated professional work for another’s account, but through many other activities that entail service to others.

Q: What is the meaning of work in the teachings of St. Josemaría Escrivá, who was known, among other things, for his contribution to spirituality in the world of professional work?

Argandona: St. Josemaría Escrivá preached a profound spirituality of work, just as I defined it earlier; an ideal of holiness in the world, a concrete expression of the vocation that God gives to each man and woman, precisely through work, through ordinary life.

His message was that work — everyday life — is an occasion of encounter with God, of development and maturation of one’s life, of building the city of men and of service to others.

He condensed all this in a three-point program, which he proposed to all men and women: to sanctify work, to be sanctified by work, and to sanctify others with work.

To sanctify work means, in the first place, to do it well, with professional competence; if one is a believer, as a service to God and, whether or not a believer, also in service of others.

To be sanctified through work means to develop one’s human and supernatural capacities precisely in ordinary life, which becomes an occasion of encounter with God and the practice of virtues.

And to sanctify others with work implies to give professional activity a sense of service to others, of building the society in which we live, and of preparing a better world for those who will come after.

Q: Have we lost the meaning of free time?

Argandona: It seems that we have lost the meaning of our life and with it, that of all its activities.

We have a right to free time, because it is a necessity, first, to restore our physical and psychic strength; second, for our own development as persons; and third, as the area where we express our sociability beyond what the very sociability of work demands.

However, free time must not be an egotistical time, for me, for my comfort, my pleasure, or my complacency.

Free time has meaning in the totality of the life of a person, according to the work that must be sanctified — and in this way, free time can also be sanctified — of service to others, beginning with the family; the development of one’s culture, etc.

Q: How can one’s ludic aspect be revalued as an integral part of oneself?

Argandona: Through the recovery of the unity of life, as St. Josemaría Escrivá proposed.

It does not mean to convert life into a game, so that it is more pleasant, but in giving a sense of unity to the whole of life, to rest and work, to social relations and family life. When the end is clear — the divine call to holiness — all activities acquire meaning, each one preserving the function that is proper to it.

Q: From a Christian point of view, does work have a communal dimension that is forgotten today?

Argandona: Work has always had a communal dimension; it has always been a task done with and for others.

In our society, perhaps, priority is given to its individual dimension, which is a distortion.

Today, what seems to be important is the economic effectiveness of work, its performance in terms of income or status, its contribution to personal fulfillment. And that is important, but it is only part of the meaning of work.

Even in an individualist society, workers want their work to be of usefulness to others, a social vocation.

The very fact that we classify our work as “professional” shows that communal dimension: a profession or occupation is not a mere job, but a way of understanding each one’s participation in social responsibilities, in keeping with the accepted deontological and professional rules.

And, finally, the social function of work is projected as a service to the local community, the nation, and even the whole of humanity.

Work is the principal way — although not the only way — that the majority of people have within their reach to build the society and leave their mark in the world.

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