The value of work and, moreover, what it means to be a Christian working in today’s society, were themes at a book presentation this week in Rome.
The book “Cos’è il Lavoro? Una Prospettiva Cristiana” (“What is Work? A Christian Perspective”) by the late Lester DeKoster (1916- 2009), tells of the importance of work, as a means, rather than an end, to self fulfillment, which in turn promotes human dignity and one’s relationship with the community.
The book presentation was organized by the think-tank ‘Think-in’, sponsored by Fondazione Centesimus Annus, and supported by the Acton Institute’s Rome office. It was held Tuesday night June 3 at Vatican Radio’s headquarters.
Among those speaking were Msgr. Fabiano Longoni, director of the National Office for Social Problems and Work of the Italian Bishops’ Conference; Francesco Forte, professor emeritus of financial science at Rome’s Sapienza University; Sergio Belardinelli, professor of sociology of culture and communication, University of Bologna ” Alma Mater Studiorum;” and Raffaele Bonanni, secretary-general of CISL, the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions.
Giuseppe Sabella, director of Think-In, a think tank in Milan whose aim is to better understanding of the complicated economic factors of work, who was congratulated by the president of the Italian Republic for his contributions to this book, moderated the event and shared what he hopes this book will achieve.
“Today’s economic situation is so confusing that a book of such simplicity and linearity is getting attention in Italy by leading scholars of the economic and social sciences,” he told Zenit.
“I hope to do something to bring young people close to work, particularly in Italy, where we sometimes exclude them from the labor market, and, therefore, lose them. In fact, many young and very valid candidates choose to work abroad. In many cases, they have no alternative, but this country dramatically needs their talents.”
“Man is called to work, but the work is for the man, the man is not for the work,” are the words which set the stage for this study’s theme in the book’s introduction by Msgr. Giampaolo Crepaldi.
Work is “an economic activity necessary for everyone’s contribution to the common good and plays a fundamental societal role,” Professor Forte said. “A well-ordered society must, therefore, give every man a chance to exert his energy and work to earn a sufficient income for their own needs and their families.”
“Work is often thankless,” he acknowledged, adding “a job can hurt. But it is our ‘cross’, without it we do not serve others, we do not realize ourselves, our life has no meaning and value.”
When asked by ZENIT how the author captured work’s role, he stressed its “undeniable contribution to human dignity” because it is “the means willed by God for the perfecting of the human person and the rule of man over the world.”
“Work,” he added, “has a very important role to “define ourselves” on the basis of the talents that God has given us.” He continued through “our conduct in work,” we “shape our personalities and enrich our skills and experiences.”
With or for
Monsignor Longoni stressed, in his speech, that there are two notions that shed light on how what work’s role should and should not be in the life of man: the idea of working “with” or working “for.” Both of these highlight that although work is an essential activity of man, he should not become a slave to the work. He should work with others, but work for himself, his family, his God, not ‘for’ the work itself, or the profit.
He told ZENIT that “this idea of working ‘for’ and “working ‘with’ is foundational to Catholic social doctrine and is very much present in this text.” He added that “this distinction was very dear to Pope John Paul II” and “is essential because work is not to be an obsession, rather it is an act essential for man, in the service of God. As Pope John Paul had said, man, in God’s image and likeness, is to continue God’s creative works on earth, which are carried out through working activities.”
Work is not just a right, it’s a necessity for man, because man has an inherent desire to have an effect on his reality, he noted.
Msgr. Longoni marveled that “this book, in few, but incredibly concrete words, delivers this message.”
Raffaele Bonanni, a contributor to the book, noted that although providing for oneself and family are necessary, profits are, therefore, not the true goal for man’s willingness to work, rather it is this desire to serve, to construct, in a way pleasing to God.
Although the various speakers often returned to the theme of challenging economic situations, Kishore Jayabalan, director of Rome’s Acton Institute and American publisher, presented, rather, an American perspective.
The discourses of the evening tended to focus on the economic crisis in Europe, especially in Italy, but Jayabalan passionately reminded those gathered how “in America, there has been a lost sense of the meaning of work, especially from a Christian perspective, due to the crisis there and those who don’t have work.”