Thoughts from a Working Person’s Pope

Faith and Work in Cyberspace–April 18, 2005

Thoughts from a Working Person’s Pope

(from Initiatives special edition number 148)

Greg Pierce – National Center for the Laity and ACTA Publishing 

Lost amid the accolades about Pope John Paul II might be his greatest legacy: his theology and spirituality of work. Below are 10 great quotes from JPII that show the depth and breadth of his understanding of work. In my opinion, this will be his greatest legacy.  

These quotes are from the special issue of the Initiatives newsletter put out by cyberspacer Bill Droel for the National Center for the Laity. If you want to receive a copy of that newsletter, either electronically or in hard copy, please send me an e-mail and I will have it forwarded to you. (Any cyberspacer worth his or her salt already subscribes to Initiatives, of course.)

Here are my favorite quotes from Pope John Paul II on work: 

 (Slightly edited for consistent pronouns. The pope, at least in translation, sometimes spoke in the third person; sometimes in the first.) 

I come from your midst. I come from the quarries of Zakrzowek, from the Solvay furnaces in Borek Falecki, and then from Nowa Huta. Through all these surroundings, through my own experience of work, I boldly say that I learned the gospel anew.–Homily in Nowa Huta, Poland, July 1979

I know very well that work should not alienate and frustrate, but should correspond to people’s higher dignity. –Talk in Monterrey, Mexico, January 1979 

Work is good for us. Through work we not only transform nature, adapting it to our needs, but we also achieve fulfillment as human beings and indeed in a sense become more human. –Homily in Monterey, California, September 1987 

Work must not be a mere necessity, but it must be considered a real vocation. –Talk in Guadalajara, Mexico, January 1979 

I come to announce the gospel of work. –Talk in Barcelona, Spain, November 1982

It must be said over and over again that work is for man, not man for work…The worker is always more important than profits and machines. –Talk in Sydney, Australia, November 1986 

The Son of God became man and worked with human hands…. So we know, not only by reason alone but through revelation, that through their work people share in the Creator’s work. We continue it and, in a sense, perfect it by our own work, our toil, by daily effort to wrest a livelihood from the earth, or from the sea, or by applying energy to the many different processes of production…. Indeed, we Christians are convinced that the achievements of the human race—in art, science, culture and technology—are a sign of God’s greatness and the flowering of God’s mysterious design. –Talk in Pusan, South Korea, May 1984 

Enter the house of Nazareth, approach this workbench where, beside Joseph and under the maternal glance of his mother, the Son of God worked. God-made-man knew the experience of human work. We want to enter there, into this house of Nazareth. We want to bring all the modern problems of work: all the social, economic, political, cultural and moral problems, all the anxieties connected with the world of work, especially the worry caused by unemployment…In this house in Nazareth we return close to Jesus the worker…There cannot be human work that is alienated [here]. I say this in the name of Jesus…Human work is redeemed, is restored in Jesus Christ. –Angelus Prayer in the Vatican, March 1984  

It is your duty, dear priests, to make [the church’s] wish come true…That workers’ figure and situation be reconsidered, to allow them to be more human and to recover their true greatness as collaborators with God’s creative work…So that the gap between church and factory begins to fill, and that the fumes of incense mix with those of industries in rising up to heaven. –Talk to priests in the Vatican, April 1979. 

The church is convinced that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth…. The church considers it her duty to speak out on work…. It is her particular duty to form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God…. This Christian spirituality of work should be a heritage shared by all. –Encyclical Laborem Exercens, September 1981


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