Earlier this month Congress raised the debt limit and included work requirements for recipients of government aid. The Church’s social teaching necessarily discusses and elaborates on the dignity of work. In God’s plan, we are meant to participate in his work of creation. Pope Francis tells us: “Human labor is the vocation that mankind received from God ever since the creation of the universe. It is work that makes us similar to God.”
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Work is for man, not man for work” (CCC 2428). This expression gets to the heart of an essential principle of Catholic Social Teaching; namely, the dignity of every human person. Each person is made in the image and likeness of God. This dignity means that a person cannot be used as a means to an end. Hence, political or economic systems which compromise a person’s dignity and use him simply for production, deny him legitimate forms of labor, or refuse a just wage, are immoral.
At the same time, people have a duty and responsibility to contribute to the common good of society. “Everyone has the right of economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all and to harvest the just fruits of labor.” (CCC 2429) A person who refuses to contribute to society in some form of labor commits an injustice. The common good does not simply mean the production of material prosperity. Instead, the purpose and common good of society is for the formation of virtue of its members. Granted, how we best implement work requirements is another issue for legislators. At the very least, God reminds us that work is part of being human.