The encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (“On New Things”) by Pope Leo XIII. it is often called the beginning of modern Catholic teachings about society because it was the first encyclical that spoke of the disruption of the unprecedented traditional social order due to the industrial revolution. “Rerum” is one of the most important encyclicals of the modern age for fathers because the pope establishes that the nature and way of working is very important for the life and health of the family and the culture in which he lives (he directly addresses fathers). Where, why and how we work are not neutral circumstances but have a real impact on us.
As a father who has to work to feed a family, I especially appreciate how the document supports “dignified work” that respects the needs of the soul as much as the natural needs of men. Work, in other words, is a much greater need than making money. Read this warning to employers who do not respect this fact: “No man should violate with impunity the human dignity to which God himself treats with respect, nor stand in the way of exalted life in preparation for eternal life in Paradise…”
Work is love and sacrifice
Note carefully that the “violation” directed against a man occurs precisely at his “place of work.” The most difficult struggle for a man is taking care of his family. In that place, he should employ his body, mind, creativity, and heart, and he should do that for his family. Traditional dedication to work was a way and means of involving the whole family because house and craft jobs united home and work. Work is both love and sacrifice. So the work is dedicated. Just as a priest’s supernatural vocation involves a liturgical sacrifice (liturgy means “work”) so the father’s natural vocation also includes a sacrifice in the form of work.
Work connects the family
In the past, business had the purpose of connecting with each other and with our families, especially our sons. Every craftsman through his craft had a way of connecting with those he was called to love and to be their mentor. He did not address his family with money and vacations but with the words and deeds of daily and necessary care. Connected in this way with people and places, purposefulness is woven into the work and therefore it brought meaning to the family itself.
It is often repeated that the family is the foundation of society. Today, however, the family is not connected with work and daily obligations, or even with the religious upbringing of children in secular environments, and therefore young people believe that the family has very little meaning and purpose because it does not. In other words, family really doesn’t seem as important as we claim it is. The drivers of culture such as music, religion, politics, and labor are individualized in terms of taste and belief and as such globalized and massively promoted. Every person in their home receives instruction and meaning through initiators outside the family. That is, the place where we connect and receive meaning and purpose is no longer the family and they are almost always distinctly separated from the family. Pope Leo knew that the disturbance of the social order caused by industrialization and growing statism (majority or complete rule of the state in economic and social relations) had reduced man to a place within the economy and to the place of the economy in man’s life.
In the past, the family was an institution
So, unrelated to work, what’s left of family life? Robert Nisbet (American sociologist) in his work “Quest for Community” boldly states the view that the family without a connection to economic and political reality is reduced to a system of emotional support within the home. In a book he wrote half a century ago, he noticed that we remove every obligation from the family (from caring for children to caring for the elderly) and transfer it to “industry” or “the state”. Nisbet did not live so long ago when things were different: “In earlier times, relatives were closely involved in the processes of earning, education, caring for the infirm and the elderly, or preserving religious values.” was an institution without which it was impossible. “
Today, the family is, in fact, an obstacle to a career, and family disintegration is measured by positive measures if, for example, we equate it with gross domestic product – divorce means more houses, and Christmas gifts a fuller store! Both the left and the right are prone to anti-family policies – some prefer abortion, while others are indifferent or even hostile to family policy measures (such as child tax relief). As for work and educational tendencies, we need to understand what the real goal of today’s so-called economy is. Nisbet states: “A man’s competitive role is more desirable without a family. Our legislative and educational system and many additional activities of the individual are left to the individual and not to the family. “
It is important to live and work together
Since the family (as a mediator of economic processes) is separated from work, it now acts only as an emotional and psychological preparation for the “real world” of the global economy. So we hear pastoral phrases to “spend more time” with our families, but there aren’t many other things we can do other than enjoy the fun together. While there was work and culture that was built in relation to the family and directed towards it, the meaning was also transmitted through these points of contact. If the purpose of these rare encounters of ours is to just give ourselves support, then forget about it. “People don’t live together just to be together,” said Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset. “They live together to do something together.” Then what do we do? Despite the serious challenge, I don’t think it’s hard to confront the problem.
In fact, with the development of media and smartphone culture, the whole life is so uniform that it seems predictable and boring. Yes, life is challenging and more than confusing, but I find the futility of the electronic world and the tangible weakness of a body that can’t function on its own to open up an opportunity to connect through simple things and creativity. In other words, you are not only living together, but also doing something together.
Return to crafts and physical labor
Renew any trades or physical skills you may possess and teach them. Attract others as well. Work with your sons and other men. Establish a joint business. Implement home and family related projects. Think broadly. If at all possible, connect the economic reality with the reality of the functioning of the household (economics actually means “household management”). Save your community from leftist slogans and engage in concrete collaboration with your neighbors. Wendell Berry (American writer) often points out that “love of neighbor” is a concrete and economic commandment of our Lord. Involve your children in everything you do. Invite your children’s friends to join and find a way for your children to contribute to the community. May this work be physical, skills-oriented, intergenerational, so that its meaning is inextricably linked to place and family and, ultimately, to the life of the soul. Simply put, do a job worth the effort with people you respect.
Organization of specific projects
A man in our parish recently hosted a dozen fathers and sons to make cutting boards for his mothers in his workshop. There was a perfect dose of danger from the tools, the wisdom of the artisan, the intergenerational connections and attitudes towards life and the economy (all the fathers were willing to start making and selling larger boards in farmers markets). One of them leaned over and said, “Isn’t this great?” I replied, “I think we’re saving the world right now.” It’s about men who need to connect with the younger generations – this was so easy and fruitful that I thought this gentleman had just recruited an army of ardent workers. It all took place without elaborate goals and questions for discussion.
To reconnect with family doesn’t mean you just have to spend more time with them but be with them by establishing a connection. The more we connect through purposeful work, the more we save the institution of the family from oblivion.
Pope John Paul II about work
We need this by human nature, as Pope John Paul says in an encyclical published on the occasion of the 19th anniversary of the document “Rerum Novarum”: “Only man is capable of work and only man works while fulfilling his existence on earth. Therefore, work bears a special characteristic of man and humanity, a characteristic of a person acting within a community of people. This characteristic determines its internal characteristics, in a way it forms its own nature. ”(“ Laborem Exercens ”)
Jason Craig – Catholic Exchange
Translated and adapted by: LR
Foto: Clark Young – Unsplash