Bishop Hying

Work and family bring us to full dignity as children of God

      Two of the four essential social components which form the essence of the Indiana Bishops’ pastoral letter on poverty are family life and employment. These realities are the glue that holds our society, our local community and our own selves together. Without a flourishing and stable family life and without meaningful and gainful employment, people slip into a poverty that is not only economic but also social, cultural and spiritual.

      Catholicism has much to say about the meaning of family and the world of work. The pastoral letter reminds us that marriage and family are essential elements of God’s plan for humanity. A woman and a man, bound to each other in Christ in the sacrament of matrimony, mirror the faithful, fruitful and sacrificial love of Christ for the Church. Born as fruit of this mutual gift of self, children learn about God, feel His love for them, discover their identity, embrace virtue and find their place in the world through the security, goodness and support of a flourishing family. As “the domestic Church,” the family is the basic building block of both society and the Body of Christ.

      “Family teaches us that we are God’s children, brothers and sisters called to participate in the life of God himself. This is where we learn to recognize the sacredness of every human life as well as the beauty and necessity of living together in peace…Family teaches us how to live.  In the family, we learn the basics of economy, the value of work, the meaning of sexuality, the joy of self-giving…” (Poverty at the Crossroads, page 8) 

      As we all know, various threats and challenges prevent many families from living these noble ideals in their entirety. Lack of jobs and health care, substance abuse and domestic violence, the number of fathers unable or unwilling to support their children and the increasing number of single parent households make it increasingly difficult to provide a stable and secure environment for children to fully flourish. The Church certainly wants to support and help all parents and families to live well and provide for their children’s welfare.

      Family life, employment, education and health care are fundamentally linked, which means that poverty limits the family’s ability to live its fundamental mission of nurturing children and stabilizing society. Consequently, the Indiana bishops call for a strong commitment to assign the highest priority to the wellbeing of children in the family and society and to ask ourselves the question: Do programs and policies place a primary emphasis on child welfare and enhance - not detract from - strong marriages and family life?  The bishops ask all Church organizations, members and people of good will to renew their commitment to serving the needs of hoosier children and their families.

      As Christians, we follow a carpenter who worked with his hands. We view work as more than just a way to make a living. Labor is our sacred participation in the ongoing creative power of God, part of our vocation to sanctify the world and contribute to the common good. The consequence of this truth is that the economy must serve the wellbeing of all people; the worker is not a means to the end of production; rather, work is for the dignity and good of the person. Therefore, the basic rights of workers must be respected, i.e. just and livable wages, productive and meaningful work, private property, organization and economic initiative.

      When I served as the associate pastor of an urban parish in Milwaukee, I ran the food pantry and befriended dozens of people in the neighborhood who worked hard at minimum wage jobs but never had enough money to put food on the table for their families. Indiana is home to thousands of the “working poor.” Their experience tells us that full-time employment is not necessarily sufficient to lift people out of poverty. St. John Paul teaches, “A just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system.” In other words, if people are fully employed and working hard and are still not able to make ends meet, we need to evaluate the whole societal reality.

      The pastoral letter calls for a deeper understanding of the spirituality of work, the conviction that the labor we do each day, whether it be as a homemaker, a factory worker, a teacher or a physician, is part of our Christian vocation and an important contribution to the salvation of the world. Work is a significant part of our lives and has a “profound impact on the intellectual, social, cultural and religious life of individuals, families and communities.” (page 15) 

      The letter calls for a deeper look at the impact of policies, legislation and government regulations on workers and their ability to find gainful employment. The pastoral letter also calls on the state to dedicate resources towards improving job opportunities for individuals and families.  More and better jobs are the key to economic prosperity, but we all know what a complex and difficult challenge we face in this era of globalization.  As two key areas of human life, family and work are moral realities which form us and allow us to realize our full dignity as children of God in the world.



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