Occupation & Work
This focus area addresses whatever primarily occupies a person's time. It spans a person's call to an occupation, workplace ethics, worker justice, and more.
When we speak of work, we refer to one's occupation: what primarily occupies one's time. It may be a traditional profession, homemaker, retirement, schooling, or searching for work.
Dignity of Work
It is essential that work remain at the service to people, their rights, and their vocations. We gain dignity from working when we are not being exploited.
Our work is one of the most important areas where we are called to act ethically and with our Christian values. Work raises many moral issues, including:
Stewarding our time well leads us to seek a proper balance between occupation and all other aspects of our life.
Collaborating With God
When we work, we are collaborating with God in the continuing work of creation. Our work is one of the primary ways that we transform the world in line with Gospel values.
The book Spirituality@Work offers spiritual disciplines for the workplace:
An essential way of serving others through one's call is to perform that call competently. If we are truly called to a particular vocation, we are not called to do it in a mediocre way.
Part of Our Identity
Work was made for humanity, not the other way around. Work is good for us, making us more human and allowing us to live out our vocations.
Rights of Workers
In On Human Work, Pope John Paul II defines the following worker rights: full employment, wages and benefits (enough to support a family), and unionization. He also emphasized rights and dignity of farm workers, disabled works, and those who have to emigrate to work. Consider what rights should everyone have: the right to… work? dignity in work? a living wage? fair pay? leisure time? organize/strike?
The workplace can be a fertile environment for sharing our faith. It is surprising how many people (especially fallen-away Catholics) may reach out to you when they find out you are Catholic. Many may need consolation or an apology on behalf of the Church for past hurts. Others may be curious and considering a return, especially if they can make a personal connection.
Call and Vocation
Ideally, we can seek out work that is a good match for our individual gifts and call.
The ordinary work of people on their jobs, with their families and in their neighborhoods is as much a part of the function of the church as is Sunday Mass or Tuesday evening Bible study. This daily fidelity to work sustains and improves the human community, and thus advances the kingdom of God.
William L. Droel and Gregory F.A. Pierce,
Confident and Competent:
A Challenge for the Lay Church, 22
Whatever your life's work is, do it well. ...If it falls on your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
In their work—teaching, cosmetology, medicine, the arts, house painting, real estate—laity discover both meaning and a sense of mission, relating their work to their spiritual life. Their work paths, no matter how diverse, often help them to move beyond self-absorption toward active caring for others.
Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium
Confident laypeople, doing what they are supposed to be doing and doing it well, are as holy as any monk on a mount.
William Droel and Gregory F.A. Pierce
...the most common and, in many ways, the most important Christian witness is often neither very visible nor highly structured. It is the sacrifice of parents trying to raise children with concern for others; the service and creativity of workers who do their best and reach out to those in need; the struggle of business owners trying to reconcile the bottom line and the needs of employees and customers; and the hard choices of public officials who seek to protect the weak and pursue the common good. The Church's social mission is advanced by teachers and scientists, by family farmers and bankers, by sales persons and entertainers.
Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work, to use an image, 'anoints' us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts...
Address on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1, 2013
I address a strong appeal from my heart that the dignity and safety of the worker always be protected.
Pope Francis, Regina Caeli, April 28, 2013
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.
Pope John Paul II, 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.
Pope John Paul II, 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.
Pope John Paul II, homily in Monterey, California, September 1987
Work must not be a mere necessity, but it must be considered a real vocation.
Pope John Paul II, talk in Guadalajara, Mexico, January 1979
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.
Pope John Paul II, talk in Pusan, South Korea, May 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.
Pope John Paul II, talk to priests in the Vatican, April 1979.
Not paying a just wage, not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making profit. That goes against God!
Address on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1, 2013
At the same time, life as a Christian steward also requires continued involvement in the human vocation to cultivate material creation. This productivity embraces art, scholarship, science, and technology, as well as business and trade, physical labor, skilled work of all kinds, and serving others. So-called ordinary work offers at least as many opportunities as do supposedly more glamorous occupations. A woman who works at a supermarket checkout counter writes: “I feel that my job consists of a lot more than ringing up orders, taking people’s money, and bagging their groceries.... By doing my job well I know I have a chance to do God’s work too. Because of this, I try to make each of my customers feel special. While I’m serving them, they become the most important people in my life”
Stewardship: A Disciple's Response
Work is a good thing for man--a good thing for his humanity--because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes "more a human being".
Pope John Paul II,
On Human Work, 9
Pastoral leaders should feel challenged to serve the laity by helping them develop and sustain small Christian communities—including those based on careers and professions.
Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium
Workers are called to pursue justice. In the Catholic tradition, work is not a burden, not just how we make a living. Work is a way of supporting our family, realizing our dignity, promoting the common good, and participating in God's creation. This means often doing the ordinary well, making the most of our talents and opportunities, treating others fairly and with dignity, and working with integrity and creativity. Believers should be encouraged to choose their work based on how they can best use the gifts God has given them. Decisions made at work can make important contributions to an ethic of justice. Catholics have the often difficult responsibility of choosing between competing values in the workplace. This is a measure of holiness. Associations that enable workers, owners or managers to pursue justice often make the witness of the individual more effective.
I come to announce the gospel of work.
Pope John Paul II, 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.
Pope John Paul II, talk in Sydney, Australia, November 1986
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.
Pope John Paul II, Angelus Prayer in the Vatican, March 1984
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.
Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, 1981
Gregory F.A. Pierce
An exploration of the spirituality of work, focusing on ten spiritual disciplines that can be practiced in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the contemporary workplace. (Acta Publications)
The Christian at Work in the World Series
Each book contains first-person reflections on the spiritual meaning of daily work.
To Serve and Protect: Law Enforcement Officers Reflect on Their Faith and Work
Judith A. Kowalski and Maj. Dean J. Collins (Acta Publications)
Kindling the Spark: A Dialog with Christian Teachers on Their Work
David Allen Sorensen and Barbara Degrote-Sorensen
The Monday Connection: On Being an Authentic Christian in the Workday World
William E. Diehl
A supportative spirituality for Christians working in the real world of Monday morning. Through helpful stories, William Diehl illustrates effective tactics for changing your workplace and life. (Amazon)
Confident & Competent: A Challenge for the Lay Church
William L. Droel and Gregory F. Pierce
In an insightful presentation that helps give Christian character to ordinary work, the authors contend that lay spirituality is based on "work in the world." They then go on to examine the religious significance of the layperson's daily activities--on the job, with their families, in their communities. (Amazon)
Gregory F.A. Pierce
Finding God @ Work is an attempt to raise our awareness, as contained in a popular saying, that "Bidden or not bidden, God is present." This six-session small group faith-sharing book has been developed to help readers think differently about their work and spirituality and to share their experiences with others. (Acta Publications)
The Spirituality of Work Series
Short books with reflections on the spirituality of different vocations.
The Spirituality of Work: Homemakers
The Spirituality of Work: Lawyers
The Spirituality of Work: Business People
The Spirituality of Work: Nurses
The Spirituality of Work: Teachers
Work With Meaning, Work With Joy: Bringing Your Spirit to Any Job
Pat McHenry Sullivan
Common workplace stories today treat values like compassion and integrity as "soft stuff" that disrupt sound business practice. Behind closed doors or off site, however, comes a richer story.
People from all faiths, from all levels of the corporate ladder, say that when they bring spirit to work, they bring their wisest self. As a result, stress melts. They see more clearly what’s essential and what’s not.
When people are grounded in spirit, they can see how to meet a corporate bully as a comrade. They gain the strength they need to face their own faults. They find the courage to confront unethical practices and the creativity to help build a new cultured based in integrity.
This book is filled with stories and resources. It includes what I learned when three relatives were dying across country and my husband was out of work. Prayer led me to reach out to co-workers. They shared with me workday spiritual practices they had never discussed with anyone else. By following the guidance of prayer and the wisdom of co-workers, I learned how to work efficiently all day and come home with more energy at night than I’d had in the morning.
Work takes up most of our waking lives. This book may not help change that. But this book can help you remember why you work and bring your whole self to your tasks. Whenever you do this, the workday is bound to be more satisfying. (Amazon)
Of Human Hands:
A Reader in the Spirituality of Work
Gregory F.A. Pierce, Ed.
Christians from a wide range of occupations and experiences share their insights into the spirituality of their own individual work. (Amazon)
Faith Goes To Work: Reflections From the Marketplace
Robert J. Banks
A collection of authors representing a variety of vocations suggest ways in which the church and its laity can be better equipped for integrating faith in the workplace. (Amazon)
Your Work Matters To God
Doug Sherman and William Hendricks
Your Work Matters to God demonstrates just how important secular work is to God. Whether you are a man or woman, once you realize how many different ways there are to influence your coworkers for Christ without preaching a word, you’ll be challenged to develop a lifestyle so striking and true, the people you work with will be eager to let you talk about what makes you different. (Amazon)
Ministry In Daily Life: A Practical Guide For Congregations
William E. Diehl
One of the best known advocates of ministry in daily life tells how his church set out to help people as they face the new mission field in their ministries at work, at home, and in the community. Full of practical experience and wisdom, this book shows you specific ways to affirm, equip, and support members. (Amazon)
William David Thompson
On-the-Job Prayers is for people who go to work every day, whether in an office, factory or at home. It is not so much about the spirituality of work as that it invites readers to practice the spirituality of work. (Acta Publications)
- Vocation Education (James VanOosting, America)
- Work Ethics: How Do Today's Jobs Reflect Our Values (U.S. Catholic)
- Pope Francis and the culture of hard work (Fr. Roger Landry, Catholic Preaching)
- Is Your Faith Working? A Labor Day Survey on Faith and Work (U.S. Catholic)
- Older Guys Find Meaning in Teaching: Shift in priorities, values, has them coming to classroom (Meredith May, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Can't Hear Your Inner Voice? 11 questions to help you find your mission in life (Anjula Razdan, Utne Reader)
- Address on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker (Pope Francis)
- No New Program (Gregory F.A. Pierce)
- Mission In the Workplace: Encouraging Access and Transformation Through Workplace Ministry (William Messenger)
- God At Work (Miroslav Volf)
- Work and Dignity: A Conversation between Mike Rose and Matthew Crawford (Hedghog Review)
- Does God Care Where I Work? (Mike Hayes, Busted Halo)
- Your Work Is Your Ministry (Jonathan Shaw)
- DC’s “Living Wage” A Tribute to Msgr. John A. Ryan (Michael Sean Winters, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good)
- Labor Day Statements From the U.S. Bishops (USCCB)
- John Paul II on Work and Globalization (Human Rights for Workers)
- Address on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker 2013 (Pope Francis)
Organizations & Websites
Living Faith At Work
Empowering people, through the Catholic tradition, to live out their faith at work.
Theology of Work Project
Helping people explore what the Bible and the Christian faith can contribute to ordinary work. It is an independent, international organization dedicated to researching, writing, and distributing materials with a biblical perspective on non-church workplaces. The Project’s primary mission is to produce resources covering every book of the Bible. We are also developing resources for the most significant topics in today’s workplace, such as calling, ethics, truth & deception, provision & wealth, motivation, finance, and economics and society.
Redeemer's Center For Faith and Work
Seeking to: Equip individuals to fully apply the gospel to their lives and develop a gospel-centered worldview to better serve their profession and industry. Connect professionals within a field to inspire and challenge gospel-centered thinking and behavior. Mobilize Christians to become agents of change for the common good of the city within existing institutions and by creating new ones.
Labor Day Sunday
Free resources to celebrate the gift of work. Some are specific to offering a worship liturgy, but many are general-purpose.
Fix My Job
"Tough day at work? Are you feeling overworked, underpaid, unsafe or disrespected by your boss? You aren't alone - and you don't have to just put up with it. The first step to making your job better is having a clear sense of what the biggest problems are. We'll help you identify what issues are standing in the way of a satisfying experience at work and offer some solutions. Get started now!"
Interfaith Worker Justice
Organizing, educating , and advocating for economic and worker justice in the United States from a faith perspective.
Called To The Marketplace
A resource and forum on the integration of faith and work. Promoting the biblical worldview that all of work is a sacred calling.
Center For Faith & Work at LeTourneau University
Seeking to equip, connect and mobilize Christians to live out their faith in the workplace.
National Center For the Laity
A Catholic organization "in support of Christians in the world," with particular emphasis on work & faith.
Spirit Work and Money
Resources for integrating spirituality, work, and money.
National Federation of Priests' Councils - Priest-Labor Initiative
An association of bishops, priests, scholars and supporters committed to standing with and advocating for workers, especially immigrant workers, who often are the most vulnerable.
Catholic Labor Network
Provides resources relating the Catholic social teaching to workers and labor.
Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice
Promoting Catholic Social Teaching on the rights of workers and the indispensible role that unions play in securing justice for workers and their families, in the workplace, and for the universal common good.
International Center For Spirit At Work
Providing comprehensive world class, faith neutral, spirituality-at-work products, programs, tools and research that are practical and easily accessible.
The Working Catholic
The Chicago Catholic News offers a regular blog by William Droel on faith and work.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops - Labor and Employment
Various documents, letters, and other resources.
Use Occupational Categories
One church divided work into eight occupational categories to focus efforts on each one. That allowed them to gather people into small groups to reflect together and to ensure that their broader formation efforts addresses all members. The groups are: education, health care, business & industry, homemaking, science & technology, retirement, public service, arts.
Promote Worker Justice
Remember the needs of the poor, and how not all have the luxury of choosing jobs or the kind of pay and benefits that many take for granted. Utilize faith-based resources from Interfaith Worker Justice and other advocacy organizations.
Observe Labor Day
Use Labor Day weekend (or the weekend afterwards if attendance is often low) to focus on faith & work issues. Encourage parishioners to wear whatever clothes they would wear in their occupational work to liturgy.
Incorporate Into Preaching
Obviously, generally incorporating this topic into preaching would be helpful. But consider inviting preachers who have special insight on the topic, whether in the justice area or certain occupational fields. In one parish, a priest removed his vestments during the homily to reveal his old truck driver uniform. That certainly got everyone's attention!
Weave Work Into Liturgy
Be creative to incorporate people's occupations into worship services and help people make the connection between their faith and work. Bless them in their work. When focusing on work or a particular vocation, have parishioners bring symbols of their daily work to the altar during the presentation of the gifts. More in:
Ministry In Daily Life, William Diehl
Of Human Hands, "They Bring Their Church To Work," Davida Crabtree
4-page overview handout used as a bulletin wrapper to introduce the concept to a parish.
A set of single-page handouts used as bulletin inserts on various faith & work topics.
This Gospel Value encompasses occupation and work, discussing it in-depth.
Talent and personality are key insights to discerning one's occupation and/or vocation.
Occupation and vocation are a major topic for discernment.
Since occupation is the primary way we spend our time, these topics are closely related.