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Human Work as the Center of Catholic Social Teaching

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Margarita A. Mooney considers how personalism has influenced the development of Catholic social doctrine:

When people think of Catholic social teaching the first thing that comes to their mind may be the call to charity or solidarity with the poor, as exemplified by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. However, Gregg contends that for Wojytla/John Paul II, a proper understanding of human work is central to all Catholic social teaching.

So what does John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens say about human work? I walked over to my bookshelf and picked up a pile of encyclicals that my mother gave me more than a decade ago which had belonged to her father. My grandfather, Manuel Suarez Carreno, was an avid reader of Catholic social teaching and tried to put them into practice in his homeland of Cuba by promoting agrarian reform to help small farmers, among other things.

As I flipped through the pile of encyclicals with my grandfather’s signature on them and lines filled with his underlining, I got teary-eyed. For my grandfather, debates about the meaning of human work were not just abstract philosophical discussions. Debates about work and the organization of the economy tore about Cuba in the early 1960s, leading my grandfather and millions of other Cubans into exile.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


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  • Ken Larson

    Ms. Mooney’s referenced article goes on to state, “One critique of work under socialism, perhaps most eloquently laid out by Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom, is that workers under socialism have little choice in what work they do. In Laborem Exercens, hence, John Paul II insists that a worker “is a person, a conscious and free subject, that is to say, a subject that decides about himself.”

    I was struck by President Obama’s recent Saturday radio broadcast in which he made claim to his desire to make sure that returning soldiers from our present wars would be sure to find a full time job with a community police or fire department.

    What’s it say above, “a person, a conscious and free subject?” Kind of sounds like Obama needs to read some Hayek and JPII.

    Fat chance!

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