November 16, 2014: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Catholic Social Teaching: The Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers
Businesses should be characterized by their capacity to serve the common good of society through the production of useful goods and services. In seeking to produce goods and services according to plans aimed at efficiency and at satisfying the interests of the different parties involved, businesses create wealth for all of society, not just for the owners but also for the other subjects involved in their activity. Besides this typically economic function, businesses also perform a social function, creating opportunities for meeting, cooperating and the enhancement of the abilities of the people involved. In a business undertaking, therefore, the economic dimension is the condition for attaining not only economic goals, but also social and moral goals, which are all pursued together.
A business’ objective must be met in economic terms and according to economic criteria, but the authentic values that bring about the concrete development of the person and society must not be neglected. In this personalistic and community vision, “a business cannot be considered only as a ‘society of capital goods’; it is also a ‘society of persons’ in which people participate in different ways and with specific responsibilities, whether they supply the necessary capital for the company’s activities or take part in such activities through their labour”. (338)
All those involved in a business venture must be mindful that the community in which they work represents a good for everyone and not a structure that permits the satisfaction of someone’s merely personal interests. This awareness alone makes it possible to build an economy that is truly at the service of mankind and to create programmes of real cooperation among the different partners in labour.
A very important and significant example in this regard is found in the activity of so-called cooperative enterprises, small and medium-sized businesses, commercial undertakings featuring hand-made products and family-sized agricultural ventures. The Church’s social doctrine has emphasized the contribution that such activities make to enhance the value of work, to the growth of a sense of personal and social responsibility, a democratic life and the human values that are important for the progress of the market and of society. (339)
The social doctrine of the Church recognizes the proper role of profit as the first indicator that a business is functioning well: “when a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed”. But this does not cloud her awareness of the fact that a business may show a profit while not properly serving society. For example, “it is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and yet for the people — who make up the firm’s most valuable asset — to be humiliated and their dignity offended”. This is what happens when businesses are part of social and cultural systems marked by the exploitation of people, tending to avoid the obligations of social justice and to violate the rights of workers.
It is essential that within a business the legitimate pursuit of profit should be in harmony with the irrenounceable protection of the dignity of the people who work at different levels in the same company. These two goals are not in the least contrary to one another, since, on the one hand, it would not be realistic to try to guarantee the firm’s future without the production of useful goods and services and without making a profit, which is the fruit of the economic activity undertaken. On the other hand, allowing workers to develop themselves fosters increased productivity and efficiency in the very work undertaken. A business enterprise must be a community of solidarity,that is not closed within its own company interests. It must move in the direction of a “social ecology” of work and contribute to the common good also by protecting the natural environment. (340)
Although the quest for equitable profit is acceptable in economic and financial activity, recourse to usury is to be morally condemned: “Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them”. This condemnation extends also to international economic relations, especially with regard to the situation in less advanced countries, which must never be made to suffer “abusive if not usurious financial systems”. More recently, the Magisterium used strong and clear words against this practice, which is still tragically widespread, describing usury as “a scourge that is also a reality in our time and that has a stranglehold on many peoples’ lives”. (341)
From Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
First Reading: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm: 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
Second Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:1-6
Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30
Catechism of the Catholic Church
“…At the evening of our life, we shall be judged on our love.” (1022)
From the Daily Roman Missal, Introduction to the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:
In his preaching, Jesus teaches that we should appreciate work. He himself, having “become like us in all things, devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter’s bench” in the workshop of Joseph (cf. Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3), to whom he was obedient (cf. Lk 2:51). Jesus condemns the behaviour of the useless servant, who hides his talent in the ground (cf. Mt 25:14-30) and praises the faithful and prudent servant whom the Master finds hard at work at the duties entrusted to him (cf. Mt 24:46). He describes his own mission as that of working: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn 5:17), and his disciples as workers in the harvest of the Lord, which is the evangelization of humanity (cf. Mt 9:37-38). For these workers, the general principle according to which “the labourer deserves his wages” (Lk 10:7) applies. They are therefore authorized to remain in the houses in which they have been welcomed, eating and drinking what is offered to them (cf. Lk 10:7). (259)
In the light of Revelation, economic activity is to be considered and undertaken as a grateful response to the vocation which God holds out for each person. Man is placed in the garden to till and keep it, making use of it within well specified limits (cf. Gen 2:16-17) with a commitment to perfecting it (cf. Gen 1:26-30, 2:15-16; Wis 9:2-3). Bearing witness to the grandeur and goodness of the Creator, he walks towards the fullness of freedom to which God calls him. Good administration of the gifts received, and of material goods also, is a work of justice towards oneself and towards others. What has been received should be used properly, preserved and increased, as suggested by the parable of the talents (cf. Mt 25:14-30; Lk 19:12-27).
Economic activity and material progress must be placed at the service of man and society. If people dedicate themselves to these with the faith, hope and love of Christ’s disciples, even the economy and progress can be transformed into places of salvation and sanctification. In these areas too it is possible to express a love and a solidarity that are more than human, and to contribute to the growth of a new humanity that anticipates the world to come. Jesus sums up all of revelation in calling the believer to become rich before God (cf. Lk 12:21). The economy too is useful to this end, when its function as an instrument for the overall growth of man and society, of the human quality of life, is not betrayed. (326)
A cursory reading of the Gospel (Matthew 25: 14-30) text might surmise a good and faithful servant would multiply possessions entrusted to them. But did Jesus share this parable with the disciples for a deeper meaning of what not to do, instead of what to do?
Reading the plot, we hear the Master portrayed in the parable was a demanding person, not compassionate and merciful like the Lord. The master harvested what he did not plant and gathered what he did not scatter, so he stole and cheated others from the work of their labor. The master chastised the non-cooperating servant in his schemes for not collecting interest on the money. But religious laws of the day spoke of collecting interest as an extortioner towards the poor. In the parable, the master condemns the servant who articulates the master’s evil qualities, takes what little he has and gives it to the one that coalesces with his agenda to reward him with even more spoils of the unjust system. This contradicts Jesus’ call in next week’s Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) in prioritizing service to the least among us, not for the rich to amass more assets as they are handed all the marginalized have to offer, without materially participating in attaining their wealth. The parable offers a satire on exploitation and greed of a capitalistic ethos, where more possessions quantify success and the widening of disparity between individuals is an acceptable societal norm.
The man receiving one unit of the possessions went off and dug a hole in the ground for the master’s money. He was not going to participate in the economic charade. As we listen to Jesus’ parable today, how do we see similar exploitation rooted in greed? Where do we see workers’ dignity hijacked for economic gain? Do we hear indigenous people’s pleas to maintain pristine ancestral lands, amidst attempts to dismiss their voice and rights?
May this parable teach us to read and ponder the Lord’s words judiciously, prudently and carefully. For talents and gifts He has given us are to be shared, not amassed for our own sanctification. We are not to plunder and cheat others but work with dignity in fulfilling the call to be children of light and not cooperate with the darkness of evil. A prayerful process of staying alert and sober to the reality of our times.
The Lord said: I think thoughts of peace and not affliction. You will call upon me
and I will answer you and I will lead back your captives from every place.
Entrance Antiphon Thirty-third week in Ordinary Time
In what subtle ways are you captive to participating with economic injustice? How can you make decisions to be less captivated by your self-serving actions to join the Lord in thoughts of peace and not affliction?
Family Reflection:1st Thessalonians 5:1-6
Have each family member suggest one way all the family can be children of light and during the next month implement those suggestions.
Lord, help us to realize it is not what we have, but who we are that defines our identity. An identity rooted in walking your ways and seeking your peace. Help our hands not be open to greed, but extended in friendship and mercy. Give us the courage to dispel systems of evil to be children of the day. We pray for those consumed with the falseness of material prosperity. May they see the hollowness of their pursuits and turn to embrace your everlasting peace. Lord, in your dear name we pray, Amen.
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By Barb Born October 28, 2014 The reflection maybe used in parish bulletins, newsletters or for faith sharing groups without copyright concern.