Created with a Vocation to Work

I’ve remarked before that much of the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home reads as if it could have been written by Wendell Berry. Regular readers know I’m fond of Mr. Berry’s writing and thought, which helps explain I suppose why I’m such a fan of the encyclical.

One of Mr. Berry’s greatest contributions is defense of the dignity and importance of human work, and resistance to the notion that work is inherently undesirable and that humanity’s goal should be to eliminate it, replacing it with “technology.” We are all called to a vocation, he argues, and good work (as opposed to mind-numbing/soul-sucking bad work), is fulfilling and enriching. Rather than treat work as something to be dreaded, avoided and rendered unnecessary, Mr. Berry insists (and I agree) that we should pursue our callings to good work, for the benefit of ourselves and our communities

Pope Francis agrees and puts it well in the encyclical, I think.

Once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of work to be misunderstood. We need to remember that men and women have the capacity to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to develop their spiritual endowments. Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God. It follows that, in the reality of today’s global society, it is essential that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone, no matter the limited interests of business and dubious economic reasoning.

We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. This is yet another way in which we can end up working against ourselves. The loss of jobs also has a negative impact on the economy through the progressive erosion of social capital: the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence. In other words, human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs. To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.

In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing. Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing smallholders to sell their land or to abandon their traditional crops. Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. 

As Wendell Berry famously put it many years ago, what are people for?


15 comments on “Created with a Vocation to Work

    • Bill says:

      My favorite sentence: “Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aggie says:

        Good choice. My favorite: “To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute.”


      • Bill says:

        That’s a great line too. The Pope referencing Orwell. Good stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. bobraxton says:

    Westminster Shorter Catechism
    Question 1

    Q: What is the chief end of [HU]man?
    A: [HU]man’s chief end is to glorify God,1 and to enjoy [God] forever.2

    1 Corinthians 10:31. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Romans 11:36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
    Psalm 73:24-26. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God isthe strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
    John 17:22, 24. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one… Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.


  2. Joanna says:

    What an excellent question of Wendell’s 🙂 Also a very insightful encyclical.


  3. avwalters says:

    I’m a huge fan of Berry’s, though I sometimes take umbrage at his essays. In What Are People For, he goes a bit too far, implying that higher education and opportunity for women leads folks away from the land. Indeed, followers of this blog are drawn to the land, regardless of gender or educational level. I think the dedication to land and food has to come from within, and I don’t think one needs to be invested in ignorance for this calling to “take.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      It’s been quite a while since I read that essay, but I’ll have to read it again. That wasn’t my take-away from it and I wouldn’t agree with that sentiment. I pursued higher education (as did Mr. Berry) and, like him, returned to the land eventually even if not immediately.


      • avwalters says:

        (It wasn’t just the one essay–it was the whole book. I regret to say that I stopped reading Berry for a few years following its publication.)


      • BeeHappee says:

        I had not read the book so I should not be commenting. . . But perhaps he is partially wrong and right, as I could easily come up with examples on both sides. If Berry was somewhat judgmental, then us being judgmental toward him, two bads will not make a good.
        When you think of places like China, and if you watch “Unschooling the World” (which is quite a propaganda film too), it is just a matter of fact, easily provable fact, that ‘education’ and ‘opportunity for women’ had precisely caused just that – people moving away from land.

        Liked by 1 person

      • avwalters says:

        Yes, but I’m an idealist. I’d like to think that what we need is farmers and gardeners who are committed to sustainable ag, because they feel a calling to it. (Not people stranded there by lack of opportunity or education.) Let’s face it, there are plenty of people willing to take the easy way (chemically dependent farming) instead of building the soil and the community.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    A sense of accomplishment is the best reward at the end of the day…
    Thank you for sharing


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s