Dear Father Edward, I am confused. The questioner in your post on discernment wrote, “I know God is not in the employment business, nor is he that concerned with how we make a living. His concern is for our soul.” Could you respond to this statement? If this is true, then it certainly seems as though it doesn’t matter the type of job that this person gets, and that there is no need to look for a job that “could be integrated into [his or her] spiritual life” because God is NOT leading this person to a job that is just right for him or her. In this case, it seems that God will just use the particular job that he or she finds to work out the person’s salvation. Is this true?
Thanks for your question and the opportunity to return to this theme. As mentioned previously, God is concerned about the type of job a person has insofar as it respects the dignity of the human being. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church refers to the objective sense and subjective sense of work. The latter represents the stable dimension of work; it doesn’t depend on “what people produce or on the type of activity they undertake, but only and exclusively on their dignity as human beings” (No. 271). Work also has a social dimension. John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus observed that “work is work with others and work for others.” We help to build society through dignified work which has a moral dimension.
Let’s put it another way. To say that God isn’t “concerned with how we make a living, his concern is for our soul” would be to pose a kind of artificial opposition. Work is more than just about “how we make a living.” We could make money by selling drugs or performing abortions, but these would be offensive to human dignity — ours as well as others’. In fact, the type of work we engage in can greatly impact our salvation. For instance, let’s say we work in banking and finance. The job starts out productive and useful to society, but over time the work slips into activities of dubious value: pure financial speculation which profits from the misfortunes of others, or high-pressure lending practices that lure people into living beyond their financial means. Or we might work in marketing and find that a retail client is getting heavily involved in objectionable items such as immodest clothing. At what point is that job no longer building the community in a healthy way? This is not an easy question to answer. Each person has to take it to prayer and examine his conscience.
This concern prompted the recommendation that a jobseeker be alert to integrating a work position into his spiritual life. This is not to say that everyone should be looking to work for a monastery. It does mean, however, that a person should weigh how a potential job would impact his spiritual and family life. A job that genuinely helps the community — law enforcement, for instance — might nevertheless impose undue stress on an individual or a family. In such a case, the person might wisely look elsewhere for employment. Or take the case of a marketer. A spiritually minded person would rightly lean toward working for a firm that sells, say, modest clothing rather than a company with a reputation for peddling risqué apparel. These considerations are important because the sincere Christian does not want to become part of organizations that harms the common good. Of course, it is not easy to find companies whose products or services are 100% in line with the Gospel. The world is imperfect, but that is precisely why we have to evangelize it. A conscientious person looks for ways to influence the workplace so that the employer pursues ventures that truly respect human dignity and build up society. That’s a tall order, certainly, but God will bless those efforts. He is interested in how people “make a living” precisely because he is interested in their eternal salvation. Think of it as working out our salvation … with divine grace.
Yours in Christ, Father Edward McIlmail, LC
Father McIlmail is a theology instructor at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, RI.