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The Dignity of Work

April 2, 2024 6:19 pm

By Dr. frederick fakharzadeh

 

Beneath the primary principles of human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity are several themes of Catholic Social Teaching, including the Dignity of Work. Work is greater than a utilitarian activity. For as Saint Paul VI wrote in Gaudium et Spes, “…when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. A man is more precious for what he is than for what he has.” (Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes, 35).  Furthermore, Pope Saint John Paul II writes “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 fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being.” (Laborem Exercens 9). Jesus and his father-on-earth Joseph were themselves carpenters; Pope St. John Paul II noted “This circumstance constitutes in itself the most eloquent ‘Gospel of work’, showing that the basis for determining the value of human work is not primarily the kind of work being done but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person.” (Laborem Exercens 6).

As a hand surgeon, I see many patients who have difficulty working because of an injury or degenerative problems that affect the use of their hands. Often the injury occurs at work.  Inability to work threatens one’s ability to provide for oneself and one’s family, rights that are fundamental in the view of Catholic Social Teaching. It is a blessing and great privilege for me to be able to help restore the use of my patients’ hands and ultimately enable them to return to their jobs. But it is important to remember that in restoring their hands, I am not just performing a technical exercise analogous to repairing a piece of machinery. It is a person that I am treating, a human being created in the image of God and thus with inherent dignity, a dignity that is expressed in the ability to work. And though I am writing from my perspective as a hand surgeon, this same principle would apply to most any medical specialty. We have to be careful not to fall into the trap of viewing our patients in a utilitarian manner, but rather view them as people with God-given human dignity.

We in the field of medicine rely extensively on our hands. Directly seeing the intricacy and perfection of the design of our hands reflects the beauty of God’s creation. It is a great blessing and privilege for me to be able to use my hands as I do, something for which I am most grateful to God. I would like to close with a prayer a patient shared with me many years ago called the Blessing of Hands (author unknown, at least to me):

 

God, you are the Creator of all that is good.

You have given us life and invite us to share in the continuing work of your creation.

We ask you now to bless our hands.

May we see and use them as sacred instruments of your goodness

for creating beauty and wholeness in our world.

Bless the work of our hands, O God.

May all that we do bear witness to our faith and bring glory to your name.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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