Don is a 40-year-old happily married man with two young children. After earning a college degree in international relations, he dedicated himself to his job recruiting international students to enroll in American universities. His business grew rapidly, enabling him to hire over 100 employees. He traveled four months a year, visited 45 countries and had contacts in major cities around the world. With his wife and growing family, he lived abroad for a few years and then moved to Boston, where he continued his extensive travels.
In December of 2019, Don and his wife, who also could do her demanding job virtually from home, decided to move back to Toledo where they could raise their two boys in familiar surroundings close to their extended families, while he continued his international travels. Just months later, the Covid outbreak decimated much of his international business, forcing him to disband his whole team. Grateful that he himself still has a job, he recruits international students virtually from his home.
Don has made the most of his changed situation. It is clearer to him now that family has a proper priority over business. He now typically fixes breakfast for his sons, takes an afternoon walk with his wife and generally tries to be attentive to family needs. He also takes better care of his own health, exercising regularly, doing some gardening and relieving stress by turning off his phone for hours at a time. With less time spent on his recruiting job, Don is free to do volunteer work in his local community which he finds very fulfilling.
Many Americans struggle to achieve a healthy relationship between work and leisure. According to one market research study, 48% of employed Americans think of themselves as “workaholics” and 53% report being stressed out over work. Some are actually addicted to work, about ten percent of workers according to one psychological study. Over ten percent of Americans work more than 50 hours per week, the poor because they are working multiple jobs and the well-paid because they choose to put in extra hours on their jobs. A 2019 Rand Corporation study found that average Americans have over five hours of free time each day, but most of that time is spent watching screens and only seven percent doing healthy physical activities.
Catholic Social Teaching warns us against some dangerous temptations: identifying ourselves with our work; making an idol out of work; giving work priority over family; and becoming a addicted to work. We are God’s handiwork, called to share in God’s ongoing creative activity. Work should help us develop our talents and gifts and become whole integrated persons. A healthy life should include both work and leisure that nourishes the soul and provides bodily rest.
The Compendium of Social Doctrines of the Church grounds these admonitions on the scriptural command and practice of the “Sabbath rest,” which it calls the “epitome of biblical teaching on work.” The Lord’s Day provides an opportunity to thank God for blessings and to attend to family concerns. It also serves as a “barrier against becoming slaves to work” (n258). For Christians, work enables us to share in the mission of Christ, the carpenter turned preacher, to humanize the world. Work provides us with daily opportunities to grow in holiness. We can transform the toilsome, fatiguing and burdensome aspects of work by uniting with Christ who embraced the cross leading to a fuller glorified life.
How does Don’s story exemplify Catholic Social Teaching on work and leisure?
About the Author
Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.