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All work can be an ‘opus dei’

All of our work can be redemptive if we just offer it up for the glory of God . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

The Church has a deep theology about the seventh commandment, which deals with property and labor. “You shall not steal” regulates worldly goods — money and anything money can buy.

This commandment is one of five basic areas of human relationships in all times, places and cultures. Every culture has some version of the Ten Commandments regulating each of these five areas: family (4th commandment), life (5th), sex (6th, 9th), property (7th, 10th), and communication (8th). Although, objectively speaking, property is not as important as life, family, sex or communication, this commandment is important because so much of our time and energy is spent on property. We live, by divine design, in a material world, and we are put here to learn how to use the things of this world as training for greater things in the next.

We could think of the whole material world as an extension of our body. The goodness and importance of the body correspond to the goodness and importance of the material world of things. Just as these mortal bodies of ours are preliminary versions of our future immortal resurrection bodies, so this world will pass away and be replaced by “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1).

Catholic morality on this issue is based on basic principles of reality. What ought to be is based on what is. Therefore, it is balanced and complete, doing justice to both the real and ideal dimensions of the human situation. This distinguishes it from ideologies, which are based not on objective reality but on fashionable and changing human ideas and desires and therefore always exaggerate some one aspect and downplay its opposite.

Related to the seventh commandment, one of the areas of modern life where the Church has developed her principles the most today is in the area of a “theology of work.” The fundamental principle is this: “Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation” (CCC, 2427). Thus, work is creative.

On the other hand, because of the Fall, work is also a hardship. But “it can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. Work can be a means of sanctification” (CCC, 2427). All human work can be an opus Dei, a “work of God.”

Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 63 books. This column is reprinted with permission from the book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).