Freedom and Work for Fulfillment

“A vision must be manifested that unites us all in purpose, rich and poor, employers and employees.”

In a leaked draft of an encyclical, Pope Francis appears to be declaring that wealthy nations have an obligation to make payment on an “ecological debt” to poor and developing nations. He describes wealthy nations as “opinion makers, communications media and centers of power far removed from the poor.” He implies that, through control, consumption, and materialism, the world’s rich have paid little attention to the destruction of the earth’s environment, and that the world’s poor face the greatest peril, and further that we have allowed the world to become a filthy place. E.J. Dionne in a recent op-ed entitled “The Pope, The Saint and the Climate,” points out “the pope, who immersed himself in the most marginalized neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, has not forgotten where he came from.”

Pope Francis is a man of the people. Like the saint from which he took is name, Francis of Assisi, he has committed to a life of poverty. He has exemplified this moral standard, not only in his everyday life, but also in his official capacity as the Holy See. The world respects his compassion and authenticity.

He further offers in the draft encyclical an outright rejection of “a magical conception of the market,” that freedom alone, and in particular economic freedom, is not sufficient to protect the poor.  He argues that, to speak of freedom, “while real conditions bar many people from real access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practice a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute.”

There is no question that, as Christians, we have a duty to cultivate and care for the earth. However, tantamount to protecting the earth is the ordained purpose of God for man to work to be fulfilled in spirit. “Work is part of the original state of man and precedes his fall; it is therefore not a punishment or a curse.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church #256)  And to attain the particular work required to fulfill a person’s purpose requires freedom. Without freedom to pursue one’s destiny, the goal of fulfilling work cannot be achieved.

Saint Francis of Assisi lived from 1181 to 1226. The world he knew was a feudal society wherein the landlord controlled the land and rents, and the tenant farmer had little freedom to benefit from the toil and sweat of his brow. Nobles not only controlled the wealth, but flaunted it as a sign of their position in society. Born of means, Saint Francis rejected wealth to reflect Christ as a servant to the poor. He is known as the patron saint of ecologists, a title derived from his love for animals and God’s natural creation. He did stand up to nobility and their authority in society. He preached from town to town about the Good News of Jesus Christ and the benefits of loving each other.

Pope Francis has taken the argument deeper into politics by questioning the world’s system of justice. It is true that during the Dark and Middle Ages, power was maintained and exercised through the control and manipulation of an elite. Through the Renaissance, kingdoms evolved into nation states. This brought about the development of trade and commerce between nations. The creation of jobs was advanced. Today, the world has evolved into a system that at least has the option for freedom, due process, and rule of law. This change in world order began with the Declaration of Independence by the United States of America from Great Britain. The successful establishment of the United States ended for us the social indictment that birth is destiny.

There is a balance in policy that must be pursued in the care of the planet and the nourishment of freedom in society. They are not mutually exclusive. In this balance, there is perfection. It must be possible to do both. Work and freedom are critical to the fulfillment of an individual. “The Old Testament presents God as the omnipotent Creator who fashions man in His image and invites him to work the soil.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church  #255)

Part of the analysis and criticism of the exploitation of the earth should also be laid at the feet of dictators, war lords, religions, and national systems, in developing nations, that do not respect freedom and a man’s need to work. Oppression still exists in the world today, in certain circumstances even more egregious than in the Dark Ages. Policy should be advanced that respects God’s creation as well as the need to create jobs and maintain the advancement of society. Materialism and greed are moral problems that must be confronted. But to allow oppression of the poor, and not strive for the freedom of the poor, is equally immoral.

At this time of this age, the peoples of the world cry out for leadership – leadership that encompasses the totality of family needs. A vision must be manifested that unites us all in purpose, rich and poor, employers and employees. Pope Francis writes, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” E.J. Dionne comments, “This is precisely where the personal and the political must meet.”

Respect for all people’s independence (freedom) and an individual’s right to a job should be a pillar of any government policy. A society that protects freedom in balance with protection of the natural environment provides the societal environment that allows for the pursuit of happiness, and therein, the pursuit of fulfillment.

My name is Marc Nuttle and this is what I believe.

What do you believe?