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Angelo Roncalli [then seminarian, later to become Pope] easily slipped back into the regular routine of hard work in the fields...

from The Life of Pope John XXIII by Alden Hatch


God created men as brothers, not foes.  He gave them the earth to be cultivated by their toil and labor.  Each and every man is to enjoy the fruits of the earth and receive from it his sustenance and the necessities of life.  The various nations are simply communities of men, that is, of brothers.  They are to work in brotherly cooperation for the common prosperity of human society, not simply for their own particular goals.

from Ad Petri Cethedram, Encyclical of Pope John XXIII, 1959



The biblical story repeatedly told throughout Jewish history was about Moses leading the people out of slave labor under the Egyptians to arrive eventually at the land promised to them by God, a land where they could labor freely to grow food and build cities.  The sanctification of their free labor was emphasized most clearly through the sanctification of the day of rest from labor, the Sabbath.   It would largely be disputes over “working” on the Sabbath—such as healing the sick, the blind, and the lame—that would rile the Pharisees into utter contempt for Jesus.   


For most of the 20th Century, differing views of labor and its rewards have pitted nations with different governing systems against one another: as examples, capitalism, socialism, communism.   Today, the struggles over labor continue as there are serious concerns about labor conditions and compensation for labor, especially in developing countries.


The idea stated so concisely by Pope John XXIII, that people are to “work in brotherly cooperation for the common prosperity of human society,” is one which still must be brought to fruition.   One of the challenges of modern society is the fact that for the first time in human history, farm workers and others who collect food from the earth are becoming a small minority (in the U.S., just 2% of the labor force), so that the nature of labor in relation to God’s gift of a productive earth is less evident.  And, this changed situation also impacts how people view those who are involved in cultivation and collection of foods; they are workers who may remain virtually hidden from most of the population.



The Body and Labor

Seeds of Hope: Staple Foods from around the World