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Work and the Final End of Man

In addition to economic and health reasons, there are also spiritual grounds for doing away with early, full-time retirement. From a Christian point of view, work is not a punishment, but it is a gift of God that allows man to take part in the furthering of the world of creation. In this, Christ gave us the supreme example: He was a diligent worker, publicly known as a carpenter’s son, and good not only in words but also in deeds (cf. Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 2:51; Mark 7:37). Everything that Christ did had a redemptive dimension, including his professional work.

Pensions, Population, and Prosperity

Man also has a moral duty to work. This should be the guiding principle for policies in relation to disability benefits: that the rules may not be so lax and poorly monitored that they tempt individuals to moral evil. The apostle Paul teaches that a Christian cannot live at the expense of others, so much so that a person who refuses to work should bear the consequent poverty and hunger (cf. 2 Thess. 3:6–12). This does not in any way contradict the principle of charity, which takes primacy over other duties. However, it does refine it so that those who can look after themselves have no right to shirk their duty.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in any work-related public policy is how to value work properly, neither disregarding work nor turning it into an idol. The prevalent pension policies have tended toward both extremes without finding the right balance. At first, they attempted to permit as much leisure as possible, which is not good for people, physically, mentally or spiritually. Now, when things do not look too rosy, the aim is to make people work as long as possible so as to keep the system running. At the root of these policies is a materialistic concept of human nature, masked by reasons of public interest.

Man and Boy on a Bike
© Arturi Karol S. Image from sxc.hu

Ultimately it is not a question of finding the right compromise but of discovering the basis of a real relationship with God. For a Christian, work cannot be separated from prayer. On the one hand, man needs rest, not as an end in itself, but as time spent with God in prayer and contemplation. Christ gave a clear example of this during his visit to the house of Martha and Mary: Martha’s busy activity was not pleasing to God, because it made her disregard his presence (Luke 10:40–42). On the other hand, when work is done as a service to God and men, it, too, becomes prayer and contemplation, a continuous dialogue with the Creator and Redeemer of this world.

Pension policy cannot, of course, make saints, but it can facilitate a better moral and spiritual atmosphere in society by being more aligned with the deeper needs of man who is a union of body and soul. It is good for a person to work hard, and pension policy should not impose disincentives to do so. At the same time, growing old can be a period of more intense prayer, reflection, and contemplation of the mysteries of God, and, ultimately, preparation for a good death.

This does not mean that one should become idle in old age, for idleness causes both physical and psychological harm, and it tends to give rise to moral and spiritual difficulties too. Volunteer work, assisting with grandchildren, and so on, can be fruitful ways of helping others even after retirement. This kind of interaction between old and young, moreover, fosters intergenerational solidarity—an important fact considering that social security policy relates not only to the aged but is closely bound to the well-being of children and families as well.