Vatican Meeting to Highlight Work/Family Balance
by David Gibson
The work people do to earn a living frequently appears to compete for time and attention with their marriages and family lives. But must it be that way? Not according to planners of the five-day World Meeting of Families opening May 30 in Milan, Italy.
The international meeting will highlight the link between work and the family. Participants will be invited to explore ways to balance these two central dimensions of life.
The meeting’s theme, “The Family: Work and Celebration,” calls attention both to workplace goals and the goals of family life apart from work, especially on Sundays and holidays.
Hosted by the Archdiocese of Milan, the meeting is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family. The council sponsors a World Meeting of Families every three years. The 2009 meeting took place in Mexico City.
Employees’ Families Visit Their Workplaces
In what I regard as a creative effort to underscore the interrelationship of work and family, a series of Company Open Days was arranged by the Milan Archdiocese as part of preparations for the upcoming meeting. Employees’ families and others visited workplaces on these days, and in some cases they participated in discussions and conferences.
The hope was that the Company Open Days would put families in contact with the world of work and offer opportunities to recognize the “reciprocal rights and needs” of families and workplaces, according to Msgr. Eros Monti, the archdiocesan vicar for social life. He indicated that a goal of these days was to accent the “primacy of the person” and of the family.
One company day brought visitors to a factory that produces wood products used in building construction. A mother, a young man, a temporary worker, an immigrant and a local civil servant had the opportunity to speak after visiting the production area.
During another company day, a sociologist who specializes in employment made a speech, and a businessman, a craftsman and a member of a union also shared thoughts.
Pope Benedict XVI, who plans to travel to Milan for the family meeting, discussed the relation of work and the family during his general audience in Rome May 16. Work and family life are “closely connected,” he said. But he insisted that work “should not hinder the family, but should rather sustain and unite it.”
Catechetical Material Highlights Work-Family Relationship
The interrelation of work and family is closely examined in catechetical material developed for the upcoming meeting. This material accents the great value of work in human life – its value not only as a means of supporting a family, but as a means of growth for individuals, and of expressing and giving shape to their basic human dignity.
“It must be remembered and affirmed,” the material states, “that the family constitutes one of the most important terms of reference for shaping the social and ethical order of human work.”
A two-pronged problem related to unemployment during the worldwide economic downturn of recent years is that families have been deprived “of the necessary means for survival” and hindered from developing fully because work was unavailable to them, the catechetical material observes.
It cautions vigorously against making work such an end in itself that it becomes an idol. When this happens, work can become so all consuming that there is no time left for one’s family.
Work becomes an idol, it is explained, when it assumes “absolute primacy over family relationships, when both spouses are blinded by economic profit and pin their happiness only on material well-being.”
Moreover, the material says, “the risk for workers in every era is to forget God by letting themselves be completely absorbed by worldly occupations, with the conviction that they hold the satisfaction of every desire.”
It is lamented that work patterns often deprive family members of the time they need for each other. “Work rhythms today, dictated by the consumer economy, are limiting to the point that for certain professions they almost cancel the spaces for life in common, especially in the family,” the meeting material explains.
It was thought not so long ago that technological progress in society would increase people’s free time. But “frenetic work rhythms,” along with “the traveling time to and from work” actually have reduced the time married couples and their children have together, it is noted.
It would represent a misunderstanding to think that work is a form of divine punishment upon humankind, “as imagined in the ancient myths,” the meeting material makes clear. Neither is work “a condition of slavery, as was thought in Greco-Roman culture.” Actually, work “is a constitutive activity of every human being.”
Properly understood, the greatness of work is that through it people collaborate in God’s continuing creation. “The earthly garden is given to people so that they will live in communion with one another and, by working, take reciprocal care of their lives,” the material comments.
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.