Our country faces a fundamental question. Emerging from the pandemic, will we renew the promise of a free economy that provides our people with well-paying jobs? Or will we increase government pay-outs and benefits to cover up our failure?

Forty years ago, St. John Paul II issued the encyclical Laborem Exercens (Latin for “through work”). He argued that “human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question.” John Paul II does not tell us what policies to adopt to meet our challenges. But he is very clear: Our goal should be to promote, provide, and honor work.

Work is about more than meeting our material needs. It has profound human significance. Through work, John Paul II writes, man “contribute[s] to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family.” Work allows us to provide for those in our care. But it is also a way to build upon and honor the labor of those who came before, and to better our world for those yet to be born.

To an elected official like myself, several insights in Laborem Exercens stand out.

First, “toil is something that is universally known, for it is universally experienced.” In other words, work is often hard, but it also brings people together through shared experiences. Shared work is a powerful engine of assimilation and it bonds liberals and conservatives in a common enterprise, which is something we certainly need in today’s divided society.

Second, the “principle of the priority of labour over capital.” In my experience, this is a controversial statement. It shouldn’t be, for the principle is deeply embedded in our national identity. In his first annual message to Congress, President Abraham Lincoln wrote, “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” Applied to today: The business of what virtues and skills our people build up through work is more important than watching the stock market go up.

Third, the pope urges us “to act against unemployment, which in all cases is an evil, and which…can become a real social disaster.” He cautions against support systems that devalue work. When a system treats citizens as consumers only, and not as productive members of society, “incalculable damage is inevitably done…first and foremost damage to man.”

Fourth, family is “something that man is called to.” Work allows the family to be self-sufficient rather than dependent….

The above comes from a Feb. 14 article by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in First Things.