Does anyone know of any Catholic theological references to the belief that work (particularly hard physical labor as a form of reparation for pass misdeeds, falling into poverty, etc.) cleanses the soul? I have always thought of this belief as being Protestant in origin, but understand that this may be a misconception on my part.
In that document, I especially think you ought to look at Part 5: “Elements for a Spirituality of Work.” Here’s a relevant sentence for you: “The Christian finds in human work a small part of the Cross of Christ and accepts it in the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted his Cross for us.” (Laborem Exercens 27)
If you want something more ancient, one thought that came to mind when I saw your post was the Rule of St. Benedict, whose order bears the slogan “Ora et Labora” – Pray and Work. I wondered if St. Benedict, a Church Father who lived in the 500s, said anything about the value of work.
So I googled his rule, found a translation, and did a word-search for work and labor. Here’s one passage I found:
“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore the brothers should be occupied at certain times in manual labor, and again at fixed hours in sacred reading.” (St. Benedict’s Rule Chapter 48)
I’ll bet there are other references to work being good for the soul among the Church Fathers, but I’ve never searched it. You might want to try searching for the terms “work,” “labor,” “soul,” “idleness,” and other combinations and synonyms at the Church Fathers Search Engine: historyandapologetics.com/p/church-fathers-search-engine.html
Let me know if you find something good.
**UPDATE :: After a bit of searching I found a neat document by St. John Cassian that discusses the value of work. It is Book 10 of his Institutes, and he has some very interesting comments. Among them, he has a short chapter called “How manual labour prevents many faults” (Chapter 14) and another called “Different passages in which the Apostle declares that we ought to work” (Chapter 17).
In those chapters, among other things, St. John Cassian quotes the following passage of Scripture, which I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before: “He that stole, let him now steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have something to give to him that suffers need.” Ephesians 4:28