As I’ve done in prior years, I thought it might be appropriate on this Labor Day weekend to reflect a little on the nature and meaning of human labor from the perspective of our faith.
Viewed a Catholic perspective, the nature and meaning of human labor takes on a character beyond the immediately practical. We have a long-standing tradition of teaching on the nature of human labor that can serve to deepen our appreciation for work in our lives and of its importance not only for our personal benefit, but also for the benefit of our relationship with God and with one another.
In the Genesis narrative, we come to understand that our work is part of our “collaboration” with God in bringing to perfection the ongoing work of creation (CCC 378). Thinking of our work as being expressive of our human dignity in God is an amazing way to approach our efforts to make the world a better place. The adage taught me as a child comes to mind: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Our work is an expression of our own dignity and doing our best in whatever we do is an honorable thing.
Human work is a responsibility to which everyone is called. However, that is not to say that everyone is called to the same kind of work. For example, for some, physical labor may not be possible, but everyone is called to play their part in the work of God’s creation. If physical labor is mine to do, so be it. But if I am grown frail under the burden of years, or if my abilities are different, then my work may be my prayerful support of those engaged in active labor. The gospel reminds us that to the one to whom, much is given, much is expected. To each according to their giftedness at the hand of God (Mt 25:15)
Daily work, if “accomplished in the Spirit”, can rightly be understood as part of all that we might offer of our lives as “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” As such human work has a certain sacrificial sense to it, when brought to God as a prayer or an offering.
Human work is a concrete way in which we participate in the ongoing unfolding of God’s saving work. As such, it is part of our living out our human vocation to holiness of life. Whatever work we do, we are called to do it as fully and as well as we may. Our love for others, our service and care of others, the manner of our commitment to who we are as children of God is lived out in our places of work. In other words, our discipleship of Jesus is lived out in our workplaces (CCC 2427) just as in every other arena of our lives.
One additional thought on human work is that it is not simply self-serving, our for our own personal good alone, but that it has a communal sense in which the community benefits. When I do a good job at my work, others benefit from that effort on my part. My fellow workers benefit and their work is enhanced. Those who benefit directly from our collective work enjoy the communal fruit of our labors. But even beyond that, while we certainly benefit ourselves from our labor, the benefits we enjoy are benefits we can share with others. The ways in which I care for my family, the ways in which I provide education for my children, the ways in which I look out for others… all of this is part of the collaborative nature of my work that makes the world a better place. And when I am considering what charitable works I might contribute to, either with my time, my talents, or my treasure, I am participating in building up the Reign of God, and helping to do my part for the common good.
Have a wonderful Labor Day, and enjoy the holiday.
September 1 is also celebrated as World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Perhaps this holiday weekend we might take some time out of our day today to walk in a local park, or to hike one of our local trails, to maybe pick up trash we see in our street, or simply take a few moments to thank God for the flowers growing in your garden?
This World Day of Prayer is an opportunity for us to recognize God as our Creator, and to grow more deeply into our relationship with God through our relationship with our environment.
Enjoy the extended weekend!