Labor Day

Today’s readings: Genesis 1:25-2:3, Psalm 90, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, Matthew 25:14-30

5 1 joseph worker2The US Catholic Bishop’s Labor Day Statement reminds us that “Labor Day is a holiday with an important, but sometimes forgotten purpose. It was established in New York in 1882 as a day to honor work and workers and also a time to celebrate the contributions of the American Labor Movement. For too many, Labor Day has become just another day off or a time to buy school supplies, rather than a day to honor the hard work of school teachers, janitors, cafeteria workers, and others. Unfortunately, it often takes a horrible mining disaster or a terrible attack like 9/11 to remind us of the everyday heroism and hard work of people who still labor under the earth, who go into burning buildings, or who contribute to the common good by their everyday work and enterprise.”

Today we celebrate the grace of human labor. Labor has always been central to the Church’s teaching on the meaning of life. We were created to be workers, sent forth to “be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.” God never envisioned his creatures to be passive and just soak up the atmosphere. We were created for a purpose, and it is the great project of our lives to figure out that purpose and embrace it.

Created by God, we have also been gifted by God, given talents of many varieties. Those talents and gifts are never given to us just for ourselves. We cannot bury them in a hole, but must instead reinvest them in the kingdom of God to bring honor and glory to God’s name. All of our work is intended this way, so that our own labors are a participation in the ongoing creation of the world, a participation in the mission that God has entrusted to his creatures.

It is this divine origin of human labor that has led the Church to teach tirelessly about the dignity and rights of workers. Among the many teaching of the Church on this topic, we are reminded that:

  • The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.
  • A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.
  • All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g. food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security).
  • All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefit, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join union or other associations.

So we don’t have permission to write off human labor as some kind of necessary evil or a commodity to be bought and sold. We must instead venerate all labor, that of our own efforts and of others. We must also vigorously defend the rights and dignity of workers, particularly of the poor and marginalized. And we must always offer all of this back to our God who created us to be creators with him. May we pray with the Psalmist this day and every day, “Lord give success to the work of our hands!”