LABOR DAY REFLECTION
by Father Andrew Ibegbulem, OSA
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” Col. 3: 23
The history of the Labor Day as a national or federal holiday goes back to 1884. Since then, the first Monday of September has been set apart to celebrate and value in American society the role of our workers and their work by providing a day off to rest and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Its also a great opportunity to reflect on the deeper meaning of our work, which the language of faith provides.
There are people in our society who feel that work is a result of the brokenness of things or the human person, and that if the world were to function the way it was meant to be, life on earth would have been a paradise of joy and happiness. The Bible offers us a different perspective of work, in which our work has a central role to play in the world from the very beginning.
The human labor on earth reflects the work of God in creation and by the labor of the human person they share in God’s creation. The Bible say, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.” (Genesis 2.15). God expects us to work. He has given the human person talents and abilities and He require that they work and use them. Work was not a curse of the fall. Even Adam worked in the Garden of Eden. Adam had to tend and keep the Garden—to work it and take care of it. In the Garden, his work was fruitful and productive.
In the Catholic tradition, work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continued participation in God’s creative action. In your own experience of work in an office setting, in the Church, serving others, as a student, or working from home during this pandemic, how have you experienced work as a form of participation in God’s creative action? When has it felt difficult to recognize the dignity of work? Pope Francis said “We do not get dignity from power or money or culture. We get dignity from work.” The Holy Father added, work is not just an occupation but a mission.
An ancient watchword for the Benedictine orders is, ora et labora which means “pray and work”. This reflects the profound connection that Catholics see between spirituality and work. As Catholics, we understand that faith and work are inseparable. We understand that the dignity of work is foundational for the dignity of human life itself.
The Catholic Church teaches that work should provide all that’s materially needed for a dignified life for the worker and her family. For that reason, it strongly endorses labor unions. In 1891 Pope Leo XVIII wrote in the encyclical Rerum Novarum that labor unions should be encouraged precisely because they enable workers to achieve for themselves and their family’s livable wages, dignified work, and a stable lifestyle in which faith can flourish.
Reflecting on the deeper meaning of our work through the lens of faith can have a profound impact on how we approach the work we do today. It will give a better meaning and understanding to work. This will bring to light the difference between “I’ve got to go to work” and “I get to go to work,” and that’s a big difference.
A worthy exercise on this Labor Day during this challenging time of Covid-19, amidst the rest and celebration, would be to take a few minutes to reflect on the deeper meaning of labor, and how our faith shapes our understanding of the value of our jobs. We may ask, “How is my job creating good in the world?” or “How is my job helping fix what is broken in the world?”
I guarantee, if we take a few minutes on the Monday that is Labor Day to find compelling answers to those questions, we will return to our labor Tuesday with a lot more passion to get down to work, and do our work well, for our sake, for the sake of others, and for God’s sake.