This weekend we celebrate Labor Day, a transition from the relaxing months of summer to the Fall. The weekend marks the beginning of college football season and, traditionally, the start of school for many throughout the country. It is a weekend to spend time with family and friends at the beach, having a barbeque, or relaxing in some way as we enjoy a long weekend.
Labor is an important part of our lives, and this holiday weekend offers us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of work for us as Christians. The dignity of work and the rights of workers is one of the fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching. Modern Catholic social teaching begins with Leo XIII’s encyclical on human work (Rerum Novarum, 1891) and the rights of laborers, which he called “the question of the hour.” Today, we see that this question remains, as many people seek meaningful work and seek just wages for their labor. Our economy still faces many challenges today, and unemployment was at 9.5% in July.
In honor of this Labor Day, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a document entitled “A New Social Contract for Today’s New Things.” The news release with the link for the entire document can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2010/10-151.shtml. In the document, the bishops write,
Workers need to have a real voice and effective protections in economic life. The market, the state, and civil society, unions and employers all have roles to play and they must be exercised in creative and fruitful interrelationships. Private action and public policies that strengthen families and reduce poverty are needed. New jobs with just wages and benefits must be created so that all workers can express their dignity through the dignity of work and are able to fulfill God’s call to us all to be co-creators. A new social contract, which begins by honoring work and workers, must be forged that ultimately focuses on the common good of the entire human family.
The Church takes seriously the dignity of work as participating in the creative work of God. There are various forms of work, but all forms that respect human dignity participate in God’s creative and redemptive work. In our society that values certain jobs much more than others, as seen by the fact that many people do not receive just wages while some CEOs and other high-ranking officials receive exorbitant wages, this is an important point to remember. Francis de Sales highlights the importance that each of us has in offering this world something unique through our work, “We all have a vocation. We must believe that God has called us to fulfill a special mission in this life that no one else can accomplish.” Even if what our job is does not seem to be important to many people in the world, the way we approach our job and interact with others can have a profound impact on others and can witness to the presence of Jesus in our lives.
The ancient principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief) teaches us that the way we pray shapes what we believe. In this vein, it can be instructive for us to hear one of the opening prayers for Mass on Labor Day:
God our Father,
By the labor of men and women you govern and guide to perfection the work of creation. Hear the prayers of your people and give all people work that enhances their human dignity and draws them closer to each other in the service of their brothers and sisters. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
I pray that everyone has a safe, relaxing Labor Day, and is able to reflect on the dignity of work and seek ways to promote justice in the workplace and in the world.