Labor Day

Over the years, we Americans have redefined the summer by making Labor Day the “extra day of vacation” that recognizes the work we do throughout the year. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, looking at the history of the struggle for wages and benefits, I think that an extra “day off” for all Americans fits in with the spirit of the whole American experience of the meaning of work. It is a moment to recognize the value and dignity of work and the contribution and rights of the American worker. It is time well spent.

That's how Bishop William Murphy, Chair of the US Bishops Committee on Justice and Human Development, begins the US Bishops' 2009 Labor Day Statment. He captures perflectly what I think many Americans take for granted ... the gifts of balance (in weekends and the 8 hour day) and fair wages that came fom the blood, sweat and tears of many.

Bishop Murphy's statement is well worth a read, especially as it places this Labor Day in the context of our current economic climate. He also uses Pope Benedict's recent encyclical to shed some light on our situation.

Earlier this summer, Pope Benedict XVI published his long-awaited encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. This teaching of Benedict brings together a whole range of theological and social issues in a perspective that is in some ways very new and challenging. The Holy Father covers a wide gamut of subjects that reflect many of the Church’s traditional concerns in the social field while placing them in broader anthropological and cultural context. In this way the encyclical reflects questions that have long been central to the theological reflections of this Pontiff who constantly plumbs the implications of understanding of the human person before God. The Pope reminds us, “the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is … the human person in his or her integrity: Man is the source, the form and the aim of all economic and social life” (#25) ...

In the new encyclical, the Holy Father affirms and extends traditional Catholic teaching on the centrality of work to the whole human experience. Decent work, according to the encyclical, “means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for children, without the children themselves being forced into labor; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for re-discovering one’s roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living” (#63).

Pope Benedict renews and reminds us of the Church’s classic support for the right of workers to choose freely to form or join a union or other types of workers’ associations. Pope Benedict endorses this and adds to it the responsibility of workers and unions “to be open to the new perspectives that are emerging in the world of work” (#64).

This Labor Day statement is not the place to give a complete overview of the new encyclical. It remains, however, a major point of reference for us all as we give thanks to God for the meaning with which God has endowed work as a reflection of the dignity of every worker, a “co-creator” with God in this world of human endeavor. That vision of cooperation with God in building up this world through our work underscores the need for us all to cooperate and collaborate with one another in making work and the workplace a project of human solidarity and mutual respect.

Please join me this Labor Day in praying for all workers--past, present and future. May we all foster and accept the dignity of every worker as co-creaters with God.


Anonymous said...

To the prayers of thanksgiving we should add a prayer for those out of work who are looking, not only that they find employment but that God will lift their spirits.

Kelly_SSJ said...

Amen...may all find work that provides with money for basic need....but, also employment that adds to their dignity and self-worth....I know individuals lose a lot when they aren't working...I saw the centrality of work first hand in one of my ministries.....