Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners (1857)


Labor Day: Glamorous or grinding, work has dignity

This Labor Day, celebrate the dignity God has given to you and your work.

St. John Paul II, in his encyclical “On Human Work (Laborem Exercens), reminds us of the many blessings of labor.

“Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being.’”

Labor, according to the encyclical, “is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth.”

St. John Paul II says work has dignity because:

It’s a continuation of Creation.

Made in the image of God, we are mandated “to subdue, to dominate, the earth” through work. According to the Second Vatican Council: “By the subjection of all things to man, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth.”

“As the Council teaches, even ‘in the most ordinary everyday activities… They can justly consider that by their labor they are “unfolding the Creator’s work” and “by their personal industry to the realization in history of the divine plan.”’

Jesus worked!

“The fact that the One, Who while being God became like us in all things, devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter’s bench constitutes in itself the most eloquent ‘Gospel of work.’

“He who proclaimed it was Himself a man or work, a craftsman like Joseph of Nazareth. … He belongs to the ‘working world.’ He has appreciation and respect for human work. It can indeed be said that He looks with love upon human work and the different forms that it takes, seeing in each one of these forms a particular facet of man’s likeness with God, the Creator and Father.”

Man is the purpose of all labor.

Even “the merest ‘service,’” the most monotonous work, the most alienating work. “Work is ‘for man’ and not man ‘for work.’

Work is the foundation for the formation of family life.

“Work is a condition for making it possible to found a family, since the family requires the means of subsistence which man normally gains through work.”

It’s also a foundation for education.

“Work and industriousness also influence the whole process of education in the family, for the very reason that everyone ‘becomes a human being’ through, among other things, work, and becoming a human being is precisely the main purpose of the whole process of education.” 

We owe it to others.

“Work is an obligation, that is to say, a duty, on the part of man. … Man must work out of regard for others especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history.”

As we advance, we have more responsibility.

“Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s greatness and the flowering of His own mysterious design. For the greater man’s power becomes, the farther his individual and community responsibility extends.” 

“Even by their secular activity they must assist one another to live holier lives. In this way the world will be permeated by the spirit of Christ and more effectively achieve its purpose in justice, charity and peace. Therefore, by their competence in secular fields and by their personal activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them work vigorously so that by human labor, technical skill, and civil culture created goods may be perfected according to the design of the Creator and the light of the World.”

Work is tied to the Cross.

“All work, whether manual or intellectual, is inevitably linked with toil. The Christian finds in human work a small part of the Cross of Christ and accepts it in the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted His Cross for us.”



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