Dear Friends in Christ,
This coming Monday is Labor Day, a holiday known to most Americans as the end of summer and the reason for a long weekend. But that wasn’t always the case. It was originally established to honor American workers and, by extension, the dignity of labor itself. The meaning of human work has been at the center of debates in the public square since the industrial revolution.
The two opposing views (broadly speaking) hold that human labor is for the state, on one hand, or for the corporation, on the other. What these extremes have in common is that they view work in a materialistic manner. They both confine its purpose to this world only — to institutions, products, profit, etc. The Church has a different, loftier view of work. Scripture tells us that man was created and placed in the garden “to till it and to keep it” (Gen 2:15).
This task was a participation in and continuation of the work that God Himself had been doing (see Gen 2:2-3). Labor was, therefore, not a punishment but an original blessing. One of the effects of original sin was the distortion of human labor from blessing into affliction: “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil, you shall eat of it…thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you…” (Gen 3:17-18). We all find frustration, difficulty, boredom, and drudgery at work to some degree. Thus, the original blessing of work needed to be redeemed.
Our Lord Himself was known as “the carpenter’s son” (Mt 13:55). He spent most of his adult life learning and practicing the same trade as his earthly father, Joseph. He thus redeems human labor and imbues it with a great dignity. We were created to participate in God’s work; in Jesus Christ, God Himself participates in our work. Thus, human labor is not solely for goods, profit, the state, or the corporation. It is for the development of the person as the image of God.
Work is for man; not man for work. “By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work” (CCC 2427). These are the truths that should inform how we shape our society’s view of work and workers. They should also shape our government’s treatment of the worker. It is significant that Poland’s Solidarity movement — for the dignity of work and workers’ rights — in a little over a decade brought the Soviet Union’s tyranny to an end.
That is the societal impact of thinking correctly on this issue. May these truths also inform and shape how we view our own work. May we always see it as both an opportunity to cooperate in God’s creative work and, as we bear the cross of difficulties and challenges, an occasion to participate in Christ’s redemptive work.
By Father Paul Scalia ( A friend of Father Perez’s)