Today we celebrate Labor Day in the United States, a day on which we recognize the achievements of American workers. The Department of Labor calls it a day to “pay tribute… to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.” In Catholic terms, we more accurately pay tribute to workers as “co-creators” with God.
A central theme in Catholic thought is work as participation in the creative action of God – in the work of creation itself, and therefore as a means of sanctification. From a Catholic perspective, work serves to facilitate and encourage human person in becoming “fully human” and therefore receptive to the divine, playing a tremendously important part in bringing workers to the realization of the fullness of their existence and potential as a human person.
This sense of work as participation in the act of creation, as a means for realizing our full potential as humans comes from our creation in the image of God and the dignity of the human person. The purpose of work is to create, and the purpose of creation is to actualize our potential as beings created in the image of God. Our divine nature is displayed in work.
It is good to remind ourselves that work as participation in the act of creation is not dependent on how a particular type of work is regarded from a secular standpoint. Some work is more glamorous or seems more important than other work. Some work looks to us like mere drudgery. But it is not the nature of the particular job that gives work its dignity. Brother Lawrence, in the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence of God, observes that God is as present in the kitchen as in the cathedral.
P.S. The Labor Day statement of the American Catholic bishops is here.