Today the United States celebrates Labor Day, a day we’ve been celebrating as a nation on the first Monday in September for over a hundred years. It is a day the U.S. Department of Labor calls “a national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
From the standpoint of Catholic Social Thought, the day is more accurately framed as a day we pay tribute to work and 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.
However we think of the day, it would seem a bit inauthentic to celebrate it without lamenting that there are fourteen million unemployed people in this country today and another 8.8 million involuntary part-time workers (i.e., those unable to secure full-time employment).
Perhaps we might pray this day for those who seek work and are unable to find it.