Today is Labor Day, a day on which Americans pay tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. In actuality, while some may go to a parade, and some may go to a Mass that will mention workers, most people will simply enjoy the extra day added to their weekend.
From a Catholic perspective, the day is a reminder of the dignity of labor. In his Encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II described work as one of the central characteristics that distinguishes humans from other creatures. He wrote
Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.
Work is thus a fundamental dimension of [human] existence on earth.
The source of the view of work as fundamental to human existence is our creation in the image of God. Created in the image of God, human participate in the act of creation through our work. From the standpoint of Catholic thought, all work, no matter how ordinary or mundane it seems, is an act of cooperation with God’s creative work. This might be a useful thing for us to keep in mind, both as we contemplate those aspects of our own work that may at times seem less than exhilarating and as we encounter those working in jobs we do not’ typically value.
On this Labor Day, let us pray not only for all who labor, but that we may each develop and use the gifts God has given us to do the work to which He has called us.