The Dignity of Work and the Worker

Because of the celebration in many places of Ascension Thursday yesterday, lost to those places was the optional memorial on May 1 for St. Joseph the Worker (one of the two Catholic feast days in honor of St. Joseph).  The memorial was instituted by Pope Pius XII as a day dedicated to the dignity of labor and workers.

In Laborem Exercens, John Paul II described work as one of the central characteristics that distinguishes humans from other creatures. “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 man’s 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 are called to co-create the world with God.  We participate in the act of creation through our work.  Importantly, from the Catholic standpoint, 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 exhiliarating and as we encounter those working in jobs we dont’ typically value.  Perhaps we might look at them…and even treat them…with a little more regard.