Labor Day was enacted by Congress as a national holiday in 1894. Its purpose is to recognize the achievements the American workers make and have made to the well-being and prosperity of our country. This is a good time to think about human work: what it means, why do we work? Some mistakenly get the notion that work is a punishment given by God as a consequence of original sin. “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we read in the first Book of the Bible, Genesis. 3:19. However, it is not God who makes work unpleasant, rather it is man who can make it repugnant. Labor is one part of our life that gives us dignity. This was explained in two encyclicals. Bl. John Paul II in 1981 wrote Laborem Exercens which was a further expansion of the teaching of Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. Not only should our work give us a sense of accomplishment, but it should be seen as part of the social fabric that helps us live together well. Each person’s labor contributes to the protection, health and happiness of us and others.
One’s labor has a selfless dimension to it. Unfortunately, as we have progressed in the areas of technology and production, work has become a way of serving only oneself. What one does can be seen as a way of making greater profit, of acquiring power and of enhancing one’s image. We can be reduced to “things” that make money. We can see ourselves as commodities and not as persons. This is not what God has intended. Our real happiness is found in living as He created us to live, and that is as persons who love Him above all and who love ourselves and our neighbors.
May we put God into everything we do including our work.