Labor Day and the Dignity of Work

El Ángelus by Jean-Francois Millet

In addition to being the unofficial end of summer and a time for a backyard cookout or one last trip to the beach, Labor Day should also be a time to prayerfully remember the dignity of work and workers.

Pope Francis, whose father was a railway worker in Argentina, has shown special respect for workers in his words and actions.  Shortly after becoming our new Holy Father, Pope Francis celebrated morning Masses for the Vatican cooks, cleaning crews, gardeners and garbage collectors, and also for women religious who ran a pediatric clinic for the poor and cared for the elderly.

On May 1, the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, Pope Francis encouraged efforts to provide opportunities to the unemployed and to end slave labor and unjust working conditions.  “Work, honest work, gives us dignity,” he said, adding that work is part of God’s loving plan for humanity and through work, people participate in his act of creation.

Work, Pope Francis said, “fills us with dignity (and) makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts; it gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation.”

Blessed John Paul II wrote about a spirituality of work, saying, “The Christian finds in human work a small part of the cross of Christ and accepts it in the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted his cross for us.  In work, thanks to the light that penetrates us from the resurrection of Christ, we always find a glimmer of new life…” (Laborem Exercens, “On Human Work”).

The God-given dignity of each worker can be seen in how work and workers are treated in the Bible, Blessed John Paul II noted.  He pointed out how the books of the Old Testament include references to varied occupations, including doctors, artists, sailors, builders, musicians and scholars, and in the New Testament, Jesus’ parables on the kingdom of God include references to shepherds, harvesters, stewards, merchants and fishermen.

Blessed John Paul II helps us see a spiritual dimension to our work, which can reflect our love for God and show how Christ’s grace is working in us.  Our daily labors, through which we can find solidarity with Christ and our fellow men and women, should present us with an opportunity to share in the work of Christ and renew the face of the earth.

As Pope Francis and Blessed John Paul II have shown us, we should pray that God will bless the work of our hands, and also pray that God will bless the work of all those we encounter on a typical day.  In that way, Labor Day – and every day – becomes a time to remember the dignity of work and workers.