Labor Day and the Vocation to Work

Labor Day and the Vocation to Work

Deacon Dave Cahoon building altar for Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Human work plays an important role in God’s plan.  As Pope Francis notes, “According to the biblical account of creation, God placed man and woman in the garden he had created not only to preserve it (‘keep’) but also to make it fruitful (‘till’)” (Laudato Si’, 124).  Early Church fathers also saw in the Book of Genesis a relationship between God’s creative power and the ability of human beings to produce, through human skill and work, goods that benefit the human race.

“We were created with a vocation to work,” adds the Holy Father. “Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment” (Id., 128).  “It is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives,” he adds (Evangelii Gaudium, 192).  Conversely, Pope Francis states, “When there is no work, dignity is at risk, because not only does the lack of work prevent a person from bringing the bread home, it prevents one from feeling worthy of earning one’s livelihood” (Address of December 14, 2015).  Thus, our obligation to help the poor is not simply to provide financial assistance, but should be to help them obtain a suitable job and to foster economic conditions that increase the opportunities for gainful employment (Laudato Si’, 128).

If fact, not only is it a calling, “work is, as has been said, an obligation, that is to say, a duty, on the part of man,” Saint John Paul II said. “Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him” (Laborem Exercens, 16).

From this need to work, from this vocation of the human person made in the image of God to be like God in creative labors, arise also certain rights on the part of workers as recognized in the social teaching of the Church.  Many of these principles of justice have informed legislation that guarantees, for example, decent working conditions, tolerable working hours, fair wages, non-discrimination, and the banning of child labor and other exploitation of workers. This respect for workers is not only what is due to them, it creates a more just society overall.

On this Labor Day holiday, in addition to rest and relaxation, we should also take this occasion to reflect upon the mystery and value of human work and the dignity of those who labor.  There is a plan.  Our work is part of that plan and, in particular, can share in the work of Jesus to renew the face of the earth.