laborday-ecardToday is “Labor Day” in the United States of America. With this in mind I thought it good to reflect on some teachings about human labor and work that are given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here follow the teachings. My own comments are added in RED to the catechism text (which is italicized):

  1. Human Labor precedes Original Sin and hence is not an imposition due to sin but part of our original dignityGod places [Man] in the garden. There he lives “to till it and keep it”. Work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation. (CCC # 378) Thus note that our dignity is that we are to work WITH God to perfect creation. Adam and Eve were told by God to fill the earth and subdue it. (Gen 1:28) Radical environmentalism often sets aside any notion that we are to help perfect creation and presents a far more negative portrait of humanity’s interaction with the environment. True enough we have not always done well in treating the environment, but it is wrong to think of the created world as better without humanity’s presence. It is rather our dignity to work with God in perfecting nature. Note too the description of work as not burdensome prior to sin. Man and woman HAD a work to do, but it was not experienced as a burden. Only after Original sin does work come to be experienced in this way for Eve will bring forth her children in pain and Adam will only get his food by the “sweat of his brow.” (Gen 3:16, 19)
  2. Human Work is a duty and prolongs the work of Creation – Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty: “If any one will not work, let him not eat.”[2 Thess 3:10] Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him.(CCC 2427) See again the emphasis of our dignity as collaborators with God in the work of creation and in perfecting what God has begun! As to the duty of work, it is true that not everyone can work in the same way. Age and handicap may limit a person’s ability to do manual labor. Further, talents and state in life will tend to focus one’s work in specific areas. But all are called to work. Even the bedridden can pray and offer their sufferings for the good of others.
  3. Work can be sanctifying and redemptive[Work] can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish. Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ. (CCC 2427)…In his mercy God has not forsaken sinful man. The punishments consequent upon sin, “pain in childbearing” and toil “in the sweat of your brow,” also embody remedies that limit the damaging effects of sin. (CCC # 1609) Sin has brought upon us many weaknesses and a selfish tendencies. Work can serve as a remedy wherein we are strengthened unto discipline, the common good and cooperation with others in attaining good ends.
  4. Work is an acceptable sacrifice to God[The] laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvellously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit maybe produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. (CCC # 901).
  5. To work is participate in the Common Good - Participation [in the common good]is achieved first of all by taking charge of the areas for which one assumes personal responsibility: by the care taken for the education of his family, by conscientious work, and so forth, man participates in the good of others and of society. (CCC # 1914) Hence, we work not only to benefit ourselves but also to contribute to the good of everyone. We do this first by caring for our own needs to the extent possible and thus not burdening unnecessarily, others with our care. We also contribute to the common good by supplying our talent and work in such a way as to contribute to the overall availability of goods and services in the economy and community. We supply human talent and the fruits of our works to others in addition to purchasing, from our resources, the goods and services of others. Hence to work is to participate in the common good.

So, the key word seems to be “Dignity.” Human work proceeds from our dignity as collaborators with God in perfecting and completing the work of creation. Everyone can work and should work in the way that is possible for them not merely because every one has a duty, but also because this is of the essence of their dignity. Happy Labor Day.

11 Responses

  1. Cynthia BC says:

    If you’ve never watched the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” I highly recommend it. The show’s host, Mike Rowe, spends a day walking in the shoes of different workers, most of them doing jobs we wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Although the series has a lighthearted tone, Mr. Rowe clearly has respect for those who work hard in difficult if not outright hazardous conditions.

  2. Nguyen Thuong Minh says:

    Epistle 249
    My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope talked about labor is a gift from God that precedes original sin.
    Here, labor is synonymous with work, and work plus suffix ‘-er’ to form the word worker (work + er = worker).
    Father said that today is Labor Day which is a United States federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September (September 5 in 2011) that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers.
    Father excerpted Genesis of Old Testament and Catechism of the Catholic Church to conclude that “Human work proceeds from our dignity as collaborators with God in perfecting and completing the work of creation”.
    In sum, Father concluded Labor Day or International Workers’ Day (also known as May 1) proceeded from Genesis of OT.
    Secondly, now permit me to make a suggestion with Msgr. Charles Pope alone on some matters hereafter:
    I think that Father ought to reread Matthew in NT. In Gospel according to Matthew had two chapter talked about the word worker.
    In Matthew 9: 35-38 talked about the workers are few. And in Matthew 20: 1-16 talked about the parable of workers in the vineyard.
    Thus, in my opinion, Labor Day or International Workers’ Day (also known as May 1) proceeded from Matthew 9: 35-38 and Matthew 20: 1-16, but it is not proceed from Genesis of OT as Father said.
    Because the first big Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882, by the Central Labor Union of New York.
    And International Workers’ Day is the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago of the US.
    My conclusion is that Lord very loved workers. And Lord only punished idle workers./.

  3. Nick says:

    Perhaps this is one reason why Saint Joseph is part of the Holy Family.

  4. Edward says:

    Thank you for this post.
    We are often lost and confused as to what to do to pass our days wishing to keep our sanity intact.
    Eating, watching TV, shopping; these all dull the senses and leave us in a state of bewilderment.
    Working, cleaning, growing things, taking a walk, preparing a good meal; these things bring our minds into focus and let us feel a sense of belonging in this world.
    Give a pair of socks to a homeless person. Say a kind word to a bitter neighbor. Just tell someone that God loves them.
    What joy to get our minds off of ourselves all the time and let someone know that they matter.
    God bless you for your insight.
    Jesus loves you.

  5. Jennifer Olson says:

    Nguyen, while I presume you are probably right about the origin of the celebration of Labor Day and it’s connection with the Labor Unions, Msgr. is correct in his assertion that work is for the dignity of man, something for which the Labor Unions have sorely become remiss of. Thus in the spirit of renewal, I propose that what Msgr. has written is a much needed understanding of who we are in relationship to God and what our purpose is here on earth. Thank you Msgr. for your words of wisdom. The truth you have given sets the soul on fire with song for the Lord! How timely and appropriate the message for today!

  6. Robert Hagedorn says:

    Yes, Adam and Eve. But is Saint Augustine’s exegesis of the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis correct? Do a search: First Scandal.

  7. buckeye pastor says:

    Psalm 104 (which always makes me look forward to Sunday of Week 2 in the Liturgy of the Hours) details what each of God’s creatures does to give Him glory. The streams glorify God by gushing and giving drink to all the beasts of the field. The birds glorify God by song. At dark, the young lions roar for their prey, asking their food from God. When the sun rises, they steal away, and man glorifies God by going forth to his work. Earlier in the Psalm, there is a detail about how man is a co-creator: God gives plants to serve man’s needs, and man brings forth bread and wine from the earth.

  8. mortimerzilch says:

    just a little work is equally rewarded in Jesus parable of the idle workers. If you lift your finger to work for God’s kingdom but doing justly, God will move His arm. The world will enslave you, and the Father’s of the Church always showed a healthy contempt for the endless and demeaning demands of the world. Even Pope Benedict XVI warned us not to work too much lest we forget we are merely passing through this life and it is not our true and final home. I looked up the Genesis quote that the Msgr. cites, and there it is ! work precedes the fall. and evidently, marriage does too! :-)

  9. Scotty Ellis says:

    Some people like me have a hard time keeping our mouths shut (or our fingers off our keyboards).:)

    Do you think that certain aspects of modern economic systems like Capitalism show that, in the world today, work really can be a curse?

    I wrote a response to your five points, in which I consider the way that the good of work is counterpointed by potential evils. http://sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/2011/09/many-sides-of-work-response-to-msgr.html

    In brief, it is not that I do not believe that work can be a good thing, but rather that I know that the over-glorification of work can be part of a project of devaluing the human person by measuring his dignity in terms of production rather than intrinsic worth (I know this is not what you are advocating in the least, but it is undeniably a danger). In the post-reformation world, there is something irreducibly Protestant about the notion that work is sanctifying, not only because Protestants ended up making successful work a sign of the elect (ironic considering their mistaken objections against what they believed was a “salvation by works” theology), but because, as Weber as taught us, Protestantism provided the force behind the winds of what is today global capitalism, a system of interrelated series of exploitations that consistently alienates the worker from his own work and prevents work from being a truly fruitful experience for him.

  10. KathleenS. says:

    I would love to see people include accountants, CEO’s, engineers, finance people and all sorts of other white collar workers in the picture. There is a notion that those who suffer the business of the business are not workers or hard workers. They are sold short in the photo essays on the subject. Just an observation.

  11. Kurt says:

    Labor Day us a great time to reflect on the dignity of labor and the Church’s strong support for the Labor Movement.

    I was struck by the statement that “To work is participate in the Common Good.” In the past, and in union jobs today, a non-college worker (75% of Americans) had a 40 hour set shift, maybe some overtime and maybe the less desirable third shift and no Sunday work. Today,a large part of the labor force has no regular work schedule. They work different number of hours and at different times everyweek, including Sundays with no premium pay. This has wreaked family life as well as church obligations. A job should be a means of self-sufficency and contribution to the common good. Today we have millions of low wage hourly workers with no dependable schedule and no structured life. It is a moral, pastoral, political, economic and social disaster.

Leave a Reply