Today 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):
- Human Labor precedes Original Sin and hence is not an imposition due to sin but part of our original dignity – God 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.