Labor Day makes me mindful of our interconnectedness; we need one another in order to survive. Consider how we are each called to contribute as well as how we benefit from the labor of others:
Even that simple can of corn you pull from the grocery store shelf has thousands of people standing behind it: from those who stock the shelves to the truckers who transport the product to the store; from the regional warehouse workers to the rail operators who supply the warehouse; from the farmers and harvesters to the granary workers. Then there are others such as those who supply fertilizers that aid in growth and those who developed innumerable agricultural technologies over the years. People also labored to build the roads and rails over which the products travel. Others supply fuel for the trucks, combines, and locomotives. Coal miners work hard to supply the electricity needed all along the way. Still others in banking and business take risks and supply the funds to run agricultural, transportation, and food distribution businesses and networks. The list of people who have worked so that you and I can buy that can of corn at the store is almost endless.
Thanks be to God for human labor; we help each other to survive!
As today is Labor Day in the United States, it seems good to reflect on some teachings about human labor from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). In the list below, the text from the catechism is italicized while my comments appear in plain red text.
1. Human labor precedes Original Sin and hence is not an imposition due to sin but rather 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).
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 presents a far more negative view of humanity’s interaction with the environment. While we have not always done well in treating the environment, it is wrong to think of the created world as better without humanity’s presence. Rather, it is our dignity to work with God in perfecting nature. Note also the description of work as not burdensome prior to the advent of sin. Man and woman did have work to do, but it was not experienced as a burden. Only after Original Sin did work come to be perceived in this way: Eve would bring forth her children in pain and Adam would 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 anyone 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 on our dignity as collaborators with God in the work of creation and in perfecting what God has begun! Not everyone can work in the same way. Age and handicap may limit a person’s ability to perform manual labor. Further, talents and state in life tend to focus one’s work in specific areas. All, however, are called to work in some way. Even the bedridden can pray and offer their suffering 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 selfish tendencies. Work can serve as a remedy through which we are strengthened unto discipline, contribution to 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 marvelously 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 borne—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 to 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).
We work not only to benefit ourselves but also to contribute to the good of others and society in general. We do this first by caring for our own needs to the extent possible, thus not burdening others unnecessarily. 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 community. We supply our human talent and the fruits of our labor to others, while at the same time purchasing the goods and services of others.
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 do so in the ways possible for him or her, not merely out of a sense of duty but also because it is the essence of dignity.
To return to our opening theme, here are some lyrics from the song “I Need You to Survive”:
I need you, you need me.
It is God’s will that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
2 Replies to “Labor Day Reflection: We Need One Another to Survive”
This quote from St. Thomas Aquinas supports one of the themes of this article:
“But we see that any part, by a kind of natural inclination, works for the good of the whole, even to its own danger or detriment, for example, when someone exposes his hand to a sword to defend his head on which his whole body’s health depends. So it is natural that any part in its way loves the whole more than itself. And also according to this natural inclination and according to political virtue, the good citizen faces the danger of death for the common good. But it is clear that God is the common good of the whole universe and of all its parts, so any creature in its way naturally loves God more than itself–insensible things do so naturally, brute animals sensitively, rational creatures through the intellectual love which is called love (dilectio).”–found in
Miscellaneous Questions, Question 4: About man , Article 3: Whether man in the state of innocence loved God above all things?
What is dignity and how is it lost or taken away?
Bob Dylan wrote a pleasant song called Dignity. My favorite lyrics from the song is:
“Someone showed me a picture and I just had to laugh.
Dignity has never been photographed.”
I’m not claiming that Bob Dylan is a St. Thomas Aquinas, but at least he thinks dignity is a word worth writing a song about, and not too many other people are like that.
Here is an excellent live performance of the song:
Our relationship with God as we work, is relevant to me at the moment, in regards to the management of a parish. Many Lay people involved in the parish have been successful in life or business and are confident in their own judgment. ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is an ingrained belief. We have had a priest hounded out of town because he was recalcitrant to their bullying. I have been told by an active parishioner that God requires ‘self starters’ then Jesus jumps in if they need help. Like Jesus is their friend who gives little pep talks as they march on Christian soldiers. They miss the point that God needs to be working through us so that we can achieve anything good. We need the Holy Spirit to achieve anything. I believe that the quotes from the Catechism (supplied in the posting) inadequately describe our relationship with God.
For example ‘… work in union with Jesus’ is quite ambiguous and can easily be read to imply an equal authority. It gives an open door to dominating lay people, which are now getting more and more power in the Church.
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