Labor Day invites us to reflect upon the dignity of work Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Sep. 01, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

This year Labor Day falls on September 5, shortly before the 10th anniversary of 9-11. Most who died in these terrorist attacks were working when they died. On Labor Day, we can honor their memory by prayerful reflection on the value of work and workers.

Labor Day is a national holiday during which we honor the dignity of workers and the quality of their work. According to Hilda Solis, secretary of labor, the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on September 5, 1882, to honor the social and economic achievements of American workers.

Today, Labor Day unofficially signals the beginning of a new “school year” of work and study and the end of the relaxed days of summer. It offers Christians and others opportunities to reflect upon the spirituality of work.

‘To work is to pray’

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2402 ) it says, “In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits.”

In no. 2427, the Catechism says, “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.”

Through their jobs, workers can praise God and participate in God’s work of creation and redemption. In Colossians 3:17, it says, “Whatever you do in word or work, do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God, the Father through him.”

St. Benedict said, “To work is to pray.” Brother Lawrence made his kitchen work a prayer that brought him closer to God.

Being co-creators with God

In Towards a Catholic Work Ethic, Ed Marciniak wrote, “Honest work and excellent craftsmanship extend God’s creative work in the world.’’

Workers are co-creators with God when they fashion raw materials of nature into a crutch, crucifix, or table. Truck drivers, electricians, politicians, nurses, waitresses, secretaries, stewards, mothers, and others share in the divine work of creation and redemption.”

Work is important because it produces goods and services that help workers provide food, clothing, and shelter for self and their family.

Work is also valuable because human beings created in God’s image perform the work. Pope John Paul II stated that work and workers should never be considered as mere merchandise. Treating workers as tools does no justice to their personal dignity.

On a midterm exam a business school professor asked for the name of the person who cleaned the classroom. This made the students angry. The teacher explained that if they didn’t know ordinary workers by name, they wouldn’t be good employers. His students calmed down when he promised to include the same question on their final exam.

Spirituality of work

Employers who pay just wages, provide safe working conditions, and pray for the health, happiness, and salvation of their employees embody a fruitful spirituality of work. Conscientious honest employers also reflect Christian justice when they pay just wages, provide decent living conditions, and other benefits.

Success at work often depends upon how well co-workers relate to each other and how employers and employees relate to each other. They share Christ when they treat others in a Christ-like way, and praise the goodness and skills of co-workers.

Workers should strive to give an honest day’s work, as did Jesus and Joseph at their Nazareth carpenter shop. One of my favorite statues is St. Joseph with a carpenter’s square and hammer. A statue of Jesus working with him sometimes accompanies his statue. Another favorite statue of mine is Mary holding a broom.

Workers should balance work with family, church, and community obligations. Married persons should especially guard against the trap of becoming married to their work rather than to their spouse. When this happens, a spouse might not be there when loved ones most need them.

The best job can have its crosses. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2427), it is stated, “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 his 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.”

Doing one’s best at work helps to build character. Feeling work is worthwhile, receiving just compensation, and making work a prayer helps workers to do quality work. Workers can also pray for their employers and co-workers who bear heavy burdens.

On Labor Day let us pray that those who are looking for work find jobs. May Christian workers praise and thank God through their work and Christ-like relationships with co-workers, employers, and employees. May all workers enjoy a sacred, restful Labor Day that renews them to keep making their work holy.


Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus of the Diocese of Madison.