Each year on the first Monday of September we celebrate the civil holiday Labor Day. More than an excuse for a day off from work, it is fitting that at least once a year we pause as a nation to pray for the safety of all laborers, pray that all receive just wages and benefits, pray in gratitude for the work of others who make our own lives more wholesome and comfortable.
We can look at work in a negative way, as a “necessary evil.” After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, God expelled them from Paradise and said they would now toil and sweat to produce food (see Gen 3:17-19) that was once freely given to them. But there is another, much more positive way to look at work.
God “worked” to create and redeem us, and by this showed us that work has an inherent dignity. The dignity of labor has been brought out more than once in church teaching, even being afforded an encyclical on the subject (Pope John Paul II’s Laborem exercens, On Human Work, issued September 15, 1981). Christian labor really embraces more than an honest day’s work and just compensation. Human labor—our work—cooperates with God in the ongoing work of creation and redemption, and so our very work is a participation in God’s self-giving for the good of others. It is a participation in divine Life.
Human labor is much more than making a living and providing for our needs, as important as that is. Human labor also includes building up the church and making present God’s kingdom in our world. Through our choice to contribute to a church ministry, for example, we help build up the Body of Christ as we share our gifts with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Through reaching out to do good for others, work is a wonder that makes God present in new and ever creating ways. Even the “work” of liturgy (“liturgy” comes from two Greek words meaning “the work of the people”) is something to be celebrated this day!