On Labor Day, we honor the working man (and woman) and the dignity of human work. Work in God’s plan is not a punishment for sin but the means for men and women to participate in God’s own work of creation. Through work, we necessarily seek to meet our material needs and provide for our families; but through work, we also seek to contribute to our communities. Thus, our work as a participation in God’s continuing creation promotes the common good and reflects our human dignity.
We must remind ourselves of the connection between our work and holiness – between what most people do for a living: i.e., our employment; and, fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives: i.e. our call to holiness. In the face of the various scandals of recent years in the church, in the corporate world and in politics, we must continue to resist what the bishops at the Second Vatican Council called: “one of the gravest errors of our time… the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and their day-to-day conduct”.
In our daily lives, we live our faith as worker, spouse, parent, coach, priest, housekeeper, business owner, labor leader, student, professor, stockbroker, and in so many other ways. What we must seek to understand that what we do in our everyday life has moral purpose – that what we do contributes to or detracts from God’s creation and the common good.
Whatever our work or status, each one of us is called by faith to shape the world in which we live and labor. Each one of us must “take up the cross” and live out what our faith teaches about human life and dignity, about economic and social justice, about reconciliation and peace. We are called to apply our values and our moral principles in our lives and in our work.
In this way, the work we will do will be honest and worthy of our dignity as creatures created in God’s own image and likeness. Work should strengthen our family life, providing resources and respect, benefits and health care for families. Work should enhance our families, our communities, and our spiritual lives. Work, worthy of man, should allow us and our families to live in dignity. In other words, work must be honest but also decent work.
Today for too many people, decent work is not available. Low wage earners do not have the decent work that would afford them the means of meeting their families’ basic needs. A worker with two children, earning the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has to work more that 53 hours a week just to reach the poverty line. Today too many workers can find no more than part time work, and so working two jobs “to make ends meet” pay a significant cost to their family’s and their own well-being.
On this Labor Day, we recall with appreciation the contributions of our nation’s labor movement in securing better wages and working conditions for workers in our country. Catholic social teaching has long supported the right of workers to choose to organize themselves into unions. But unions can and should help workers not only “get” more, but “be” more by seeking for them greater participation and a real voice in both the workplace and in society.
Even those higher up on the economic ladder, must remember that the purpose of work is about more than “getting more”. In seeking to meet their own economic aspirations, even the relatively affluent can consume so much time and energy at work, away from their family and away from their home, that raising children and contributing to their communities are neglected.
On this Labor Day, may we reflect seriously on how we bring holiness and wholeness to the work we do.
Bishop Thomas Wenski
Bishop of Orlando
Chair, USCCB’s Committee on Migration