Labor Day: The Dignity of Human Work is Rooted in the Dignity of the Human Person
To grasp the truth that dignity of all human labor derives from the dignity of the human person who engages in it requires what St Paul rightly called a renewal of the mind (See, Romans 12:2).
Labor Day invites us to examine how we view our own labor in the light of what the Church proclaims about the dignity of all human work, no matter what kind, precisely because it is done by human persons who are created in the Image and Likeness of God. A Catholic vision of work views it in light of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The entirety of our human experience was assumed by Jesus, including our labor, our human work. The Son of God worked. He was in communion with the Father and His work was joined to the Father's work. That is the same relationship we now have with the Father through our Baptism into Christ.
The Child Jesus in the workshop of Nazareth
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On this Labor Day weekend we take a break from our "jobs" to honor work and workers. It is a unique secular holiday with profound Christian potential. Most of us will have a day off during which we will gather for late summer cookouts and celebrations. It is a time that we get to sleep in a bit later than usual and relax from what is so often a frenzied pace in our contemporary pattern of life.
For many parents, Labor Day weekend marks a transition from the hectic pace of the summer to the new hectic pace of the school year. For students and teachers, it is also a portal into the new school year when we begin the work of education, a word whose Latin root reveals its depth. Through it we are drawn out into a fuller way of life and capacitated to live differently.
For Christians, Labor Day can - and should - be about much more. It invites us to examine how we view our own labor in the light of what the Church proclaims about the dignity of all human work, no matter what kind, precisely because it is done by human persons who are created in the Image and Likeness of God.
During his last years, Blessed John Paul II addressed leaders of the Catholic Action movement in Italy on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker and spoke of what he called the "gospel of work". The word "gospel" means good news. One of the late Pope's favorite passages from the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Role of the Church in the Modern World informed so much of his writing and is worthy of consideration as we examine the dignity of work and the worker:
"The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown."
"He who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15) is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin." (G.S. #22)
In 1981 John Paul released an Encyclical letter entitled "On Human Work" which beautifully presents the Christian vision of the dignity of human work and the worker. In the introductory paragraph he wrote: "(W)ork means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself. Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth."
"From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature."
We live in an age that has lost sight of the true dignity of work - because we have lost sight of the dignity of the worker. This loss is one more bad fruit of the rupture which was wrought by sin. In the industrial age, men and women were often reduced to mere instruments in a society that emphasized "productivity" over the dignity of the human person, the worker.
The technological age promised something different, but it has failed to deliver on that promise. Too often, men and women are still viewed as instruments and objects rather than persons and gifts. Even Science, a great gift meant to be placed at the service of the human person, human flourishing, the family and the common good, has often promoted a view of the human person as an object to be experimented on and disposed of at will.This fundamental error is the root of the contemporary culture of death.
To grasp the truth that dignity of all human labor derives from the dignity of the human person who engages in it requires what St ...
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