Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
Today is Labor Day. It will be a day of parades, picnics and political speeches. It is also a good day to reflect on the dignity of work, the necessity of work and the danger of work.
The dignity of work is enshrined on the very first pages of the Bible. God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” Scripture scholars tell us that this means as a co-creator.
We are to cooperate with God in bringing this world and its contents to its completion, to its fulfillment. By our work and using our talents we participate in the creative act of God. So great is the dignity that comes from work, that the jobless, the unemployed, who want to work and can’t find a job, feel a great loss of self-respect. They feel humiliated and worthless.
Originally work was a pure joy, a satisfaction and pleasure. The pain and drudgery attached to work today is the result of sin. After Adam’s sin of disobedience God said, “In the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread.” Work is still a joy for many today. One of the greatest graces is to find joy and satisfaction in your work. As philosophy reminds us, “We enjoy doing what we do well.” Many people are realizing this today and are giving up well-paying but unsatisfying jobs for more creative and fulfilling job with less pay.
Let us consider now the necessity of work. Work is necessary for our own well being, for health of body, mind and spirit. It is true that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy but it is equally true that all play and no work makes Jack a neurotic. By working, by using the talents God has given us, we grow, mature and become the unique person God created us to be.
Work is also necessary for the well being of our neighbor. Work keeps me from being a burden on my neighbor and depending on them to support me. And it enables me to help those who are less fortunate. The question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is as old as the human race. And the answer is still the same, “Yes, I am.” Jesus identifies himself with the neighbor in need, “Whatever you did to one of these least brethren you did to Me.”
Work is also necessary for the world in which we live. We must work to make and keep the environment in which we live suitable for human living. We are all consumers and polluters. God made us Lord of creation to till and preserve it. He made us stewards of creation and one day will have to give an account of our stewardship. We cannot pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land on which we live for personal gain.
Most important today is that work is necessary for the well being of the family which is the fundamental unit of society. Ad the family goes so goes the society and the society is not going well today because the family is not going well. “Family values” has become a buzz word in this political season. There is a crucial connection between jobs at decent pay and a healthy family life.
Far too many people in this country today have little reason to celebrate Labor Day. There are millions without work and millions more who are underemployed, working at part-time jobs or jobs that do not pay a decent wage. Society has a moral obligation to reduce joblessness because it is through work that families are sustained, children are nurtured and the future is secured. Joblessness is a clear threat to family life.
Finally, let us consider the danger of work especially today in our automated, computerized society, our society of assembly lines, robots and mass production. These can depersonalize work and make it inhuman.
There is also a danger that work which is a means to an end can become the end itself. We can become a workaholic. Work becomes our god. Work can become an escape mechanism. From whom or what are we running away, our self, our spouse, our family, our God?
On this Labor Day, let us try to realize the dignity of work, the necessity of work and the danger of work. Let us thank the Lord for the talents and work he has given us to do. And let us pray that we may find joy and satisfaction in our work, realizing that we are co-creators with God and stewards of His creation. And let us pray for those less fortunate, that they may find work that will sustain their families, nurture their children and secure their future.
St. Joseph model of workers, pray for us that we may work as if it all depended on us and trust as if it all depended on God.
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