As Pope Francis recently said, "work is fundamental to the dignity of a person...it gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one's family and to contribute to the growth of one's own nation." In a word, our work as a participation in God’s continuing creation promotes the common good and reflects our human dignity.
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 the human person, should allow us and our families to live in dignity. In other words, work must be honest but also decent work.
If Labor Day honors the dignity of human work, we do well to remind ourselves that because of unemployment or underemployment, millions here in America are still denied the honor and respect that comes from decent work. Many low wage earners do not have the decent work that would afford them the means of meeting their families’ basic needs. While some herald the end of the "great recession", our economy still is not creating an adequate number of jobs and, albeit unintended, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has made "full time employment" an increasingly unattainable goal for thousands of workers. Stalemate in Congress prevents a rational and humane solution to the millions of irregular immigrant workers whose lack of legal status leave them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. And, half of those Americans fortunate enough to be working earn less than $27,000 a year!
We recall with appreciation the historic 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 today unions and entrepreneurs who help create jobs 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.
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 50 years ago called: “one of the gravest errors of our time… the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and their day-to-day conduct.”
Whatever our work or status, each one of us is called by faith to shape the world in which we live and labor. Whatever work we do has moral purpose: what we do contributes to or detracts from God's creation and the common good. 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 – if we do this, the work we will do will be honest and worthy of our dignity as creatures made in God's own image and likeness; if we do this, our observance of Labor Day will mean more than just the "official" end of summer.
Reprinted with permission from the Florida Catholic, official newspaper for the diocese of Miami.
The Most Reverend Thomas Wenski is Archbishop of Miami.