Bishop Barres cited Christ's parables which invoked the work of shepherds, farmers, sowers, cooks, servants, stewards, fishermen, merchants, and laborers. “Some of the most memorable people in the Gospels are described not by name but by the work they do, like the woman at the well drawing water,” he said.
Many saints are the patrons of different kinds of labor and are “eloquent models of how the Catholic Church views work as a source of personal sanctification and the sanctification of others,” said the bishop. His letter cited the examples of Opus Dei founder St. Josemaria Escriva, teenage computer expert Blessed Carlo Acutis, and St. Oscar Romero, who worked in construction at a young age before entering seminary.
Bishop Barres noted the role of work in family life. Parents teach their children to clean their rooms, to repair their bicycles, to do yard work, to prepare food, to do their homework, and to do other household chores. He discussed the kind of paid work done by teenagers, describing it as “key means to form their character” and a way of “serving others and making genuine contributions to the Church and the world.”
The Labor Day pastoral letter further considered the example of St. Joseph the Worker.
“From St. Joseph, we can all learn the virtues of maturity, reliability, responsibility, industriousness, integrity, initiative, self-sacrifice, self-mastery, teamwork, optimism, humility, contemplative concentration, and charity in our labor,” said the bishop. “He grounds us in the ethical compass of the Ten Commandments and the moral virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice and temperance.”
For Bishop Barres, the virtues of St. Joseph are suggested “in the quiet but indispensable labors of so many immigrants,” noting that Joseph too was a migrant, taking his family to Egypt and back.
“As he mentored Jesus, so St. Joseph desires to mentor us who are brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore members of the Holy Family. He wants to train us in his virtues. He wants to instruct us how to live our spiritual fatherhood or motherhood to the full. We must simply ‘go to Joseph’ to receive his wisdom.”
Bishop Barres’ letter asked Catholics to pray for each other and for the whole Church, “that each of us may apprentice ourselves to St. Joseph and learn from him, as Jesus did, how to convert our daily labor, whatever form it takes, into opportunities to cooperate with God in the ongoing perfection of creation and the continued harvest of the redemption.”
The bishop said unemployment is not only an important economic problem but “a profoundly dehumanizing one that can deprive millions of a sense of moral worth through making them feel useless.”
“We pray for all those out of work that, through St. Joseph’s intercession, they may find dignified jobs by which they can develop their gifts, serve others and provide for their and others’ needs,” said Bishop Barres. He also voiced prayers for those who cannot work due to illness or old age, saying they can learn from St. Joseph “how to collaborate interiorly in the work of redemption by uniting themselves to the extraordinary work Jesus did on Calvary when the hands that used to build were hammered to wood.”
Bishop Barres reflected on the major changes in work life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Those who were forced to work from home, he said, found themselves experiencing “the work-life flow that would have characterized the holy house and workshop of Nazareth.”
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“Those of us working among family members were able more easily to see for whom we were working,” he said. Those forced to work at home alone could sense the importance of having coworkers and customers present. Those furloughed might have learned about “the gift of work” and how so many people could be left jobless by a phenomenon that no one could imagine at the start of 2020.
The bishop’s letter included some warnings. Many philosophies and mindsets about work should be seen as “expressions of a culture of death.” He noted the history of slavery in the U.S., the mistreatment of workers in the industrial revolution, and the sex and labor trafficking that continues today.
“The underlying premise that our self-worth and human dignity are defined by our net-worth ultimately results in tragedy and self-destruction,” he said. “Sadly, many today are tempted to value themselves, not according to the judgment of God and value of their immaterial soul, but according to their value in the employment market.”
For the unemployed, this mentality is a cause of depression. For the employed, this can mean viewing work as “merely a means to a paycheck or to underwriting the few hours of freedom from work that they look forward to on the weekend.”
The workaholic, the bishop warned, “makes work a false god, a golden calf, an idol that can erode and destroy his or her marriage, family and faith life.”
“It is possible to work too hard and too much, forgetting that work is by its nature relational, tied to the love and service of others,” he said. The duty to keep the Sabbath holy is not only about Sunday Mass, because it also maintains a biblical practice of work-life balance.