Labor Day invites us to reflect on our work Print E-mail
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

Labor Day has become a day of parades, picnics, and political speeches. Many see this day as a celebration of summer's end, the beginning of school, and one more chance to relax before fall's busyness. Labor Day did not begin with this intention.

On September 5, 1882, the first Labor Day celebration and parade in the United States were held in New York City. Thousands of workers marched in a parade up Broadway carrying banners that read: "EIGHT HOURS FOR WORK, EIGHT HOURS FOR REST, EIGHT HOURS FOR RECREATION.'' It became a federal holiday in 1894.

Reflecting on dignity of work

In 1891, in his ground-breaking encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII outlined the rights of workers to a fair wage, safe working conditions, and formation of labor unions, while affirming the rights of property and free enterprise.

Labor Day offers us the opportunity to reflect upon the dignity of work, the necessity of work, and work's dangers.

The Book of Genesis tells us that originally work gave joy, satisfaction, and pleasure. After Adam and Eve's sin, work was seen as a curse. In Genesis 3:19, when God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, God said, "In the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat."

Work can be redemptive

In no. 2427 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says, ''Work honors the Creator's gifts and talents to us. Work can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardships of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying his cross daily in the work he is called to accomplish.''

In Towards a Catholic Work Ethic, Ed Marciniak wrote, "Honest work and excellent craftsmanship extend God's creative work." Workers who make crutches, crucifixes, or build houses transform raw materials that God created into products that benefit others. Workers who grow crops, wait on tables, work with a computer, or prepare meals benefit others.

Finding joy in our work

We enjoy doing what we do well. Finding joy and satisfaction in our work is a gift. Doing our best at work helps to build character.

Judge Charles Corkery wrote an eloquent obituary about the Venerable Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli that included him enjoying his work. He wrote, "There he is high up on the scaffold, sleeves tucked up, industriously at work in brick and mortar. In the evening he is in the pulpit discoursing on some abstruse question of Christian philosophy. Tomorrow he lectures before the governor, judges, and legislatures on the science of political economy, but always and everywhere present when the sacred duty of the ministry required. Wonderful little man!"

A mother said, "With six growing children, my work includes changing diapers, making ends meet, cleaning, washing, planning, encouraging my family, and much more. My husband and I offer our work to God, and we try our best to help our children grow in faith. We believe that our work is holy."

Reducing joblessness

Today, millions are without work and millions more 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.

On this Labor Day, September 4, let us ask St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers, to pray for us. Let us thank God for the talents and work he has given us to do and use them to help build God's kingdom on earth. Finally, let us pray that the jobless find work that sustains their family and secures their future.


Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.