But there is more to the meaning of Labor Day. Work and labor have basic religious value. In the Book of Genesis God places the man in the Garden of Eden with a task to perform. We read in Ch 2, vs 15: “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” The man was not created to lay around all day, watch TV and play video games, but rather “to cultivate and care for” creation. We have built into us a need to do productive work, to contribute to the building up of society. It was only after man sinned, after the Fall, that work became onerous and a burden. It was because of mankind’s disobedience that God said, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread” (3:19), and work became drudgery and toil. Still, work has great religious value. Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical on the spiritual value of work and issues of justice for workers, called Laborem Exercens. The entire encyclical is available to read online at http://tinyurl.com/laborem.
Closer to home and currently, the Bishops of our country have issued a Labor Day Statement for 2012. The opening paragraph of this statement is worth quoting:
This Labor Day, our country continues to struggle with a broken economy that is not producing enough decent jobs. Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation. As people of faith, we are called to stand with those left behind, offer our solidarity, and join forces with “the least of these” to help meet their basic needs. We seek national economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life.
I believe our Bishops are right on target with this statement. Following the above opening paragraph, the Bishops’ Statement has three sections, each not quite a page long. First is The Broken Economy Leaves Too Many Without Decent Work in which they state:
These harsh economic realities bring terrible human costs for millions of families, who live with anxiety and uncertainty and cope with stagnant or falling wages. Many are forced to work second or third jobs, which places further strain on their children’s well-being, and millions of young adults are denied the ability to begin families.
Then in a second section, entitled A Call for Economic Renewal and Support for Workers, the Bishops state:
Unions and other worker associations have a unique and essential responsibility in this needed economic renewal. Our Church has long taught that unions are "an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.
And the final section, titled Building a More Just Economy, concludes:
This Labor Day, millions of working people and their families have urgent and compelling needs. I ask you to join me in a special prayer for them and all workers, especially those without a job struggling to live in dignity. May God guide our nation in creating a more just economy that truly honors the dignity of work and the rights of workers.
You can read Bishops’ the full statement at: http://tinyurl.com/BishopsLaborDay2012
So as you celebrate Labor Day I hope you will observe as more than just another day off. Think about how much you depend every day on the labor of others. Pray for all workers and especially those seeking work. Take a few minutes to read and reflect on the US Bishop’s Labor Day Statement―and maybe thank some worker who makes your life a little better.
Happy Labor Day!