September 1, 2017

Christ the Cornerstone

Labor Day celebrates the dignity, rights of all workers

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Work is for man, not man for work. Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2428).

Happy Labor Day! I hope you are able to take advantage of this coming holiday weekend to spend time with family and friends, and to set aside all work-related stresses and anxieties.

There is a powerful phrase in the encyclical of Pope St. John Paul II “Laborem Exercens” (“On the Dignity of Work”) that the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes in its treatment of economic activity and social justice.

St. John Paul wrote, “Work is for man, not man for work,” and the catechism emphasizes that every person has the right and the responsibility to “draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family” (#2428).

When we bishops of Indiana wrote our pastoral letter “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana,” we paid special attention to this fundamental Catholic social teaching. We pointed out that it is never acceptable to treat workers like objects or instruments of production.

Everyone who works has dignity and, therefore, should be treated with respect and equality. Our pastoral letter called attention to the plight of the so-called “working poor” here in the Hoosier State. These are men, women and sometimes children who work hard, but who do not earn a living wage. They are especially worthy of all the understanding, respect and assistance that our society, our Church and our businesses can give them.

The catechism tells us that everyone has the right of economic initiative (#2429). This right is individual, but it is also something that exists for the common good. A society that does not foster the right of economic initiative, or that inhibits workers’ opportunities to express their God-given talents and abilities on behalf of the needs of their families and their communities, is in deep trouble. That’s why the Church has consistently opposed economic, social and political systems that reduce human work to utilitarian or socialistic ends.

Work is for the human person, not the other way around.

A just, well-ordered society protects the rights of workers. According to the catechism, it is the responsibility of the state to provide “sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services” (#2431). Governments should not control or overly regulate the economic activities of citizens, but they should collaborate with business and civic leaders to make sure that all citizens have free access to economic initiatives and jobs that will provide for their families while contributing to the common welfare.

“A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work,” the catechism tells us. “To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice.” We can respectfully disagree about what constitutes a just wage in any given situation, but “in determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account” (#2434).

During the Second Vatican Council, the issue of just wages was addressed as follows: “Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and productivity of each, the state of the business and the common good” (“Gaudium et Spes,” #67).

The Church does not determine what is a just wage in any society or economic situation, but Catholic social teaching does insist that both the good of the individual worker and the common good be given serious consideration. This is one of the “Catholic Both/And”

situations that I wrote about last week. We seek what is best for both the individual worker, the company he or she works for, and for society as a whole.

This Labor Day, let’s pray for peace, justice and economic growth here in Indiana, throughout the United States and in the world community. Peace is essential to the growth and development of society. Justice ensures that all rights are respected and that everyone has an opportunity to develop and use her or his God-given abilities. And economic growth makes it possible for new opportunities to be available as young workers enter the workforce seeking to support themselves and their families.

This Labor Day weekend, let’s pray for all Hoosier workers and for all our sisters and brothers everywhere—especially those who are unemployed or underemployed.

May St. Joseph the Worker watch over us and support us in our efforts to use the gifts God has given us for his honor and glory! †

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