August 31, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Labor Day reflections on the meaning of work

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Every worker has a fundamental dignity because he or she is made in the image and likeness of God. Workers are co-creators with God in building the human community. Workers are not commodities.”
(Indiana bishops, “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana,” March 2015).

Today we begin the Labor Day weekend. For those who are employed, this is a time to rest, relax and enjoy a brief respite from the labors of everyday life. For others, this weekend can be a sad reminder of how difficult it can be to find and keep a good job.

In our March 2015 pastoral letter, “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana,” we bishops of Indiana offered some serious reflections on the relationship between poverty and employment. Statistics suggest that since 2015 there have been significant improvements in employment opportunities here in Indiana and throughout our nation, but it is important to keep in mind those who are still struggling—especially “the working poor.” Here are some excerpts from this pastoral letter on poverty here in Indiana:

• “The economy must serve people, not the other way around” is a succinct paraphrase of a crucial statement by St. John Paul II in his 1981 encyclical, “Laborem Exercens”: “In the first place, work is for man and not man for work” (#6.6). Work is more than simply a way to make a living; it is a continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected. These include the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize, to private property and to economic initiative.

• For St. John Paul II, this powerful statement—work is for man; man is not for work—is the principle that governs the success or failure of all economic systems. The human person is what is most important, not economic theory or social structures. The human person, the one who works, is not a means to an end, but the primary beneficiary of his or her own labor.

• Indiana is home to thousands of the so-called “working poor.” These are women and men who have jobs, but whose income is not enough to sustain them or to cover the necessities of life, including food, housing, health care, transportation and child care. For these families, full-time, year-round work by itself is not enough to lift them out of poverty.

• “A just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system” (“Laborem Exercens,” #19). Why? Because the laborer truly is worthy of his or her wage (cf. Lk 10:7). And because a society that cares for the least of its citizens—including the unemployed, the underemployed and uninsured—is a society that will flourish in the sight of God and in its material and spiritual well-being.

• To address the serious challenges facing our economy in the state of Indiana today, we must look carefully at the impact of policies, legislation and governmental regulations on real people—the women and men who struggle to earn a living, support their families and make ends meet. We cannot fix the economy by employing abstract theory that is detached from those whose lives are at stake. As St. John Paul II tells us, we cannot simply look at material needs (food, shelter, clothing, health care, etc.), as important as these are for individuals, families and communities. We should also foster a spirituality of work, which recognizes its profound impact on the intellectual, social, cultural and religious life of individuals, families and communities.

• The Church does not propose detailed programs aimed at creating jobs or promoting economic development. However, the Church does remind governmental, business and community leaders that the only truly effective measure of sound economic policy and practice is the extent to which real people thrive and grow as persons and as workers.

• In addition to the economic benefits of stable employment, work offers individuals increased opportunities to enhance their personal dignity. Work should be the primary means by which parents provide for their families and contribute to a healthy community. Governmental programs should exist principally to provide an adequate safety net for individuals who are in transitional situations or suffer from incapacitating illness or injury.

• Therefore, we propose that the state of Indiana dedicate resources toward improving the opportunity for Hoosier families to find meaningful, economically rewarding work. Plans for economic development ought to include strategies aimed at breaking the cycle of multi-generational poverty.

God’s blessings on all Hoosiers, and all Americans, for a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend! †

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