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Next Monday is Labor Day. It came to be in the 1880s when labor unions were emerging across the country.
In 1894, Congress passed a law making Labor Day an annual federal holiday to be celebrated on the first Monday in September.
On the surface, it would appear that this holiday is wholly secular in nature. It was simply created by people involved in the labor movement in the United States as a means to highlight the dignity of labor and of the men and women who work.
However, you don’t have to dig very deep to find the sacred nature of work.
The Church highlights this on May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
Pope Pius XII created the feast in 1955, in part, as a counterpart to May Day celebrations in countries ruled by socialist or communist governments. He wanted to emphasize the ancient teaching of the Church that upholds the dignity of workers in a far deeper way than those with a merely materialist mindset.
For Catholics, any good that a person does, including work, is an expression of that person’s inherent dignity. So there is dignity in any kind of morally good labor because the person doing it was created in the image and likeness of the God who worked to create the heavens and the earth.
Pope John Paul II, who worked during World War II in a stone quarry and later in a chemical factory, reflected on the dignity of labor in his 1981 encyclical letter “Laborem Exercens” (“On Human Work”).
It is said that in his next encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI will address how the faith sheds light upon various economic issues facing the world today, many of which involve the dignity of workers.
If this aspect of our faith has caught the attention of our popes in this way, then it should be a natural part of the everyday lives of all people who work.
This may be especially true for husbands and wives who work inside the home and elsewhere to provide material needs for their families, and to offer a strong example of the sacred dignity of work to their children, friends and co-workers.
The dignity of work is sacred because, through it, we become living images of our heavenly Father, of whom Jesus said, “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn 5:17).
The work that God continues to do is nothing less than the redemption of all creation. Through our baptism into Christ Jesus, we have been given the grace to cooperate with God in this holy work.
When we work alongside God, he draws us closer to him.
That is a great thing. But it is more astounding when we consider how we can grow closer to God through the ordinary things we do every day: working in a factory, making a sales call, changing a diaper or washing the dishes.
We can help our children make their faith a real part of their daily lives and help our friends do likewise when we show them in the concrete circumstances of our own lives how they can be close to God in all they do, not just when they go to church.
In addition to our personal example, we also ought to teach our children to see, in a way appropriate to their age, how God is with them when they do their homework, their chores and in their play time.
Consider this profound truth this Labor Day, and “labor” to make it a part of the life of your family. †