BY FATHER PAUL KELLY - ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
Last Monday we celebrated Labor Day. America has been celebrating this holiday since 1894 to mark the achievements of labor in our country. We know that work has at times in history been associated with slavery, forced labor, exploitation, abuse of power, inhumane conditions, but it also has contributed to the uplifting of the human condition.
Work has a spiritual element to the extent that it enhances the human dignity of the worker, is fulfilling and honorable, and allows one to provide for the betterment of family and society.
Based on the book of Genesis, we can say that our work is a participation in God's creative activity. From the first chapter of Genesis, we read that God does his creative work for six days, and rests on the seventh. Man and woman are made in the "image and likeness" of God. We, too, are to have an appropriate balance of work and rest. Furthermore, God tells our first parents to "fill the earth and subdue it." In doing our work, we are unfolding the continuous work of the Creator. In whatever work we do, the Christian permeates the spirit of Christ through his or her work, to achieve a world more just, charitable, and peaceful.
In the Old Testament there are many references to human work: the doctor, pharmacist, artist, blacksmith, sailor, shepherd, and many more. Proverbs chapter 31 specifically gives praise to the work of women.
We look to Jesus, who dignified our work by his own work. Known as the carpenter's son, he took upon himself the work of our salvation. He cured the sick and gave sight to the blind. He had respect and appreciation for human work, even as he would sometimes caution his listeners about having too much anxiety about work and life. (Mt. 6:25ff)
Then there is the apostle Paul, the tentmaker, who acknowledges that through his work, he was grateful to earn his own bread (Acts 20:34). He encourages his readers: "Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men." (Col. 3:23)
Yes, it is fitting to celebrate Labor Day by acknowledging the many achievements of labor and how our lives have been impacted greatly by it. But let us also see the accomplishments of labor through the lens of faith so that we can echo the sentiments of Psalm 90: "Lord, give success to the work of our hands!"