Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote, “Work thus belongs to the vocation of every person; indeed, humans express and fulfils themselves by working.” Today we are taking the opportunity to celebrate labor. We celebrate and thank God for our ability to work. It is by work that we get what is necessary for life and provide for our families. It is a gift of God that we are able to be productive and earn a living. Whether a person works for themself or for another, whether they work at home, in the fields, or in the city, the effort they put in each day and the fruits of their labors dignify them. Though some through age or disability are unable to do everything they want, the work they do each day, no matter how small, is a sign of their dignity as human beings.
The association of humans with work goes back to Adam whom God put in the Garden of Eden “to work it and care for it.” After the fall, God told Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” And humans have worked for thousands of years, building civilizations and families. Most work is forgotten because nothing remains for future generations, but some work is memorialized for ages. What are the pyramids but monuments to human labor? The cathedrals of Europe reveal artistry and engineering and trade and construction and leadership. Every highway and street is a monument to human labor. Even the work that is passes away has its monument in the continuation of human life: proof that our ancestors grew food, defended their society, cared for the sick, raised children, made clothing and houses, and so many other things without which we would not exist.
On Labor Day we celebrate not only the gift of our own work and the work of our ancestors but the work of every other person on earth. How easy it is to eat a hamburger without thinking of the cook, the baker, the butcher, the rancher, the farmer, the trucker, the civil engineer, the dishwasher, and so many others who make that hamburger possible! On this day, let us pause and be grateful for water that runs in our homes and food available in such abundance: all the signs of people who work. No one makes the sun rise each day, and the rain tends to fall on its own, but most everything else we take for granted is the result of someone working behind the scenes. We hear praise of job-creators, and their work is important, but so is the work of the job-doers. As Pope Leo XIII wrote, “It may truly be said that it is only by the labor of workers that nations grow rich.”
Today many workers are rightly concerned that the loss of religious liberty will make them slaves to the culture. It is one thing for a person to not discriminate against others, but something else for someone to be forced to make a cake celebrating homosexuality, as has happened. People are particularly aware of these consequences in the medical field. Some people want to put all the rights in the hands of the customers, clients, or patients, but what about the dignity of the worker who has a right to define their own work according to the truth? On Labor Day let us celebrate the work we can do, the work of others, and the right to do work in the right way.