Labor Day celebrates “the work of human minds and hands” that “honors the Creator of us all,” said an archdiocesan priest.
The U.S. holiday, established in 1882, commemorates both “the social and economic achievements of American workers,” said Father Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocesan Office for Divine Worship and rector of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
While “many Americans easily lose sight of (its) meaning,” regarding the day simply as “the unofficial end of summer,” the Catholic Church places great value on the role of labor in everyday and eternal contexts, he said.
Scripture and church teaching affirm that “work is a good thing for man … because through work man not only transforms nature … but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being,” as St. John Paul II noted in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work”).
The Old and New Testaments stress the importance of work in glorifying God. Having created man, “the Lord God … settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Gen 2:15). St. Paul urges the Thessalonians to “aspire to live a tranquil life … and to work with (their own) hands” (1 Thess 4:11).
Modern popes have written extensively on the subject of labor over the past century and a half. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII released the encyclical Rerum Novarum (“Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor”) to address injustices and imbalances resulting from the rapid advances of the Industrial Revolution and modern secularization. St. Paul VI declared that “all people have the right to work” (Octogesima Adveniens, 14); his successors have echoed that call, with Pope Francis describing work as “a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth (and) human development” (Laudato Si’, 128).
Labor Day’s significance is underscored by the church’s current observance of the Year of St. Joseph, said Father Gill – and coincidentally, the U.S. holiday was created largely through the efforts of labor activist Peter J. McGuire, founder of a national union for carpenters, who shared the same trade as St. Joseph.
While the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker is observed on May 1, the foster father of Jesus “under this title reminds us, in his own example, that every work becomes an offering to the Lord and thus brings a blessing to everything that we do,” Father Gill said.
This Labor Day “gives us all the opportunity to thank God for the American laborer, to recognize the value of our labors, and to ask St. Joseph the Worker to continue to be our example that everything we do may be for the glory of God and the benefit of many,” said Father Gill.
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