Have a blessed Labor Day. This marks the traditional end of summer and return to the busy routines of school and work. But this year is anything other than traditional. In fact, because the staff has been working so ridiculously hard throughout the pandemic, I am closing the office Tuesday of this week as well. Given that some staff are working on Labor Day to help the Confirmation and First Communion Masses, I want them to have at least one day rest from their generous service. So please wait for Wednesday to call the parish offices, thank you!
The first time Labor Day was celebrated in this country was 1892 in New York City. Two years later Congress made it a national holiday. Many other countries celebrate this day on May 1st. Growing up, I remember pictures of the massive Soviet May Day parades to celebrate the strength and power of the Soviet worker. Thankfully our celebrations of Labor day have usually been more low key and less political. Catholic social teaching affirms the dignity of work. Even money is the means by which we store up the fruit of our labor to be able to provide for the future. Money itself is not immoral; but the disordered love of money is certainly a grave temptation for humanity.
I remember in seminary a vivid story of someone trying to drag Pope John Paul II to pronounce on the moral superiority of Capitalism over Communism. He refused to do so, saying instead, “It is from above!” Both capitalism and communism can err greatly on the nature of work. Capitalism can err by seeing the purpose of work as amassing wealth alone, and this unbridled pursuit can enslave and dehumanize both worker and consumer. Communism errs by seeing man as a unit of labor to be exploited for the good of the state. The purpose and dignity of labor are not found in enriching either the individual or the state. The answer lies beyond political forms to recognizing the inherent dignity of work as sanctified by God. Jesus Christ has given work a truly transcendent meaning as participating in the creative and redeeming mission of God.
Pope John Paul II an excellent encyclical on this theme, Laborem Exercens, which you can find online at Vatican.va. In it he writes, “By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ by carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform.”
Read Pope John Paul II’s great encyclical. It is a much better read than my simple reflections. A little bit of rest and family picnics are a great occasion to remember why we work to build up and provide for a community of love starting right in our homes, or maybe you like podcasts. I listened to one yesterday (Pints with Aquinas) where the host spoke with Trent Horn about socialism and some of its issues as it pertains to politics today. Its focus was less on labor specifically, but rather Catholic social teaching regarding political systems and racism. Here is a short link that would take you to that episode: tinyurl.com/y56dekvn
Pax et bonum,
Father John Mosimann