Labor day

Twenty second Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

This Monday civil society takes a break to celebrate human work, it is Labor Day in the United States.

Human labor clearly shows that the natural order, our human nature, and the supernatural order, the grace of God are not superimposed realities but rather intertwined, they are the fabric that enables human beings to participate in divine life, becoming co-creators with God. This is true of our human nature; yet work and sexuality are two dimensions of our humanity where this fact becomes obvious.

We are invited to participate in the creative work of God and to find holiness in ordinary affairs, especially the workplace. Church teaching, especially recent Popes, has been concerned with the world of labor.

Pope Francis, for example, has very luminous interventions on these topics. In 2003, ten years before his election as pope he gave a lecture on the social teachings of John Paul II, where he drew on the teachings of the pope to explain the importance of human labor:

“We all know that Redemptor Hominis, his first encyclical (1979) was programmatic. The Pope thought that we ought to start from man, that human person whose deep and final meaning could only be found in Jesus Christ, Redeemer of man. Two years later, in 1981 John Paul II published Laborem Excercens. Another programmatic encyclical which John Paul II dedicated to “man” in the vast context of the reality of work:

‘I wish to devote this document to human work and, even more, to man in the vast context of the reality of work. As I said in the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, published at the beginning of my service in the See of Saint Peter in Rome, man “is the primary and fundamental way for the Church”, precisely because of the inscrutable mystery of Redemption in Christ; and so it is necessary to return constantly to this way and to follow it ever anew in the various aspects in which it shows us all the wealth and at the same time all the toil of human existence on earth.’

We immediately notice that in the first place this vision of the Pope addresses a spirituality that “begins and puts out into the deep” through the paths of the human person. A person, it is worth repeating, that is immersed in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. It is not just the human person in his or her vertical dimension, but within the context of reality and history from the perspective of work.

Why is work so important? Are not other values such as solidarity and peace which presupposes justice more important?

Let us pay attention to the thoughts of the Pope about work in relation to the social question:

‘While in the present document we return to this question once more-without however any intention of touching on all the topics that concern it-this is not merely in order to gather together and repeat what is already contained in the Church’s teaching. It is rather in order to highlight-perhaps more than has been done before-the fact that human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question, if we try to see that question really from the point of view of man’s good. And if the solution-or rather the gradual solution-of the social question, which keeps coming up and becomes ever more complex, must be sought in the direction of “making life more human”, then the key, namely human work, acquires fundamental and decisive importance.’

It was barely two years ago, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Laborem Excercens that John Paul II ratified this insight from the beginning of his pontificate:

As long as man exists, there will be the free gesture of authentic participation in creation which is work. Work is one of the essential components in realizing the vocation of man who, in fulfilling himself, always discovers that he is called by God to “dominate the earth”. Despite himself, he can never cease to be “a subject that decides about himself.” To him God has entrusted this supreme and demanding freedom. From this viewpoint, today more than in the past, we can repeat that “human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question.”

The Pope repeats himself from the perspective of what is essential in the human person. From that essence stems the mission to “dominate the earth” which implies “freely deciding to cooperate with the Creator.”

Many modern saints have sought to embody this vision of John Paul II and Francis. Enrique Shaw, a businessman who died on August 27, 1957, whose cause of canonization is currently progressing in Rome, referred to the workplace as a place of communion. His entire life shows that it is possible for a businessman to be successful in his trade while promoting the common good and respecting the dignity of workers. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is relevant in the workplace and in business and can be consistently lived with the help of God’s grace.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid