Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 27, 2001
What is the value of Labour Day?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Is there any value Christians can see in Labour Day other than a day to do last minute shopping before school begins?
September brings us the beginning of the school year and a day devoted to labour. There can be much value in this day for us, even if simply to rest, relax and reflect on the coming year. It can be an opportunity to take stock of our lives.
However, it can also be a time to reflect on the meaning of work, in general, in our lives. Work consumes the greatest part of the lives of most adults. Therefore, since it is given so much time, it is obviously an important part of our lives and so needs to be spiritually enriching too.
Most of us were taught the importance of getting away from all earthly distractions and spending time in prayer. But that is only part of the story of Christian spirituality.
The other half of the equation is that our earthly endeavours are a part of God's concern for us. So, we need to make those holy too. We can do that by the morning offering of the day to God but once we get busy, we tend to forget to renew this thought during the day.
In the 16th century, St. Ignatius of Loyola emphasized that work is prayer but somehow the idea didn't rub off and therefore, we still tend to think that prayer is the only thing that counts.
Vatican II re-affirmed the dignity and sacredness of work for people created in the image of God and given the mandate by God to care for and develop creation. Pope John Paul and many spiritual writers call this the spirituality of work.
As we look at the work we do, we need to remember that the Son of God took a human body in the Incarnation and became fully human. He truly experienced his humanity as a child and as an adult.
We know that he experienced the joy and the pain of all human lives: walking the rugged hills of Galilee, rejoicing at the wedding in Cana, suffering with those who suffered, reaching out to the most needy and rejected in society, experiencing the immense emotional pain of being rejected by those he loved and the physical pain of the cross.
His humanity makes us realize that the humanity of our lives must be of value to God.
A spirituality of work needs practices that are suited to busy lives. I believe the first thing we could do is something that I call "praying our schedule." In the morning or evening, before God, we go through the day ahead with gratitude to be alive and able to work.
Knowing pretty much what and who we will encounter, we can visualize better ways to handle the most difficult in our relationships with those with whom we live and work and how they can be reminders of God's presence in and care for the world.
This practice can help us keep a balance in all parts of our lives. We need to know ourselves and know when to say no. Sometimes, the pressure to do more comes from our ambition or from the workload imposed on us.
Sometimes, we are perfectionists but the advice that I once heard "give to each task what it reasonably requires" was wise. We must develop balance in life with adequate amounts of work, prayer and play; otherwise, our spiritual and physical health both suffer.
Becoming more conscious of the continual presence of God in and around us, I believe, is essential. Finding God in the midst of chaos is possible; so is seeing God in the midst of our busy lives.
When I walked in the hustle and bustle of the old city in Jerusalem, I knew it must have been similar when Jesus walked these streets. Yet, he always kept that special connection to God.
We need to remember that we are imperfect human beings. This does not mean that we settle for a lesser quality of work. On the contrary, this knowledge can encourage us to work better, not just to get paid (though this is important) but also for the benefit of those who will use the product we have to offer, as well as for our own peace and happiness.
Realizing that other human beings also struggle with their inadequacies will help us rely on God more, as well as make us more caring towards others. It will also lead us to be more forgiving towards ourselves and others, something that most of us find hard to do.
In addition, it will be easier to be grateful and positive, to recognize and appreciate ourselves and others. A smile, a kind word, a helping hand brighten everyone's day.
There are so many little things one can do from day to day to create a more pleasant work environment for ourselves and others. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told us: "Whatever you do to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do unto me." That still holds true.