Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 25, 2008
Why do Christians celebrate Labour Day?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Work need not be seen as a curse.
Early on, the Church began to reflect on the meaning of work. The Greek fathers believed that the curse and redemption affected all of creation. Humans, as the image of God, were to participate in God's creation to restore the universe.
The Latin fathers believed that only humans experienced the fall and needed redemption. Therefore, they stressed flight from the world. The value of work lay only in the intention and as a source of self-discipline and penance, help to the needy and imitation of Christ.
In the Middle Ages, work was for the common good with trust in God and resignation in suffering. Later, Luther brought the idea of vocation from the monastery to the world while Calvin inspired work's value as asceticism.
Wesley preached that rewards were a sign of God's favour which influenced acquisition for its own sake. With the Industrial Revolution, workers became cogs in the machine with no greater value than other parts.
The popes began to address the situation. Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum looked at human work as a partnership for the common good, to meet basic needs and as expiation for sin. Pius XI's 1931 Quadregisimo Anno recognized the social and individual nature of work.
Pope John XXIII's 1961 Mater et Magistra spoke of work as an expression of humanity and a means of self-perfection in freedom and responsibility.
The Second Vatican Council's Gaudium et Spes gave work its dignity by emphasizing that humans are partners in God's unfolding creation and associates in the redemptive work of Christ. Work allows self-development and unites workers in service and charity.
Pope Paul VI's 1967 Populorum Progressio spoke of self-fulfillment through work willed and blessed by God as humans share in completing God's creative work. Pope John Paul II's 1981 Laborem Exercens stressed self-realization and the intrinsic value of work. Through work, humanity participates in God's creative actions and Christ's redemption.
God has placed humans in a material world to consecrate it through their faith-filled transformation of it. The products and service produced by work reveal God's richness and generosity. Our self-realization through work is part of God's plan. Through work and caring for the welfare of others, humans weave the social fabric of society in which all can realize their full human potential.
Sadly, for many, work is dull, painfully exhausting and done only out of necessity with little possibility of developing personal growth, initiative and imagination. This can be considered participation in the suffering of Christ while working for social justice for all.
Labour Day, coming as it does at the beginning of our school and work year, can be a time to reflect on the meaning of work for us, especially today when work seems to consume us more and more.
John Paul II encouraged Christians to "know the place that work has not only in earthly progress but also in the development of the kingdom of God." Gratitude to God for the privilege of working needs to be our primary attitude.
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