Labor Day: Human Work Has Been Raised to the Grandeur of God
The dignity and honor of human labor is clearly revealed in the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ
When God Incarnate entered into our created world, he sanctified humankind and the labor in which men engage in order to shape creation. It is in gazing through the supreme lens of the consummation of God's revelation, the Person of Jesus Christ, that the divine light of truth is thrown upon human labor. Its sanctity and dignity is then revealed, opening a doorway in which human labor is seen as a participation in God's work.
The Catholic understanding of labor is, however, very different from the way in which it is commonly understood in today's highly secularized society. In order to understand human labor in its fullest sense, it is necessary to begin with the human person. It is precisely at this point, at the inviolable dignity of the human person whose life is both created and sustained by God, that the Church draws her understanding of everything that has to do with human rights and society itself. Therefore we never look at the human person in isolation, as an entity unto himself, but rather in context with the Creator who graciously willed him into existence through a superabundance of love.
Reflect for a moment on where we have derived our being and life: God has willed to create man, and in so doing, has created man in his image and likeness, endowing him with spiritual powers of intellect and will. Man is therefore an "outstanding manifestation of the divine image," the "only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake" (Gaudium et spes 17, 24). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that "The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit" (1704). These truths and concepts of our existence are, indeed, truly magnificent.
Jesus Teaches Us To Appreciate Work
Further, the moment we reflect on the human person, we are immediately led to the Person of Jesus Christ, who entered into our created world and became man, like us in all things except sin. We cannot think of the human person apart from Christ, for a proper understanding of the human person is inseparable from the sacred humanity of the Savior of humankind. And it is no different with human labor: the full dimension of man's work is revealed and contained in Christ himself.
As we reflect on the dignity and honor of labor, we are drawn to the tranquil setting of Nazareth and the Holy Family: here, in St. Joseph's carpenter shop, we imagine the young Jesus with mallet in hand, his foster father directing him from behind, guiding his blows as he learns to carefully strike a freshly honed chisel in just the right manner and with just enough force to properly shape the wood. Soon, the Blessed Mother enters, sets a flagon of cool water on a wooden bench, and delicately kisses the young Jesus on the forehead. The work stops. The tools are set aside. She smiles and kneels beside her Son.
Mary, ever-Virgin and ever-sweet, carefully looks at her husband's and Son's work. The conversation is soft, peaceful and meaningful. There is a grace infused joy that permeates the air. After a cool drink, the Holy Family enters into prayer, adoring and praising the Father for his boundless graces and love. Then, the young Jesus again takes up his mallet.
Blessed John Paul II observed that Jesus, having "become like us in all things, devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter's bench" (Laborem Exercens 6). The Compendium Of The Social Doctrine Of The Church reminds us that, while man is not to be enslaved by work, since before all else he must be concerned about his soul (260), during Jesus' preaching and life he teaches us to appreciate work (259). Our Lord labored tirelessly during his earthly ministry, freeing men and women from sickness and death, and accomplishing powerful deeds of mercy (261).
When God Incarnate entered into our created world, he sanctified humankind and the labor in which men engage in order to shape creation. It is in gazing through the supreme lens of the consummation of God's revelation, the Person of Jesus Christ, that the divine light of truth is thrown upon human labor. Its sanctity and dignity is then revealed, opening a doorway in which human labor is seen as a participation in God's work. And indeed it is, for God has willed to exercise his divine power through man: God sustains us and infuses us with the energy and grace to freely and actively take part in accomplishing his divine plan for mankind. We are not outside observers. We are free instruments of God's power and will.
Work and Toil and Miserly Soil
Some see work as a curse. ...
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