Put Out into the Deep

We Realize Dignity Through Work

In his 1981 encyclical “Laborem exercens,” St. John Paul II said that the various actions belonging to the work process the worker performs “must all serve to realize his humanity.” (Photo: CNS/Chris Niedenthal)

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Labor Day 2020 is very different from Labor Day 2019 as we see the economic toll that the coronavirus pandemic has taken upon our economy and especially upon the job market.

Typically, Labor Day marks the close of the summer season with many parades, family gatherings, picnics and barbeques, that allow people to say goodbye to summer and prepare themselves to go back to school and work. Unfortunately, this year we see that the statistics are very difficult to understand why we had come from a period of less than 3 percent unemployment to now, particularly in the City of New York, over 19 percent. Truly, many things are different as we begin this new season.

It is encouraging that recent data shows that the US economy and labor market is showing a rebound. Jobs are returning. Just this week it has been reported that half of the jobs lost have been recovered, however, this is still only half and many people are currently without work.

The unemployment compensation, although some state governments are giving $300.00 more than normally would be given, is not the $600.00 more that was given by the federal government at the beginning of this pandemic. We also know that small businesses have been hit the hardest during this time. All are struggling to maintain life-long commitments to their businesses and also to their employees, who work to keep these small businesses alive.

Here in the Diocese and in the parishes in Brooklyn and Queens, we were fortunate that we were able to receive the Paycheck Protection Program so that our employees would not have to be furloughed or laid off from work. It remains to be seen what might happen if our parish collections are not able to maintain what was offered in the past.

Certainly, these are extraordinary times, especially for those who work. From the Catholic perspective, Labor Day reminds us of the teaching of the Church regarding the dignity of human labor. Perhaps St. John Paul II said it so well when he told us that not only is work a gift, but it is also a gift to be a worker. In his encyclical on work, Laborem Exercens, John Paul II affirmed that “… independently of their objective content, these actions must all serve to realize his humanity, to fulfill the calling to be a person that is his by reason of his very humanity.”

This is how difficult it is today when people are not working. We see the feelings of being less than human and prone to depression, not seeing our infinite worth before God. Work does allow us to value our own dignity. Human beings discover their own worth through their creative, social and intellectual processes that meaningful work affords. We realize our dignity through work. Without work, we seem to be less than what we believed. How important it is today that we encourage those without work not to despair. Hopefully, in the near future things will return to somewhat normal. Although, many economists predict that this rebound may take as much as two years if we are able to stamp out the virus in the meantime.

As we come to Labor Day we wonder what we have to celebrate. In fact, we do celebrate. We celebrate the fact of our human existence and our call to recreate the world with God. Adam was expelled from Paradise where he did not need to work. It was told to him that he would labor, labor by the sweat of his brow. Yet in that, he would find his redemption, his salvation at some point. This only came when Jesus Himself entered into the world and lived as a common worker where he found meaning in the carpenter shop in Nazareth until He was ready for His public ministry where He gave meaning to all human existence. Even those without labor have that innate dignity which cannot be removed in any way.

This year, as we put out into the deep waters of an unknown future, we must redouble our efforts. We strive to do the best we can in maintaining the jobs that give people dignity and assist those who are without labor.

Our Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens accomplish this so well with our outreach programs which are not meant to in any way demean the ability of people to provide for themselves, but are a means to assist with a need for self-sufficiency.

Join me today as we celebrate Labor Day, recognizing the value of our human work. We pray for those who do not have gainful employment during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

 


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