My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Each year, the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, currently chaired by Bishop Frank Dewane, Bishop of Venice, Fla., issues a statement (see Page 8) on the occasion of Labor Day. At one time, I chaired this committee and have followed closely these annual statements regarding the situation of labor in our country and our world.
This year’s statement begins with insight from our Holy Father, Pope Francis. His remarks on work said it “comes from the first command that God gave to Adam…There was always a friendship between the Church and work, starting with a working Jesus. Where there is a worker, there is the interest and the gaze of love of the Lord and of the Church.”
God gazed upon Adam and told him to complete the work of His creation by the sweat of his brow, which was not a punishment, but rather it was an invitation to collaboration. So too today we must look at the work that we do as an invitation from the Creator to engage in completing the work that God had begun. Yes, God looks on us and upon our work with special affection. What a wonderful way to think about our daily work, no matter what we do.
Today, however, many workers do not feel that they are under the gaze of God. Rather, they feel that they are under the watchful eyes of their supervisor, or even worse, taskmasters. Fortunately, in our own country, the position of labor has improved over many years. Still, there are many workers who labor long and hard with little recompense and satisfaction for their work.
As we see today, many workers are being replaced by robots. Robots are particularly good for repetitive actions in factories and even for harvesting crops. In some ways, however, this is a relief for the workers who are condemned to do boring jobs, which lack any creativity and satisfaction. We must look upon mechanization as something that frees workers for higher-level and quality work. But this work must not displace workers in the workplace and not give the worker the ability to earn a decent living.
This year’s Labor Day Statement makes it clear that work is an essential component of the social pact that exists in any society. Solidarity, bringing together all in the society for the good of all, is the only way that a society can make good progress because it is a voluntary effort on the part of all. Workers are not enslaved, but rather they give themselves freely to complete any work that is part and parcel of their chosen profession or work.
Today, however, as we look at the world, the conditions of work are something to which we must pay attention. Our Holy Father himself has given a good insight into the protection of vulnerable workers, many of whom in our society are the undocumented workers who labor long and hard for little pay and little satisfaction. Pope Francis recently reiterated the essential role of labor unions in society when he spoke in Genoa, Italy, to workers in a factory setting. He said, “There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, that does not transform the discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones.”
Our Holy Father has offered a challenge to labor unions, but one, which many unions accomplish as a matter of course. Recently, I saw an example of this when one of my fellow board members on the CLINIC (the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.), Mr. D Taylor, who serves as the lay member of the board, helped to organize a fundraising event to benefit immigrant workers. Mr. Taylor is the president of the UNITE HERE union, which represents many immigrants, and was paramount in this effort. But it was not only their fundraising that they reached the periphery of the labor movement, but also it is at their core working for protection of their members.
Labor Day is another holiday where we can take a well-deserved leisure and rest. How important it is to look to the real meaning of work in our lives, work that must give us satisfaction and also participation in the re-creation of God’s world. We need to rediscover the sacredness of work, as our Holy Father says, “Work is a friend of prayer; work is present everyday in the Eucharist, whose gifts are the fruit of man’s land and work. A world that no longer knows the values, and the value, of work does not understand the Eucharist either, the true and human prayer of workers.”
In effect, the Holy Father is asking us to put out into the deep world of work, and to understand work better and to appreciate the spiritual value of work. It is not to make work the be all and end all of life. Rather, work is the method by which we regain our contact with the Creator and join in solidarity with all of our brothers and sisters.
Editor’s Note: To read the full text of the U.S. bishops’ message, log on to http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/labor-employment/labor-day-statement-2017.cfm