On Monday we celebrate Labor Day, considered by many the end of the summer season, although the weather this past week could give one reason to question the proximate ending of summer. Labor Day is celebrated as a Federal Holiday, having been first celebrated in New York City on Tuesday, September 1882 in accordance with plans of the Central Labor Union. The purpose of setting aside Labor Day as a special holiday was to honor the labor movement and the contributions to society its members make to the strength, prosperity, laws and the well-being of our country. Work is understood as human activity designed to accomplish something needed and values for its function in civilized life. Work is a term commonly applied to manual or physical labor, but there is no satisfactory reason for excluding intellectual or other psychological effort from one’s understanding of it. Some years ago Father Hug Rahner, the brother of the great German theologian Father Karl Rahner wrote a book titled "The Theology of Work." There was no paucity of materials from which Father Rahner could draw in his research. The Bible has an incredible wealth of counsel for work, and nearly 900 passages apply to ordinary work. Physical work was held in great esteem among the Hebrews, and work penetrated the whole fabric of the Old Testament. The Hebrews were a working people, despite the existence of mitigated forms of slavery and serfdom. Freed from slavery of Egypt and Yahweh’s own action, they served God in work, rest and worship. Throughout the gospels we read of people at work. Work directed to God merited a divine blessing; evil work, or wrongly motivated effort, deserved God’s wrath.
There is a movement called Theology of Work Project whose vision is that every Christian be equipped and committed to work in God’s interests. A Christian approach makes work more meaningful and productive, benefits society and the people we work with and for, gets us through the challenges we face on the job, draws people to Jesus and brings glory to God. So important is work in our culture that employment/unemployment statistics are a vital consideration in the political world of our day.
Fr John R. Mulvehill