In many counties with an historically strong Catholic culture, today, the Feast of St. Jospeh the Worker, is Labor Day. It is time for us to remember that our Catholic anthropology, our understanding of the human person, includes a proper understanding of the place of work.
We understand that humans beings need to be productive, we have a need and therefore a right to gainful employment. We have an obligation give our employer our best, and the corresponding right to receive a just wage in exchange. One can watch the development of the Church's teaching from Rerum Novarum through the document written by St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus marking the 100th anniversary of the same.
Unfortunately our language reveals our attitudes. Those who used to be PERSONnel are now referred to as human RESOURCES. A resource is by definition something to be used. In places like Virginia "Right to Work" is twisted to mean right to fire without cause. And sadly, in many places, instead of leading, Catholic organizations are trying to emulate the corporate model. On this Feast of St. Jospeh the Worker we Catholics need to lead with the Gospel, the truth of the dignity of every person. The Church should never become a business.
In our American culture, there is another insidious tendency, linking our identity to our work. Yes, God intended us to work, but work was always meant to be the means not the end. We tend too often to tie our worth to our salary or our title. You could be scrubbing toilets, but if in your heart you are able to offer that as service, as an expression of the command to love your neighbor, it can become an aid on the road to personal holiness which is the goal of every human life. The Second Vatican Council reminded us of the universal call to holiness. Our work can and should be, not only a way to earn a living, but a step on our path to holiness. If you work in an office you can see it either as meaningless paper work, or you can choose to see the human beings that each of those pieces of paper represent. And all work can and should be lifted up as an offering to God.
In short, today's feast reminds us that the worker must always be understood to be more important than the work. The work will all pass away, but the worker is intended to live forever with God.