Question: As we celebrate Labor Day, can you tell me about Catholic teaching regarding labor?
Answer: One of the most important principles of Catholic social teaching is the dignity of work and the rights of workers. Four encyclicals address this foundational social teaching: Rerum Novarum (1891) by Leo XIII, Quadragesimo Anno (1931) by Pius XI, Laborem Exercens
(1981), and Centesimus Annus (1991) by John Paul II. They address both the theology and dignity of work. In Genesis, God takes the initiative in creating the world, calling forth human beings to be faithful stewards of creation. We are thus formed to share in God’s continuing creative activity by partnering with God in finishing the world and helping bring it to completion and fulfillment. From this perspective, work can be spiritually understood in terms of sharing in God’s ongoing activity to build, create, and transform the world. Human beings are co-creators with God. This vocation demands self-discipline.
Besides an exercise in self-discipline, work is also the means by which we develop and fulfill ourselves. In work, we shape the world and our environment. Through work, we also shape ourselves. Pope John Paul II summarized this point in Laborem Exercens #6, “the value of work is not primarily the kind of work being done, but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person.”
Labor Day offers an excellent opportunity to reflect on how we view work in light of our Catholic social teaching.