Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May God continue to pour out his blessings upon you with great abundance! Next weekend, we celebrate the Labor Day holiday. For all of you who have been graced with a nice vacation or a retreat during the summer, I hope and pray that you have been refreshed and enlivened for the coming year. For those of you who have not had such an opportunity, this holiday is for you! I hope you will have some opportunity to enjoy it in a prayerful and devout way.
In fact, our church teaches that labor or work is another avenue of imitation of and even, to a degree, union with God. Scripture uses the metaphor of God “working with his hands” in the creation of the universe, and especially of us human beings. And God’s work did not cease in the past, but continues at every moment, keeping everything that exists in existence and bringing new things into existence, for the praise and glory of his name.
Our work, too, has a goodness and a dignity that participates in the work of God in creation. Consider, for example, the building of a church. How much work is involved, from its planning, to the fundraising, to design and construction! How many different people, each so vital to the whole in some way, contribute with their labor to the creation of such a splendid new thing. And this new thing, a beautiful and well-crafted church building, invites both more “work” from the people who share in the liturgy which is its primary purpose, and even from the very stones from which it is crafted, in praising God.
This is also true of every legitimate kind of work, though perhaps in a hidden way. There is always a shared aspect to our labor, in addition to our personal effort. No matter what our work may be, we benefit in it from what others have already done, and we pass on aspects of our work to be added to by others. Each person’s part is valuable to the whole, and the whole is something that should be beautiful and well-crafted, and give glory to God in some way.
Therefore, in terms of activity, remuneration, and productivity, our work benefits both ourselves and others, both directly and indirectly. We gain not only a wage or a saleable product, but also spiritually, in terms of self-discipline and experience, and in terms of virtue. Others gain both from the product of our work, and from the spiritual fruits.
This reality of work as both personal and communal in its goodness and dignity invites us to a deeper knowledge and imitation of God in our lives. We should recall that wholesome work was part of God’s plan for us even before the Fall, and take a certain joy in our ability to work together in so many different ways.
Sometimes, however, we are overwhelmed by the tedium of work, whether “at work” or in the home. Not everything we do, even what is good and necessary, will be exciting and enjoyable. Sometimes work, like prayer, is spiritually dry, and seems fruitless and unrewarding.
In these moments, we can concentrate on the tangible ways our work benefits other people, and perform out of love for them what we might otherwise not choose to do. We can also “offer up” the difficulties in union with our Lord’s saving passion, and gain much grace by persevering in it. Remember especially that these moments are not all there is to the experience of work, since God’s example and grace are present there.
The recent floods in southern Louisiana can remind us also that all of our human work is ephemeral, lasting a very short time. No matter how fabulous, everything we do, create, or build in this world will eventually be lost or forgotten. Only what is spiritually can last forever. Both the Old and New Testaments, therefore, clearly teach the importance of resting from work.
One of the very best ways we can do this is to pray every day and go to Mass each Sunday. Spending deliberate time in worship shapes us for a better, more noble and honest, effort the rest of the week. We must tend the interior garden of our souls, at least as much as we tend the exterior garden of creation and society.
The Labor Day holiday, then, is about far more than another long weekend, or the end of summer, or even the return of Denver Broncos football (go, Broncos!). It is an annual invitation in the civil calendar to consider what every Sunday offers us as Catholics: that God calls us to work, in goodness and virtue, to benefit ourselves and others, and also to rest from work, for worship and pleasure – and both in union with him, the only source of all good and of our salvation.
May your celebrations remain safe and give glory to God! Please pray for me, and for our diocese, just as I pray constantly for all of you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City
P.S. The current need for assistance in Louisiana is great. Please pray for the people there, and if you are able to donate, you can do so easily through the Diocese of Baton Rouge, at www.diobr.org, under “Disaster Assistance Fund FAQ,” or through their Catholic Charities, at www.ccdiobr.org.