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10 Ways to Honor Work and Workers

  Honor Others' Honest Efforts

  Work From Your Heart



Early in the 20th century, the Communists chose May Day as a day to celebrate workers. In 1956, Pope Pius XII designated May 1 as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Many who once marched on May Day are now ardent capitalists.

Can Catholics today affirm an attitude which does not bemoan our working fate? How can we choose Joseph’s path of dedication and integrity?

Honor Others' Honest Efforts

Some arenas of work command public attention: art, invention, exploration, experimentation, technology and, yes, sports. We honor these enterprises with grants, Oscars and applause.

May 1 is also the feast of supporting-role work—Joseph’s carpentry and the allied exertions of farming, industry, public works and private business. How might Catholics best celebrate the substance and comfort resulting from less visible work? Here are five avenues to appreciate what others do.

1. Resolve to be more conscious of efforts to bring produce to the table, clothing to the racks, trees and flowers to the roadside. Include one unsung effort each day at mealtime grace—without repeating.

2. Express your thanks to the gas-station attendant, the librarian, the child-care worker. Expand your gratitude beyond the works that first command your consciousness—or are mentioned on this page.

3. Respect the work others do by making it more pleasant. Bus your own tray. Pay your bills when due. Be polite.

4. Advocate just wages and good conditions for seasonal workers. Honor picket lines by learning the premise behind the action. Choose products whose producers respect labor and pay a living wage.

5. Pay just wages yourself if you are an employer. Respect and consult with your employees.

In his 1981 encyclical, Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), Pope John Paul II reminded Catholics that Christ “looks with love upon human work and the different forms that it takes, seeing in each one of these forms a particular facet of human likeness with God, the Creator and Father.”

Just as we see each person as a member of the Body of Christ, so we recognize each work done by hands, head and heart as a contribution to the care of that Body. Some work may appear more central and compelling, but all honest work deserves respect.

Work From Your Heart

While Christians do well to appreciate the work of others, it is even more important to make one’s own work a “saving work.” St. Paul laid down the gauntlet when he said, “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

A meatcutter, speaking in a faith setting about his work, explained how he sees himself giving only the best to his customers—for their health. He said he’s in his glory explaining to customers how to prepare certain cuts, knowing a family’s dinner will be the better for it. He also knows a big part of his job is affirming his co-workers.

Everyone who works (and who doesn’t?) can express a spiritual dimension. Joseph Allegretti, in his newly released book, Loving Your Job, Finding Your Passion: Work and the Spiritual Life (Paulist Press), has pondered the challenge. He emphasizes the how over the what, the way in which we work, more than the work we do. Consciences can be compromised in the workplace and some work (not usually legitimate) is not suitable for creatures of conscience. We must all work for a society in which no job offends human dignity.

These additional actions can enhance your own honorable labor.

6. Intend to work for God’s glory. Beginning each day with the Morning Offering (as promoted by the Apostleship of Prayer) or a less formal resolve to act in concert with the Creator establishes a powerful intention to work as God’s partner.

7. Act responsibly. Work in the well-founded belief that what you do—and how you do it—matters. You work for your family’s well-being, to ensure the smooth running of society for the safety, convenience or entertainment of others. Not everyone is in charge, but everyone has a charge. Don’t cut corners on yours.

8. Be present to your work and your fellow workers. Don’t leave your warmth and goodwill at home—if you leave home for your daily work. Act in your workplace as one who knows the infinite worth of human beings, the value of creation itself and the power generated by concerted human effort.

9. Honor the workers whose efforts assist you. Food-service workers, public-safety officials, auto mechanics, secretaries and bank and grocery clerks: These and many others conspire to keep us at our best, ready and able to give 100 percent. Keep the cycle moving in a positive direction.

10. Use the rewards for your work well. If you find it difficult to see how your work is holy, follow your money trail. Do you use your salary to support yourself and your family? Do you support good works through your parish and other avenues? Do you pay just taxes and support the smooth running of society? Where your money goes, you are represented. Choose well.

St. Joseph led an extremely modest life. It is not his net worth, his earning power or his resumé that we admire. Joseph is the patron of workers because of his association with Jesus—to whom he taught his trade. He teaches us as well.—C.A.M.


Read Voices and Choices: A Pastoral Message of Justice in the Workplace from the Catholic Bishops of the South


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