10 Ways to Honor
Work and Workers
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?
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
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.
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
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
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