It’s a little ironic that Labour Day — an occasion to honour the sweat of our brow and the work of our hands — is actually a holiday. Nice touch!
Actually, it’s a blessing for all of us that the foyer to our usually busy fall is a day of rest in which we can contemplate the time off we may have had over July and August, as well as all those tasks awaiting us in that part of our lives in which we earn our livelihoods.
Even if this blessing is a bit bittersweet, such days are becoming increasingly precarious. The notion of what constitutes paid labour has evolved dramatically from an eight-hour set time in which we are paid to do certain tasks to a looser, more all-consuming notion of “working” all the time, whether in an office, a car, at home, on the subway or in a public park. The “office” is there, in that little cell phone that is always in our hand.
It doesn’t hurt, then, to step back a bit and reflect on what work really amounts to. Is it just a paycheque, something to give us the means to enjoy the other hours in our day? Or should it be full of meaning, a source of life and joy, giving us a sense of purpose? For most, it is probably somewhere between those two extremes.
In Catholic thought, work has always held a special place. Since we spend such a large portion of our time engaged in paid labour, we know it is more than just a way to earn a living. It is a place where we connect with others, where we can exercise our gifts, turn them to a worthy cause.
It is one of the most important ways we have to be fully human. Pope Francis has commented on this frequently. In his message to the International Labour Conference held in Geneva in June, he drew the participants’ attention to the existential nature of work in relation to time.
“We need to stop conceiving of time in a fragmented way, as just a disposable and costly dimension of business,” the Pope wrote. “In reality, time is a gift (from God) to be received, cherished and valued, where we can initiate processes of human advancement, where we can be attentive to the life surrounding us. That is why we need time to work, and we need time to rest; we need time to labour, and we need time to contemplate the beauty of human work and of nature. We need time to slow down and realize the importance of being present in the moment rather than always rushing on to the next moment.”
The Pope is calling on us to resist the urge to disappear into our tasks. He urges us to be attentive to the very human aspects of our labour, the day-to-day connections with colleagues who can also be friends.
Francis also challenges the submerging of human labour into the technological maelstrom that is modern capitalism.
“Work cannot be considered as a commodity or a mere tool in the production chain of goods and services,” he adds. “Rather, since it is the foundation for human development, work takes priority over any other factor of production, including capital. Hence the ethical imperative of ‘defending jobs’, and of creating new ones in proportion to the increase in economic viability, as well as ensuring the dignity of the work itself.
Hopefully, if you are reading this you, too, are enjoying Labour Day as a day of rest, rather than work. May we all continue to strive and pray for meaningful work for all humanity.
–Joseph Sinasac, Publishing Director