Laboring over work

We are soon to celebrate Labor Day, our annual commemoration of work. And, of course, we celebrate work by taking off work. In doing so, we are following the Biblical pattern established by our Creator, Who rested after the work of the six days of Creation and enjoined the Sabbath rest on His chosen people. Our Sunday is the Christian equivalent of the Jewish Sabbath for the Church. 

Indeed, Labor Day weekend has traditionally marked the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. So it’s back to work and school right after, if not sooner. It’s probably worthwhile reflecting on the significance of work and jobs and labor in our lives. Labor Day, after all, involves something we spend half of our waking hours doing most of our lives. For most people, work and family (and sleep) are what our lives are made of.

So it’s probably good that we think about our work once in a while. It’s also good, of course, that there’s such a thing as Arbor Day, an annual day dedicated to trees. And while I think I shall never see a newspaper column as lovely as a tree, our work is probably a more time-consuming and energy-consuming aspect of our lives — unless, of course, we run a tree nursery or a lumberyard.

There’s a new book published by the Vatican entitled “DOCAT,” a question-and-answer version of the Church’s social teaching for young people, along the lines of the “YOUCAT,” the “Youth Catechism” promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis wrote the introduction: “‘DOCAT’ answers the question: ‘What should we do?’ It is like a user’s manual that helps us to change ourselves with the Gospel first, then our closest surroundings, and finally the whole world.” As such, it’s good for kids of all ages.

After chapter five on the family, chapter six deals with Work: Occupation and Vocation. Asking what it means for a human being to work, “DOCAT” answers, in pertinent part: “To be able to work, to have work, and to be able to accomplish something for oneself and for others is a great source of happiness for many people. To be unemployed, not to be needed, takes the dignity away from a person. Work plays a major role in God’s plan. God commanded man to subdue the earth (Gen 1:28), to protect and cultivate it. Doing simple tasks well also unites a person with Jesus, Who was a worker Himself.”

I can relate to that, as I have a job which I enjoy very much (classes started on August 22). Not everyone does, sad to say. Not only can I try to be creative in imitation of my Creator, I can try to be hard-working like Jesus. 

In answer to the question how Jesus regarded work, “DOCAT” says, “He lived among fishermen, farmers, and craftsmen, and He Himself went through an apprenticeship and then labored until He was 30 as a carpenter in Joseph’s workshop. In His parables, He uses images from commercial life. In His preaching, He praises servants who invest their talents, while He condemns the lazy servant who buries his talent in the ground (see Mt 25:14-30). In school, professional training, and then in one’s occupation, work often seems to be a laborious duty. Here we can learn from Jesus and with Him take up our cross each day and follow Him, Who took up His cross to redeem us.”

Work, for better or worse, is what fills our days, if we can escape the scourge of unemployment or underemployment. In spite of its funky name, “DOCAT” (for which there is a free app for smartphones), can teach us how to make the best of our opportunities.

Anchor columnist Dwight Duncan is a professor at UMass School of Law Dartmouth. He holds degrees in civil and canon law.

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