(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
Starting as a celebration in New York City in 1882, it passed from municipal ordinance to state law and finally, in 1894, to a federally mandated holiday.
“Enlivened by street parades, and replete with speeches from prominent persons, the Labor Day festival pays tribute to the American worker,” Father Dailey said.
“But Labor Day is not simply about labor,” Father Dailey said. “It’s really about work. Work is not merely an activity undertaken in pursuit of the production or distribution of things. Nor is work only a means to a paycheck. Work, at its core, is about being human. It is the activity upon earth and in civilization that creates and advances our culture.”
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Domestic Policy Committee, noted in his statement for Labor Day 2001 that the Catholic Church has always recognized the dignity of work and the rights of workers.
Twenty years ago, Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical letter Laborem Exercens, which was a reflection on the papal trips to Mexico and Poland.
“During his trip to Mexico,” Cardinal Mahony said, “campesinos told the Holy Father of their miserable working conditions and starvation wages. Lacking the right to organize independent unions, these poor workers struggled to improve their situation.
“Even more poignant and personal for the Holy Father was the struggle taking place in Poland where the nascent union, Solidarnosc, had become the voice of a people yearning to be free,” the cardinal said. The Polish workers — like workers in Mexico — had virtually no role in decisions affecting their lives and their work.
“Catholic teaching on work — based on the principle that people are more important than things — reflects a compelling Christian revelation,” Cardinal Mahony said. “In Genesis, we come to understand that human beings, created in God's image, share in the tasks of the Creator through their work.”
Catholic social teaching states that work is for the person, not the person for work, he said. “Today, despite the remarkable changes in technology, science, international politics, and social conditions, the theme of work is still a major focus of our national agenda and a touchstone in the developing global economy.
“In our own tradition, work is not a burden or punishment, but an expression of our dignity and creativity. Those who can work should work and by their labor meet their basic needs and those of their families,” Cardinal Mahony said.
“Our concerns for workers extend beyond our borders since we live and act in a global marketplace. Through the eyes of faith, we are called to see others, not as economic rivals or problems, but as members of one human family.
Cardinal Mahony called upon all Catholics this Labor Day to recommit ourselves to the solidarity of workers. “As Pope John Paul II reminds us, we must be ‘firmly committed to this cause for (the church) considers it her mission, her service, a proof of her fidelity to Christ, so that she can truly be the `church of the poor.’”