On Labor Day, we honor the worker and the role of labor in the social and economic development of our country. What does the church say about labor?
Labor has been the cornerstone of the social justice teaching of the church. At the very beginning of the labor movement, Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical letter called Rerum Novarum. In it, he discusses the right to private property and the rights of workers. It was seen for many years as a masterpiece of work, bringing traditional Catholic teaching to the new problems that the Industrial Revolution brought to the workplace. In fact, this document was so significant that later popes issued encyclicals on its anniversary: Pope Pius XI wrote Quadragesimo Anno and John XXIII, Pacem in Terris. Paul VI issued Octagesima Adveniens while John Paul II wrote Centesimus Annus. Pope Benedict XVI added his voice with Caritas in Veritate.
These documents all furthered the teaching of the church concerning the dignity of workers, the right to a fair wage, the importance of housing, and the need to take care of those who were in need. In 1967, Pope Paul VI wrote in Populorum Progressio that work “is something willed and approved by God.” God gave people intelligence, sensitivity and the power of thought-tools with which to finish and perfect the work God began. Every worker is, to some extent, a creator-whether artist, craftsman, executive, laborer or farmer (#24-25).
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