By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
Labor Day is coming up, and that raises questions about the value and dignity of work, not only as a way of providing a living but also living out a vocation. What are your thoughts?
I’ve heard a lot of people say, “My job puts food on the table” or “It pays the bills.” Though there is truth in both of those statements, God really intends work to be an expression of using the gifts he has given us and making a difference in society. We should look closely at how we use our gifts in our particular job. Another question we could ask is whether or not we consciously think of our jobs not just as a way of paying the bills but as a way we can positively influence others with whom we come in contact on a daily basis. Can others see Christ in us through the way we interact with our coworkers or customers? If they can, hopefully they will see Christ at work, and we will be fostering the kingdom of God on earth.
Some jobs aren’t exactly a bed of roses.
That’s very true, and I know it can be difficult when there are tensions, disagreements, negativity or cynicism on the job. Unfortunately, those are ordinary circumstances, but what can be extraordinary is our ability to rise above those things and make our workplace as productive and healthy as possible. This is no easy task. It requires prayer and advice from others. To have a job that is miserable is truly a heavy cross. We also know that in some workplaces, we cannot even mention the name of Jesus. Sometimes that can make it difficult to live out our faith, but in those cases, we can at least set an example through our attitude. In other jobs, we can talk freely about God and encourage people in the workplace.
There are many people who are not only working one job but two or three to make ends meet.
That’s correct, and I truly admire and respect people who make those kinds of sacrifices in what can be, for the family, very challenging and tense situations. I would hope people could see that they are using the gifts that God has given them to provide for their families. It’s not unusual to hear people working two or more jobs in order to take care of their families, give their children the support they need or, very often, to pay for Catholic education.
The church has spoken often about a worker’s right to decent and fair wages and that the economy must serve people, not the other way around.
There is a lot of talk today about a “just” wage, but perhaps what we really need to talk about is a “living” wage. What may seem to be theoretically “just” may not be a wage that someone can actually live on. This requires a spirit of justice on the part of the employer.
What about those who are struggling to find work?
We all know that though the unemployment rate is down, there still are many people out of work. We do bear some responsibility for our brothers and sisters when they are unemployed and want to work. Whatever we can do to be of support to them is God’s gift to them. Some need food, clothes, an encouraging word, help with their family. We need to be there for them.
Can some people work too much at the expense of their family?
Some people work 50, 60 or 70 hours a week. In some cases, that is necessary to care for the family. Nevertheless, at the same time, the hope is that parents will find a healthy balance between work and family life. That is very difficult to achieve. I do not know the answer to the question of how to balance work and family, but that’s a question that spouses need to ask themselves and discuss in order that they do not work so much that there’s little shared quality time for themselves and their children.
The concluding rite at Mass has something to say about this as well.
One of the dismissal prayers at Mass says: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” To me, that is packed with meaning. Is my faith life, my family life and my work life showing a desire to give glory to God? The words are challenging because they are not just about being in church but also about when we step outside the church and put the Gospel message into practice.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.