“All work leads to some rest.”
– Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, All You Who Labor
“Idleness and lack of leisure belong with each other; leisure is opposed to both.”
“Leisure is not the cessation of work, but work of another kind, work restored to its human meaning, as celebration and ritual.”
“To celebrate means to proclaim, in a setting different from the ordinary everyday, our approval of the world as such…leisure depends on the precondition that we find the world and our own selves agreeable….[and] the highest form of approving the world as such is found in the worship of God, in the praise of the Creator, in the liturgy…
In these distracted days, it may seem counterintuitive to claim that true leisure finds its deepest roots in the work of memory, reflection, and appreciation. We can mistake a holiday for a chance to “check out” of thinking & intensify our hectic amusements, when it could be something more. Labor Day is a seasonal institution now, a long weekend at the end of summer – a time to relax, recollect oneself, and connect with loved ones before diving into the serious work of Autumn & Winter; a day away of work to affirm the dignity of work & its fulfillment in rest. This is the beginning of goodness; but to truly make this a holiday, to truly rest in praise of the goodness, truth, & beauty of Labor Day, requires contemplation:
We remember the Toronto Typographical Union, whose members in 1872 had the temerity to demand a limited work week of only nine hours a day, six days a week (they were working 12 or more). “Absurd! Unreasonable!” said their employers, and sent in the police. Twenty-four of them were jailed. They never got their 54-hour work week, and many of them lost their jobs & homes, but those wretched ink-monkeys caught the ear of Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald, who helped make labor unions legal, along with demonstrations and picket lines. What they won was the right to work and speak together.
The parades in Toronto & Ottawa that moved the Minister to action inspired annual celebrations, which eventually gained official recognition as “Labor Day” in Canada and the United States. But it was a long road from their time to ours, so it is good to remember the reasons for the birth of the Labor Movement in the changing nature of work in the 19th Century, the imperfect struggles of imperfect people against injustice.
We remember that work is part of being human, and that there really is no secret to doing it well, except perhaps to go and do what scares you. We remember the stories that show us the truth of human work, though we also know that work is not necessarily what it used to be, and that being a manager is hard, sometimes, too. We remember that the Future of Work is often a vision of heavenly progress, though we’ve failed before to choose that future for ourselves.
And we remember as well that every day of rest comes round to work again, and that while many workers today “take paid holidays, safe work places, medical care, unemployment insurance, fair hours, union wages and ‘the weekend’ for granted,” many more are literally enslaved, their condition concealed and enforced by fraudulent labor contracts and outright violence.
If you are celebrating this holiday, thank God for this weekend, contemplate its goodness — and remember how much work’s been done, and still remains to do.