by Jeanne Heiberg
Returning to school in September, right after Labor Day, is a good time to think about work and celebrate what work means in our lives. After a leisurely summer vacation, we rev up for another year of all the possibilities that await us in teaching and studying. I can feel the energy of September! Of course, the beginning of a new learning year means work—and work is a law of the human condition through which we learn and grow.
Here are some good reasons to celebrate work:
* Work gives us a sense of direction and purpose in life.
* Work provides disciplines through which we grow and become who we have been created to be.
* Work helps us meet material, emotional, and spiritual needs—our own and those of others.
* Work is a major way we serve God and others.
* Work is love made visible, a major means of expressing our care.
* Work allows us to be partners with God, the Great Creator, the magnificent Number One Worker who created all that is and who continues to create through humans, including you and me.
A National Holiday for Laborers
Labor Day became a national holiday in 1897, after labor unions won victories for workers, including safer working conditions and a shorter work week. Some say that recognition of laborers was first proposed in 1882 by Matthew Maguire, machinist, then secretary of the Central Labor Union. Others say the idea came from Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor, who was inspired by a Labor Day festival in Toronto, Canada. Oregon made it a holiday in 1887, with 30 states following.
Then, when workers were killed by U.S. marshals and military men during a railroad strike, President Grover Cleveland knew he must reconcile with the Labor Movement. He rushed through a law to make Labor Day a national holiday. The fair and just treatment of workers came through struggle, but an appreciation of workers and the value of work grew.
Work: A Partnership with God
The authors of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, picture God at work creating the physical universe. In a poetic and symbolic literary expression, they describe the six days of creation. Scientists tell us that creation was a much longer process, and it is important for older students to know that these are two different approaches to Truth. Science tells us how the material, physical world came about. The Bible tells us who created all things, why, and how we fit into the picture as partners with God in our work.
Genesis 2:1-2 tells of how God completed his great work. After creating humans in his own image, God sets them in a garden and instructs them to till and care for it (Genesis 2:4-24). This shows a link between God’s work and that of human hands. God wants us to be partners in work. God even continues to work through all human beings today—even you and me.
The Genesis story balances work and leisure, picturing God resting on the seventh day and commanding people to do the same. God knows that the human beings he created need time to grow deeper in a relationship with him and one another, to see the big picture, to celebrate life, to grow in wisdom, and then to return to work rested and renewed.
Authors of the Psalms see God at work from a human vantage point. “When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place” (Psalm 8:4). The author of Psalm 104 views the earth as being replete with the fruit of God’s work (v. 13), going about his varied works of creation with wisdom (v. 24). And the author of Psalm 74 gives God praise for his work in creating the seasons: “…You have established all the boundaries of the earth. You have made summer and winter” (vv. 16-17).
Sacred Scripture directs us to work hard and diligently (“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,” Ecclesiastes 9:10), cautions us to avoid being lazy (“Those slack in work are kin to the destroyer,” Proverbs 18:9), and asks God to “Prosper the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).
Jesus, St. Paul, and Two Kinds of Work
As people of faith, we know that there are two kinds of work: that which engages us in the material world to meet physical needs; and that which engages us in the needs of mind, heart, and spirit.
In the New Testament, both Jesus and St. Paul point to the value of the work of our hands as well as the work of our minds, hearts, and spirits. Jesus learns carpentry from his earthly father, Joseph (see Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55). In his teachings, Jesus forms parables and analogies from familiar workers and their labors. From Joseph, his mother Mary, and the local Jewish community, he also learns to read and write, he studies the Scriptures, and he grows in wisdom and knowledge of the Jewish faith and traditions.
Paul learns Jewish law from Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), a noted teacher and member of the Sanhedrin. He also learns the tentmaker craft (Acts 18:3) and is proud to take care of himself and others by working with his hands at his craft (Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 4, 12).
Jesus places great emphasis on spiritual work—his primary mission and the mission to which he calls his disciples. He tells us to work not so much for perishable food but for that which will last into eternal life, food that he himself will give (see John 6:27). Our work is primarily to have faith in Jesus (v. 28-29).
Say to the Children
In September, right after Labor Day, we return to our important work of studying and learning. Labor Day is a holiday that celebrates work and those who do any kind of work. People once struggled and fought for workers to be treated with justice. Labor leaders formed unions to end unsafe working conditions and child labor practices and to win decent working hours. As a result, today we have fair labor policies. Now companies call their departments that hire workers “Human Resources.” They know workers are their greatest assets.
Everyone needs to develop ways of working that contribute to the good of the world. Work brings satisfaction and pride. It makes good things happen for yourself and others. When God created people, he gave them the task of cultivating the earth and caring for it, thus taking them into partnership as workers with him. Now, while you are a student, think about the kinds of work that best suit your talents and abilities, work that is most likely to help others, and work that you will love.
Your work is a way of giving back what God gives to you, continuously, through his creative works. Your work is a large part of your partnership with God. It’s not only a way of giving or paying back. It’s also a way of giving or paying forward, for your own future and for the future of all our Father’s other children. God expresses love through you if you chose good work and do that good work with love. Work is love made visible. That is why work done well with love brings joy.
To symbolize your intentions to express love through work, craft a wheel of work (see craft below). This is an appropriate symbol for work because the invention of the wheel allowed people to make huge strides in transportation, construction, hauling, and other tasks. Think of all the kinds of work that are made easier because of the wheel: planting fields and harvesting crops, for example. That’s why it’s appropriate to make a wheel of work as a way to celebrate work and all that work does to help us become the people God created us to be.
Keep your wheel of work on your prayer table or hang it in your room to help you remember God’s call to partnership through good work done well. (Make one wheel of work for your classroom or have each child make one.)
Activity: Wheel of Work Craft
* different kinds of colored papers (origami, construction, card stock)
* glue sticks
* magazines pictures showing work
* precut circles or a plate to trace around to form a circle
Optional: Felt or craft foam for wheel and background; rub-on or craft-foam letters; small multi-color craft sticks; small foam stick-on hands (from craft of dollar stores)
1. On a piece of colorful paper, draw around the pattern of a circle or a plate. Cut out the circle. Repeat this step so that you have two circles.
2. Divide one circle into eight equal-size segments and cut apart the segments.
3. Stack eight pieces of origami or other light-weight paper on top of each other, each sheet a different color. Place one of the segments on top of the stack and cut around it. This gives you eight pieces of paper. (If you are using felt, cut only two layers at a time.)
4. Glue each piece of origami or light-weight paper to each piece of segment cut from the circle.
5. Glue each segment to the other circle, and glue that multi-colored circle to a background piece about 9” x 12,” forming a wheel. (If you use felt, you might squeeze in a ninth segment.)
6. Using pictures clipped from magazines (or drawings of your own), glue different kinds of work to each segment. Make one segment represent learning and studying because that is your main “work” right now. You might want to include a segment representing work you would like to do in the future or work done by someone you admire. Be sure to include a segment representing home chores and volunteer work. Write (or use computer letters or press-on letters) to identify the work each segment represents. (If you are making a felt wheel, you might glue on small felt or foam hands around the wheel.)
Optional: Glue small craft sticks between the segments to make the circle look more like a wheel. To show your work as a partnership with God, trace around an adult hand on a piece of paper, cut out the tracing, and glue it to the background first, then place the wheel of work on the hand. Or form a cloud at the top of the background with a hand extending from it. Both are symbols of God our Father and Creator. These images will help you remember that you can always call on God’s help when challenges and problems arise. After all, when you choose good work and do it with love, you and God are partners!
On your prayer table, place a bowl of holy water and a sprig for sprinkling, a Bible, and work implements. If students have made wheels of work, place these on or beside the table or have the children hold them. If you made only one wheel of work, place it on the prayer table.
Opening Prayer: We praise you, Lord, for sharing with us the power to work so that we can learn, grow, and make a difference in the world. As we study and learn this year, help us to develop our gifts and do our work with joy. May we use our abilities for good, knowing that you are always with us to help and guide us. We ask this in Jesus’ name, who lifted the whole world by the great work he did.
Readings: Genesis 2:4-24 (God’s work of creation) or John 6:27-29 (work not so much for perishable food but for that which will last into eternal life, believe in the one whom God sent)
Commentary: God, the Creator, worked. Jesus, our Savior, worked; he worked with his hands as a carpenter, and with his mind, heart, and spirit as teacher, healer, and Savior of the world. Work was part of the Holy Family’s life: home-making, housekeeping, weaving, mending, building, and repairing. Paul worked with his hands as a tentmaker, and with his mind and heart as preacher and Apostle.
You are also called to work as a partner with God. Right now, your work is to learn, study, listen, and practice skills. Learning about your faith is most important of all. Jesus tells you to work for that which cannot perish but will last into eternity.
Even now as a young person, you can do work that will help others. You can set the table at meal time, wash dishes, keep your room orderly, take care of pets, etc. You can help your teachers, friends, and classmates. (Use other ideas from previous parts of this article as appropriate.)
Blessing of Wheel(s): Bless these wheels of work, Lord. May they remind us that work is good and that we are called to be working partners with you. Help us to develop the wonderful gifts you have given to each of us, to help us take our place in the world, and to grow into the people you created us to be. (Sprinkle the craft wheels with holy water.)
Loving Lord, bless all those present, that they will have a wonderful year of work, play, and becoming. (Sprinkle all present.)
Sending Forth: Go forth now to excel and succeed as you grow in work, develop your gifts, and become all that you can be in unity with Jesus, who loves you and is ready to work with you.
Jeanne Heiberg is the author of Advent Arts and Christmas Crafts (Paulist Press) and Advent calendars (Creative Communications). She has taught art, writing, creative catechetics, and meditation, and has directed parish catechetical programs.
Copyright 2012, Bayard, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Bayard, Inc.
This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, August 2012.
Image Credit: Shutter Stock 195219503